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The History of Library Explained

History of Library

The history of libraries began with the first efforts to a collection of documents and recorded knowledge. Libraries were born when people began to collect and arrange collections and provide access to the collections.

The history of Libraries should however not be confused with the history of library science, which is an academic discipline of much more recent origin of the 18th century. However, the history of libraries, contributed to the history of library science as a profession.

Early Libraries (2600 BC-800 BC)

The earliest collections can be traced to the Sumerians, who, developed the Clay tablets, upon which Cuneiform signs were used to record information. Impressions were made on wet clay tablets that were later dried, preserved and arranged neatly.

After Sumeria was conquered by Babylon, the Cuneiform writing was also integrated into the Babylonian civilization. King Assurbanipal of Assyria (668-626 BC) had over 30,000 tablets and his Scribes translated these tablets, found mainly in the Palace at Nineveh. The collections were however destroyed when the armies of Persia conquered the empire.

Classical Period (800 BC – 1400 BC)

Libraries were found in Egypt and clay tablets were replaced with rolls of Papyrus, upon which information were recorded. In recording information, the Egyptians used the Hieroglyphics writing, which meant stone writing, to record information on Papyrus.

The Papyrus was made from papyrus reed, in which stems were cut into strips and then passed into sheets, which were joined together to form scrolls. Of note is the Great Alexandria library, which occupied a position of the intellectual capital of the world.

According to Aina (2004), at the peak of the collection, it stood at about 700,000 scrolls and occupied the position of the scholarly and intellectual capital of the world thereby providing a model for other libraries to follow.

However, during the Roman period, fire destroyed the library. The Greeks followed suit in the development of libraries, due to their high interest in literacy and intellectual life. They had many famous scholars among who were Archimedes, Herodotus, Plato, Aristarchus, Aristotle etc. During the period, private libraries were on the increase, having collection was
considered honourable, especially among the elites and noble men.

A researcher states that there was evidence of some libraries in Greece, but the best known of these was Aristotle’s library, thus there was recorded information in many disciplines, especially in philosophy, politics, ethics, poetry, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, science etc.

The Roman Empire conquered many nations including Greece and returned with the Greek collections as part of the spoils of war.

Julius Caesar’s dream of setting up a Library was made impossible by his death but his dream was brought to reality by Asinius Pollio, who established and divided the Library into two sections, for Latin and Greek collections and it later formed a model for subsequent Roman libraries. Public libraries also thrived in Rome.

At the death of Augustus Caesar in 1400AD, Pollio’s Library, that of Porticus of Octavia and Augustus’ Library on the Palatine hill existed. But as the Roman Empire fell, it fell with its libraries (Krasner- khait, 2001).

Renaissance (15th 16th Century)

During this period, Christian monasteries, housed important manuscripts, which are used by their students. According to Aina (2004), Christianity played a dominant role during this era, as its expansion depended upon wider knowledge of
religious documents; hence libraries were usually in monasteries and cathedrals. So with the fall of Roman libraries, Monastic libraries became popular.

When Pachimos established a Monastery, he insisted on literacy among the Monks. Enhanced by the fast spread of Christianity, monastic libraries became very popular and contributed in no small measure to the history and growth of libraries.

In this period, Europe came out of darkness to the light of learning. This was a remarkable period in the history of libraries. Many aristocrat of that period were very much interested in recorded information, giving rise to many private libraries.

According to Krasner- khait (2004), the quest for Greek and Roman literary works were in the increase during this era. From the Florentine family Cosimo de Medici established his own collection, which became the foundation of the Laurentian library, while the Vatican library was opened in the 1400s.

The Golden Age (17th 18th Century)

The spread and growth of universities within the period contributed greatly to the growth of libraries, even though they were established with private collections of prominent personalities.

Guttenbergs invention of moveable types in the same 1400s also revolutionized recorded information, as books replaced handwritten manuscripts. Manuscripts with the use of moveable types were printed into books and in several copies. Acquisition of books became easier and greatly influenced the growth of libraries.

The 18th century is considered to be advancement to all cultural development in library history, and it is at this time that we see the beginning of the functional library and the study of library studies as a profession.

In Britain, Sir Thomas Bodley rebuilt Humphrey’s Library at Oxford in the 1500s and it was renamed the Bodlean Library. In 1759, the British Library was founded as part of the British Museum. Public libraries were also established during the period, and the passage of the Public Library Act in 1850 further enhanced its spread Other national libraries were established in France, Germany, Spain and Portugal.

In America, a Massachusetts Clergyman, John Harvard donated about 400 books to a new university that was later named after him.

During the war of 1812, the initial collections of the Library of Congress were burnt down by the British, but the acquisition of Thomas Jefferson’s collection in 1815 helped in rebuilding the library.

As public libraries started spreading in America, public libraries did not until the first public library was opened in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1833. (Krasner- kkait, 2001)

Development of Library in Africa

Africa, though late in receiving Western civilization, contributed to the growth of libraries as witnessed with the development of libraries in Egypt.

However, the development of libraries as we know it now can be traced to the colonization of Africa by Europe.Colonization of Africa came with it education and subsequently libraries.

International organisations like Carnegie Corporation of New York, USA, the British Council and United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), all contributed to the development of libraries in Africa. Carnegie Corporation helped in the established of the first Public library in Nigeria in 1932.

The Commission on Higher Education, set up in 1943, recommended for the establishment of a university in Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. And in 1948, University Colleges were established in both Nigeria and Ghana in affiliation to the University of London.

The establishment of the University Colleges, came with, the establishment of their libraries to support the academic activities of these Colleges. The first library school in Nigeria was established in Ibadan in 1959.

British Council provided funds for development of libraries and scholarships for librarians to train both locally and internationally.

In 1953, UNESCO organized a seminar in Nigeria on the “development of public libraries in Africa”, and it became a road map for the development of libraries in Africa.

The West African Library Association (WALA) was formed and inaugurated in 1954 as one of the resolutions of the meeting. It was the association that got the Carnegie Corporation to support the establishment of the first library school in University of Ibadan, Nigeria in 1959.

As of today in Nigeria, libraries and librarianship as a profession has grown tremendously. Library schools are also scattered in different higher institutions, promoting the profession.

The Nigeria Library Association (NLA) was formed in 1962 to promote the interest of the profession and also that of those who are practicing the profession. Contributions of the association, led to the establishment of the Librarians Registration Council of Nigeria (LRCN) in 1995.

The Council was empowered to maintain a register of qualified librarians in the country, as well as set standards and skills to be possessed by the persons seeking registration with the Council.

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