Libraries are one of the humankind’s oldest formalized institutions, developing alongside the very first temples and marketplaces of the ancient Middle Eastern city state, roughly four thousand years ago. However, something we need to keep in mind is that libraries served a very different role in society, then, from the purposes we associate them with today. In Assyrian and Babylonian cultures, they were viewed as an appendage of royal courts, city commerce and state religion. They were archives for merchants and diplomats. They were used to project authority and prestige.
About prestige, from one society to the next, as do all institutions, libraries saw their fortunes wax and wane over time. They went through familiar cycles of decline and rejuvenation, neglect and rediscovery. In times of peace and prosperity, they were centres of culture, only to find a decade later, in times of war visited with ruin. Which means a history of libraries is as much a story about loss of knowledge as it is about its preservation and sharing.
In fact, in the end, if there is a recurring theme to discern from the experience of how libraries, archives, and museums survive over the centuries, it is that, inevitably, they do not. Knowledge, culture, and learning may; very often, the books themselves also last. Nevertheless, war, climate, ideology, economics, accident, arson, and indifference invariably take their toll. If we are to cover four thousand years, we are going to need to rush some parts obviously, so it may be easiest to agree in advance to divide our history into some critical periods. Professional historians do not (I am informed) like to take that approach much anymore – but a story needs a thread, no? If you do not tell anyone, neither will I.
Antiquity: into which we can bundle Sumerian, Mesopotamia, but then, later, the Greek and Roman libraries too.
Then there is the dark Medieval Era, while includes Byzantium, the first caliphate of Islam, and medieval Europe.
Then, picking up the pace, we have the Renaissance and Reformation, then the Age of Revolutions (both political and the Industrial Revolution).
Then, finally, the Modern Era.
We can only spend a few minutes on each of these intervals if we want to cover the subject in a reasonable time, but ideally, we can get from the first clay tablet to the data centres without too many bumps. The latter soaks up data (via light) from fiber-optic cable, the former is data in mud baked in the sun. Ironically, it turns out clay seems to outlast just about every other media; certainly, they handily beat many of our storage systems for recorded information.
Ancient Libraries of Elba and Babylon image
So, modestly, that is where the story of libraries begins. With tablets. Lots of them. In 2500 BC, at the Library of Elba, on a site 30 miles south of what is now Aleppo in Syria. This site, on a hill called Tell Mardik, was discovered in 1975, and they found over 15000 tablets buried there, written in Sumerian cuneiform. The rest of the surrounding facility and city was systematically razed to the ground by Akkadian invaders in 2200 BC, but the archive vault at Elba under the library survived.
With the collapse of Sumerian culture, economic and commercial power shifted to Babylon, which is where the next great library complex was constructed around 869 BC. Their ruler was Ashurbanipal – and he launched a massive translation project to bring together all the known histories and texts of the known world: Assyrian, Nippur, Babylonian, and Akkadian.
The library dispatched researchers to every city, temple, and market town in the nascent empire of Babylon looking to compile a survey of every known language in the centuries beforehand. At least that was the idea (and the origin of the Tower of Babel). They never finished the task. In 689 BC, the Assyrian King, Sennacherib, conquered Babylon and seized its library at Nineveh.
Nevertheless, even where the rulers and buildings came and went, the modes of writing and storing records were remarkably persistent. The stylus and tablet – which were often no bigger that one of our larger smartphones today – were in use for essentially thousands of years. Because they were easy to use and very durable. Moisten clay, fit to a frame, inscribe with a stylus (a pointed reed), given the text a title and date, bake it in the sun, then stored upright in a box or basket with similar texts, with shelves devoted to different subjects. This made it easy to flip through records, much as one would browse through a box of index cards or vinyl records today.
The Library of Alexandria image
By 550 BC, Greece began to exert is influence throughout the Mediterranean and near East, taking literacy and learning just as seriously as the Assyrians and Babylonians had. The Greeks borrowed, then adapted the Phoenician alphabet from their eastern neighbours and soon developed their own scribal culture based not on clay tablets, but papyrus scrolls. Homer’s Iliad was first transcribed around this time (ca. 500 BC) and the first public library in Athens was opened not long after that.
