This Month, 373 Years Ago

Article excerpt

LIBRARIANS IN WESTERN EUROPE were beginning to read Gabriel Naude's recently issued Avis pour dresser une bibliotheque (Advice on Establishing a Library). Although Advice did not constitute the earliest work attempting to outline librarianship's responsibilities (we'd probably have to go all the way back to the 3rd century B.C. Alexandrian Library (see p. 70) for that), it did address a lot of issues we now hold dear in our professional value system.

For example, Naude argued that 17th-century librarians not only needed to collect standard works, best authors, and earliest treatises on subjects (today we would call them "first editions"), but they also had responsibility for acquiring books on subjects that to them might seem of marginal importance. In addition, he condemned libraries that lacked a classified arrangement because, he said, finding information therein required too many catalogs.

Finally (and perhaps most important for contemporary audiences), Naude said that libraries had an obligation to provide materials on multiple sides of questions important to their users and communities. For him, this included opponents of the orthodox Aristotelian philosophy that grounded his own religious faith, and even extended to works he considered heresy--a rather courageous position to take for a 17th-century intellectual close to the power of the Roman Catholic Church. …