Tracing the History of Libraries – Part 2

The Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries ushered in an era where learning, scholarship, and libraries became a significant part of society. Reading material and collections became more accessible to everyone. The reading public is apparent as well in the popularity of subscription and lending libraries which housed works of fiction that were loved by the masses. However, the history of libraries takes a significant turn as the French Revolution occurred in Europe.

How the French Revolution Affected Libraries

The coming of the French Revolution affected the atmosphere of the European continent. The movement gave rise to anticlerical sentiments which unfortunately gave a lousy turn for countless church and monastic libraries. Libraries owned by the clergy were seized by the state in various countries beginning in France and was followed in Germany and Spain as well. The same fate was suffered by personal collections owned by royal and aristocratic families. Although the wide-scale expropriation of libraries caused problems and the loss of many treasured tomes, the accumulation of the collections did give rise for the need to coordinate the library resources of the country. France’s Bibliothèque Nationale received over 300,000 volumes, and numerous new libraries were opened in the most important provinces of the country. Similar to France, Bavaria and Austria’s national collections also profited well from the confiscated personal collections. More than being enlarged by the thousands of books, many valuable acquisitions also became accessible.

Developing and Transforming Libraries

With the rise and improvement of vast national collections, new difficulties arose in library management in the coming of the 19th century. With the immense collection of national libraries and their need to be accessible to the public, their administration needed to be strengthened, and the standard of service given had to be improved. The importance of adequate funding, full-time librarians, and a more efficient cataloging system became more evident. Within this period, a notable example among national libraries and library management could be found in Göttingen, Germany. An innovative model of librarianship is embodied first librarian and curator, Johann Gesner. He was influenced heavily by the principles of Leibniz and thus, put great effort in ensuring that all fields of leaning are included in the library. Besides, he maintained catalogs that could be perused comfortably by all who needed access. Gesner’s example was followed by his successor, C.G. Heyne. This launched the library at Göttingen to being the most organized library in the entire world.

Another notable figure in the history of libraries in this period is Italian Antonio Panizzi. He was a refugee who began employment in the British Museum in 1831. Later on, from 1856 to 1866 he served as the museum’s principal librarian. His leadership was a great stride for library administration and stated that the arrangement of books in a library should be more purposeful. To this end, he emphasized the significance of catalogs and created a set of rules for the benefit of library catalogers. Thinking ahead of his peers, Panizzi envisioned libraries to be an essential tool in helping scholars to study and do their research. This was seen in how he transformed the British Museum’s book stacks and reading room. His ideas paved the way for scholarly research and are honored by the arrangement and spirit of Washington, D.C.’s Library of Congress.