By 300 BC, Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s successors, established the Library of Alexandria - specifically to export Hellenic culture around the Mediterranean. The establishing of that institution remains a powerful symbol to this day because it represents the first attempt to establish a universal library. Whereas the effort in Babylon was to harmonize communication and ease translation of varied languages, the Alexandrian Library was the first attempt to capture all knowledge in a systematic way.
The staff and scholars associated with the library had a mandate to collect and preserve everything worth recording as knowledge: they translated Egyptian histories, Buddhist teachings, Babylonian myths, ancient Hebrew prophecies – over the course of four centuries’ intellectual labour. So meticulous were they in their record-keeping, via later Byzantine copies, we still know the names of every Head Librarian - from Demetrius in 290 BC to Caius Vasinus in 130 AD – and that its peak just the catalogue alone for the collection filled an entire reading room with 120 separate scrolls as an Index.
Scholars and scribes at the library were fed, housed, and excused from taxation, while being paid directly from the Royal Treasury. By 246 BC, the Ptolemaic court had legislated that every ship passing through the port was to be inspected and all texts found aboard were to be seized for addition to the library, with copies of the texts being returned to their owners. Works of geography, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy were funded as multi-year projects.
Unlike the desert archives of Ebla, Nineveh, and other centres in the Near East, however, Alexandria had some historical disadvantages. First, politically, it was a contested imperial crossroads, between Rome and its eastern frontiers. Secondly, as a seaside port, it was a very humid climate. Both factors, in the end, likely contributed significantly to the library’s decline. Even the sheer scope and size of the collection itself – at nearly 700,000 papyrus texts – likely made efforts of long-term preservation both logistically daunting and prohibitively expensive.
While the fate of the library is never made explicitly clear in surviving sources, what we do know is that the Roman civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey created serious risks. In 47 BC, Caesar’s fleet (at the time, already entangled in the dynastic politics of Egypt’s Cleopatra) was blockaded into Alexandria’s harbour by ships (controlled by Pompey). When an attempt was made to break free of the flotilla, the Roman navy responded with Greek fire, setting some of Caesar’s ships and the dockyards ablaze.
Some sources say smoke, flame and ash spread to the library nearby, consuming at least a section of the building. Others claim the bulk of the library was seized and carted back to Rome, when Egypt was officially occupied and annexed. Still others claim the library was ransacked during Christian rioting later, during Rome’s steep administrative decline in the 4th century. Still others blame the first Islamic Emirate that was installed in the city around 600 AD.
Theories abound here, all with their own motives, but no hard archeological evidence survives pointing to any definitive cause except a recent marine excavation pointing to a particularly destructive earthquake off the coast in 365 AD. Whatever ultimately dispersed or destroyed the collection: climate, conquest, censorship, social unrest or official austerity and closure, the centre of intellectual energy and scholarship by the 3rd C. AD had shifted clearly with political and economic times – with all roads at that point leading to Rome.
The Libraries of Rome image
While libraries in the Hellenic model (and this would encompass the collections of Alexandria as well with its thousands of papyrus scrolls) were viewed primarily as engines of thought and scholarship, the Roman republic took a wider, more pragmatic approach. Even in Cicero’s time (1st c. BC), every well-bred and established Roman of any stature was viewed as needing also to maintain their own personal library at home.
Not long after personal book collecting caught on, their urban libraries were open, and soon structured more like marketplaces. They were bilingual, with Greek texts in one reading room, Latin works in another, and scrolls were stored in shelved cabinets called armarias (armoire). Each was numbered - by subject - and indexed against a catalogue of the entire collection. By 39 BC, with the Roman Civil Wars over, emperor Augustus opened the first public library, the Atrium Libertatis (the Temple of Liberty) right across from the Roman Forum.
Other libraries followed – some specializing in Roman law, others in science and history, while general literacy expanded in the Augustan era through an extensive system of schools and tutoring. A whole succession of emperors followed Augustus’ example – with Tiberius, Caligula, Vespasian, and Trajan all funding construction of numerous libraries. By the time of Rome’s apex, in terms of wealth in city coffers, she boasted 29 separate libraries open to the public.
Many of these were highly ornate and expensive buildings, but while they required much government investment to build, their actual operations were curiously autonomous from central authority. Unlike the archives of the ancient Middle East or Hellenic Egypt, Roman governors appeared largely disinterested in the work done in libraries, seeming to view this intellectual effort as analogous to general commerce. Their approach was largely laissez-faire.
