Magazine article American Libraries

This Month, 116 Years Ago

Magazine article American Libraries

This Month, 116 Years Ago

Article excerpt

IN MARCH 1885, LIBRARIAN E. C. Richardson of the Theological Seminary of Hartford, Connecticut, was busy accumulating data on religious materials in libraries for a report he was scheduled to present at the forthcoming ALA conference. Although he discovered that most libraries he surveyed owned religious books and periodicals, he decided to submit his final report on the 115 he could find whose primary purpose was functioning as a theological library. On average, he later told ALA conference-goers, these libraries held each and had made "remarkable progress" in the 19th century.

I'm not sure I agree with Richardson's use of the word "remarkable," however, even for 1885. At least through the Enlightenment period, religious materials comprised the vast majority of Western library collections. The earliest temples preserved scores of sacred texts on tablets and scrolls, and secured their collections in sequestered temple space. In medieval monasteries, a group of monks handpicked for their calligraphic and artistic skills labored diligently in scriptoria during daylight hours (no naked flames allowed!) to copy hundreds of treasured religious narratives that were then added to monastery libraries. …

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