A short history of libraries

Libraries have been around for a really long time. As soon as people started writing the information was stored in temples, record rooms or later...libraries. The earliest recorded archive of written materials was in ancient Sumeria around 3400 BC.


Behind the News – History of libraries for book week 2019

  • The first library is thought to have been that of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria, who gathered a very large number of clay tablets in the Library of Ashurbanipal in the 7th century BC. 
  • The most famous library would have to be the Library of Alexandria built in Egypt in 323BCE. It was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The Ptolemaic rulers intended it to be a collection of all knowledge so sent agents to collect as many texts as possible. Any "books" (scrolls) found on a ship that came to port were taken to the library, where official scribes copied them. The owners then received the copy while the library kept the original. No one knows for sure how many items were in the library but at its height the library was said to possess almost half a million scrolls.
  • The oldest continually operating university library in the world is the al-Qarawiyyin library located in Fez, Morocco. It was first opened in 859. In 2012 it got a facelift that took four years to complete. It houses over 4,000 manuscripts from as far back as the 9th century.
  • Here in Australia the first public library was built in Victoria in 1854 and by the middle of last century public libraries were popping up all over the country, usually funded by state governments.
  • Librarians across the world have found extreme ways to make sure people have access to books. There are camel and donkey libraries, book boats and beach libraries.

Five of the most famous libraries in history

  • The Great Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The Library was part of a larger research institution called the Mouseion, which was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts. 
  • The Bodleian Library, library of the University of Oxford, one of the oldest and most important non-lending reference libraries in Great Britain. A legal deposit library entitled to free copies of all books printed in Great Britain, the Bodleian is particularly rich in Oriental manuscripts and collections of English literature, local history, and early printing.
  • The Library of Congress is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress and is the de facto national library of the United States. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. The library is housed in three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
  • The Imperial Library of Constantinople, in the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, was the last of the great libraries of the ancient world. Long after the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria and the other ancient libraries, it preserved the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans for almost 1,000 years
  • The Vatican Library is located inside the Vatican palace. It is especially notable as one of the world’s richest manuscript depositories. The library is the direct heir of the first library of the Roman popes.

The word library in other languages:

  • Bibliothèque French
  • Biblioteca Spanish 
  • Leabharlann Irish 
  • Bibliotheek Dutch 
  • Bibliothek German 
  • Llyfrgell Welsh 
  • Toshokan Japanese (phonetically)
  • Doseogwan Korean (phonetically) 
  • Túshū guǎn Chinese (simplified) 

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