By 300 AD, however, a considerable challenge confronted the core of Roman librarianship and their “marketplace of ideas” – a problem never satisfactorily resolved (given the other economic pressures of the time). It may explain why so much of the material we know to have been written did not survive down to today; at minimum, it was certainly a major factor. The “problem” was the advent of the codex – or ‘the book’ in the physical format as we have come to know it – as compared to the long form scroll or portable wax tablet, which were in much wider use in the centuries beforehand.
Thousands upon thousands of titles were viewed as trivial, essentially disposable, and unworthy of the effort to transcribe or upgrade, from papyrus to parchment. This is a depressingly familiar motif in how libraries, archives, museums, and galleries fare in the long view, decade after decade, century after century. Such is the tyranny of the present, when anything unessential seems, in the heat of any given current crisis, abruptly expendable.
To be fair, however, given the broader political context, the admittedly imperial project of cultural continuity fell low upon a long chain of concerns. Out of the relative peace of the third century had awoken the chaos of the fourth, as Roman frontiers buckled, military losses mounted, and refugees from all around the Black Sea, Greece and Anatolia fled incursion, invasion and random violence. This effectively relegated these texts to oblivion between the half-light of the 4th century and Rome’s social and economic dusk, a century later. From an archival perspective, in the case of Rome’s store of literature, the collections and institutions they had so carefully built-up time simply ran out of time.
Libraries in the transition to the Middle Ages image
While the preservation of text did not carry forth (certainly not under scribal hand of many Romans, once the Gothic tribes, and Vandals, and Huns, were at her gates), the Roman Empire had the foresight (to some extent, consciously or not) to do what all serious archivists have been saying forever. Always have a backup copy. For Rome, this was Byzantium, or Constantinople, the seat of the Eastern Empire, which lived on as a Latinate offshoot for another millennium.
It was Constantinople, with its economic and social ties to the Middle East, that served as the immediate channel for the survival and usability of many Greek and Roman texts. Other Roman works such as histories and handbooks found their ways – more gradually and accidentally - into the enclaves, monasteries, and court archives of Europe. European monasteries, the book trade of Constantinople, and the vast expansion of Islamic textual culture all become the main threads of textual transmission once the Western Roman Empire fades from view.
As noted, the spread of the codex book accelerated after 300AD, while another significant shift toward the end of the Roman period was the disappearance of papyrus from city centres and markets in both the East and Western Mediterranean. Instead, with relative speed, parchment became the predominant medium, as trade and commerce abruptly contracted.
By the early 5th century, with the general collapse of Roman power, the intellectual and clerical staff of the Empire’s secular administration largely absconded (or, maybe, defected, depending on how one interprets individual motives) to the Catholic Church and its monastic communities. As for the great libraries of Rome and Greece, in the main, their civic schools’ and temple collections were sold off to pay the soldiery (or, in some case, pay off Visigoths) leaving isolated libraries like the hermitage at Monte Cassino, one of the first great monasteries of Europe to be established.
Medieval Scriptoria image
By 600, there were more than two hundred monasteries in France alone. From Ireland to the Levant, the Church ceded land and seeded expertise across Christendom in a thousand isolated pockets of literacy and prayer. Copying books, chanting hymns, reciting psalms, tilling earth, retaining literacy, and preserving some structured account of history became guiding preoccupations of most monastic orders from the mid-6th into the early 12th century.
Over this period, from these centres, numerous innovations emerge such as the Carolingian minuscule script with lower cases (Romans used only CAPITALS) and silent reading (Latinate texts were generally either mumbled along with or read loudly to an audience). The scriptoria of monasteries also give rise to the art of bookbinding (as opposed to scroll gluing), conventions like page numbering and indexing, each being conventions of analytical bibliography we continue with today.
In this era, however, a useful metric to put book culture into perspective is to examine how collections generally shrank. Private, personally owned libraries with a thousand texts were relatively common among the Roman elite in their heyday, but a well-stocked library in a European library from the mid-6th and 12th c. might have had three or four dozen books at most. This was simply a symptom of medieval scarcity and result of related heavy labour requirements: some of the ornate Bibles produced in 8th-9th France appear to have been the work of at least 16 separate scribes, rubric-shapers, illuminators, and binders.
