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The Beginnings of Libraries: Foundations

Libraries emerged from the development of civilization. Early in human history, people began building a system of communication. Eventually individuals began recording their thoughts on cave walls, then clay tablets.

In the beginning, libraries were no more than depositories for records. Cared for by priests and slaves, these areas were often found in temples. According to Don Tolzmann (2001, 1),

"the library may well be viewed as one of the pillars of civilization, without which a given culture or society cannot be imagined. History begins with the written record; however there has to be more than a scattered number of written records for there to be a library and/or a civilization. Works have to be preserved, collected, and organized for study, research, and reflection. When this was accomplished, the institution that came to be called 'the library' was born. This new institution became a foundational element in the emergence and development of a civilization and culture."

The rest of this Beginnings section of the course examines early recorded information that lead to the development of early archives then libraries.


Tolzmann, Don Heinrich (2001). The Memory of Mankind: The Story of Libraries Since the Dawn of History. Oak Knoll Press.

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