Even that does not even account for the anonymous work required to skin, clean, whiten and smooth the hides of the 500 sheep or calves needed for the parchment and binding. The massive resource investment required to produce a single copy of a text (sometimes close to a year’s work for a scribe) meant that cloistered libraries and court archives remained very modest until well into the 12th century. The cost of requisitioning and adding even a single book to a collection had to be weighed heavily against all the other functions that members of a monastic order might be called upon to perform.
At the same time, some incredibly elaborate, almost otherworldly texts were produced, such as the Irish Book of Kells or the Lindisfarne Gospels, under some extremely remote and demanding conditions. These required careful formatting, meticulous layout, and detailed planning – so much so that libraries up to the Renaissance period are more accurately described as nodes of artistry, rendering, and conservation than sites of learning, research, or scholarship (as we might assume).
Libraries in medieval Islamic culture image
Elsewhere around the Mediterranean, the situation was very different from the milieu of central and northern Europe, and so libraries in Spain, North Africa and the Near East came to serve very different functions in medieval society there. All around the Islamic Mediterranean – which from the 8th to 12th centuries encompassed Egypt, Morocco, Sicily, Spain and so forth – the size and significance of public libraries expanded greatly.
Several factors contributed to this difference; first, the earlier closure of schools and libraries across the cities of the later Roman period, provides some clear historical evidence also that scholars, copyists, and scribes migrated (many with their books in tow) into the Levant and the courts of the last Persian kings. Secondly, an elite, aristocratic class of nobility had developed there (via commercial interchange with the late Hellenic world). They adopted an ingrained appreciation for the Grecian modes of philosophy and disputation. In turn, they and their offspring governed Persian lands, and from their shores oversaw political centres from Central Asia to the shores of Morocco. When the Middle East came to be governed by the first caliphs and established centralized Islamic rule, they inherited an aesthetic from Persia’s apogee that included dialectics, formal logic, poetics, and transliteration.
Finally, there was the access they enjoyed to the manufacture of paper, which lent libraries and archives of the Middle East and Western caliphates enormous advantages. This was simultaneously a literary, communications and record-keeping innovation that marketplaces and institutions from Cordoba to Cairo to Baghdad adopted as early as 795 AD. It is difficult to overstate the difference that mass-manufactured paper made for general education, book culture, public administration, and library work across medieval-era Islam.
At a time when the largest libraries of Christendom treasured a few dozen books (to the point that they physically chained books to the shelves of cabinetry), a single 10th century archive from Cairo is shown to have an institutional catalogue listing nearly 300,000 separate texts. Only in the mid-11th century can we find evidence of administrators from European courts importing paper, from Damascus, Cairo, or Fez.
A century later, however, by 1150, paper-mills in Spain (around Xativa in Valencia) are exporting paper into Italy, and bookbinders from Morocco are selling their services in kind. Expanded commerce in crafts, goods and culture between Islamic Spain and Christian Europe led also to intellectual exchange and collaboration. Scholars and monks from the monasteries of England, Italy and France visited the vast libraries of Toledo and Cordova specifically to consult and copy and export important texts.
Late medieval translation between European and Islamic centres image
In search of ideas and texts, scholars-cum-translators link Peter Abelard, Adelard of Bath, Robert of Chester, Gerard of Cremona, Peter of Seville all visited 13th century Spain, even though the objects of their investigations were ancient. Euclid, Galen, Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Ptolemy: all these classical authors and their works re-entered European thought via their translation from Arabic copies in medieval Spain.
According to one scholar visiting medieval Spain from France (Gerbert of Aurillac, later to become Pope Sylvester), the Great Library of Cordoba contained by his estimate close to 400,000 texts and treatises. Under the Umayyad Caliphate of al-Hakam, the arts of calligraphy, translation, poetry, book arts and teaching all enjoyed high priority and financial support. In the later 10th century, Islamic Spain (al-Andalucía) chartered public schools, as well as their staff and students, which soon fuelled a burgeoning demand for books, papers, copying and transcription services, creating a sophisticated public marketplace for editing, translation, authorship, and reproduction of texts. This academic community soon attracted scholars, teachers, researchers, and others with an intellectual bent from across Europe in the early 12th century.
This communal approach to broader education and its institutional innovations then migrated back into the urban centres of Christendom and effectively spurred the university movement in Italy, France, and German in the 13th century. It was not long before the University of Paris for example, in the early 14th, employed on its own thousands of full- or part-time lecturers, instructors, scribes, copyists and administrators, in emulation of the great open colleges and libraries of medieval Andalucía.
However, four centuries of book-culture and literacy across the medieval Islamic word suffered a double-shock in the mid-13th century, first with the fall of Baghdad to the invading Mongols in the siege of 1258, then the loss of Cordoba to western Crusaders in Spain. These crises led to the destruction of texts, dispersal of expertise, curtailment of trade and the slow withering of book culture across the Arabic-speaking world, overshadowing an open tradition of learning and disputation that remains unrecovered. What La Reconquista did not erase, the decades of the Spanish Inquisition that followed in its wake certainly did, destroying or scattering what textual evidence of the period we have across dozens of separate European collections.
Renaissance culture and the library image
It is worth stressing again both the scale and depth of Europe’s lost ground after the relative insularity of the medieval era and the shock from which its civilization had to recover from, intellectually. Simply in terms of access to written knowledge, the largest collections of texts in the oldest monastic libraries of Christendom around 1200 AD contained – at most – perhaps one thousand books. As late as 1338, when the Sorbonne in Paris boasted the largest library in all of Europe, its catalogue featured 1728 titles, with some 300 of those marked as “lost” (i.e. more likely stolen).
The later 14th century saw a marked shift in the scope of European book production, archival work, diplomatics, documentation, legal correspondence, and clerical record-keeping – all propelled into new practices with the adoption of paper. While unique, manuscript books were still viewed as the most definitive, valuable, and worthy of safe-keeping, paper books dropped the entry costs of copying houses enormously and a whole support system for book-making sprang up in the last decades of the 1300s as demand of texts expanded and requests for copies of new texts and better versions of those works mounted.
Affordable paper, a reliable pool of professional scribes and copyists in cities across Europe, growing public literacy, a wider range of reading material] to draw from all made substantive changes to how libraries were stocked and their materials sources in 1400s. These changes effectively secularized and commercialized book production in Europe for the first time in a thousand years. The advent of mass publication, with an increasingly international readership in mind, altered the nature of authorship forever. Recording for posterity, as motivation, was eclipsed by writing for a wider audience and a mass market for books meant their production exploded.
Moreover, just as a skilled papermaker could make thousands of sheets in the time it took to prepare a few quires of parchment, in 1450 Johannes Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press could turn out in a single day hundreds of pages of identical text. Printing houses spread throughout urbanized Europe (260 separate publishers were operating by 1500). Very soon, far from complaining about generalize illiteracy and global ignorance of ancient knowledge, European intellectuals like Jonathan Swift and Gottfried Leibniz were complaining about being drowned in novel ideas, new books and too much information.
Expansion of libraries as collections of knowledge image
By the 1500s, across Europe, the cloistered monastic libraries of the medievall age had forever given way to the great academic libraries of the urban university (e.g., the sprawling library at the University of Leiden) and the airy Royal Court libraries of the Reformation and Enlightenment era. Library practice in this period shifts decisively away from the matters of book production to the more specialized problems of information storage, access provision, format preservation, knowledge categorization and efficient retrieval.
Librarians across Europe experimented with various systems of bibliography for organizing their collections, new storage structures for housing thousands of texts, new schema for indexing and cataloguing the informational content of materials – all the while watching the overall size of their book collections growing steadily. By the early 1700s, there are libraries and archives in Europe housing hundreds of thousands of unique book titles, especially in those states with a ‘repository’ copyright system, which meant that publishers had to provide physical copies to a National Library if they intend to sell a particular book).
One of the most important developments in limiting the all-too-frequent loss of books in this period turns out to be the widespread adoption of metal shelving. This single adaptation not only discouraged insects and mice, but also did not burn, what with fire and bookworms being two principal plagues of librarians for millennium. Even then, until reliable electric light was available in the 1800s, fire remained a major source of loss to libraries everywhere (whether a cinder from a lamp or candle, or an ash from a pipe or cigar). The 1800s also saw the advent of the US Library of Congress and Dewey decimal classification systems for organizing collections and uniformly cataloguing books to be easily accessible through public libraries, whose demand grew with mass education, schooling reform and much higher levels of general literacy.
Modernity visits the library small
In the early modern era, the library as an organization – be it within an academic, government or business setting – remained a generally static institution from the early 1800s to the 1960s. In truth, even early computing and transformation of bibliographic records using digital media storage systems did not profoundly alter the physical layout of the library, its public posture, or the essential individual experience of visiting one. Only in the mid-1970s onwards as computers replaced the card catalogue, electronic databases replaced periodicals and microfiche, documents began to circulate via e-mail instead of physical interlibrary loan did the functioning of libraries begin a dramatic transformation, one in which they remain today.
Libraries became venues for research and study, or access points to an essentially invisible archive. Visiting one (in an era of media saturation) is as much an epistemological retreat as it is a textual transaction. Books may now have nothing to do with a legitimate reference request at all. This shift was probably long overdue. More public and education libraries became 24-hour operations, effectively, by putting as much of their collections and resources online as possible. Librarians now often serve more as aggregators of information sources, which appears to be how many students and professionals themselves approach books themselves, namely as compilations of facts and instructions to be quickly parsed and utilized.
Libraries have an obvious role here – as a practical node of utilitarian knowledge – given the global explosion of printed material, the growth of near-universal mass literacy, an unceasing mass media that distributes information, and, finally, a truly universal, ubiquitous, always-on system for communicating knowledge. When Wikipedia loads smoothly on any smart phone, what role precisely the library should play remains open to debate.
Conclusion: closing the book
Some people value libraries as comfortable meeting spots (a communitarian role they served in both ancient Greece and Rome). Others see libraries as nodes of communication and training (a role they served in Victorian England and industrial-era America). Personally, what seems to be unique and on offer from libraries now in an ideal social space which stands out for its relative peace and quiet, its lack of advertising, and that there is nothing necessarily one is obligated to consume or purchase. This and the general equality of the clientele, with all facilities and services universally open, and no proscribed purpose or outcome from one’s visit. All these are now quite rare aspects in city spaces. How many other institutions or public locales do we have left like that in westernized urban society? Not very many.
This means that libraries probably now serve more a symbolic, instructive function, more so now than they ever have – they are aspirational sites of civic purpose – given the impossibly stiff competition for private, commercialized data delivery at present. They remind us that history is chronological and long. They tell us that people and places have memories far deeper and more expansive than our contemporaneous devices. They show us that all knowledge is constructed if it is to be accessible, and that it always comes with context attached.
These are all institutional motifs in library use that tend to evaporate in the speed and superficiality of online forums and digitization. We may need one day, specialized digital archeologists and archivists to help recover government data and internet forum exchanges that was shifted too quickly into one unstable file format from another. Even the web content and internet exchanges of 10-15 years ago is increasingly inaccessible or unsearchable. In truth, as a society, we will likely need libraries long after we have collectively given up on the gas station and drive thru. Given an institutional lifespan of four thousand years, it is probably safe to wager the library will get at least another four.
Sources and Further Reading
- Ancient and medieval book materials and techniques (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1992) and Centres of learning: learning and location in pre-modern Europe and the Near East (Brill, 1995)
- Fernando Baez, Universal History of the Destruction of Libraries (Atlas, 2008)
- Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (W.W., Norton, 2003)
- Jonathan Bloom, Paper before Print: the history and impact of paper on the Islamic world (Yale University Press, 2001)
- Albert Borgmann, Holding on to reality: the nature of information (University of Chicago, 1999)
- James Campbell, The Library: A World History (Thames and Hudson, 2013)
- Lionel Casson, Libraries of the Ancient World (Yale University Press, 2001)
- Marc Drogin, Medieval Calligraphy: its history and technique (Dover, 1980)
- Mostafa El-Abbadi, Life and Fate of the Ancient Library of Alexandria (UNESCO, 1990)
- Charles Homer Haskins, Studies in the History of Medieval Science (Harvard University Press, 1927) and Renaissance of the 12th century (Harvard University Press, 1961)
- Fred Lerner, Story of Libraries (Bloomsbury, 1998)
- Raymond Klibansky, Continuity of the Platonic Tradition during the Middle Ages (Kraus, 1982)
- Henri-Jean Martin, The History and Power of Writing (University of Chicago, 1988)
- Stuart Murray, The Library: An Illustrated History (Skyhorse, 2009)
- Lucien Polastron, Books on fire: destruction of libraries throughout history (ITI, 2009)
- “The History of Libraries”, Encyclopedia Britannica – URL: https://www.britannica.com/topic/library/The-history-of-libraries
- “Library History”, Wikipedia – URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_history