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Fields Associated with Library History

There are many auxiliary sciences of history that help library historians in the analysis, evaluation, and use of historical sources. Many of these areas of study originated as early as the 16th century, while others are relatively recent.

In the classic work, The Historian's Craft Marc Bloch states that "each science, taken by itself, represents but a fragment of the universal march toward knowledge." (1954, 15).

Charles Gross (1900) used the auxiliaries as a framework for discussing English history including philology, chronology, paleography and diplomatics, sphragistics and heraldry, biography and genealogy, geography and topography, numismatics, and archaeology and art. These allied scholarly disciplines include:

Dig Photos.com #91400467  Archaeology

Archaeology is the study of human society through an examination of the materials and environmental data left behind including artifacts, architecture, and biofacts.

Library History Example

Although library buildings may have been destroyed through war, natural disasters, or neglect, archaeologists can use materials found at the site to identify the activities that took place in a particular area.

Architectural History

Architectural History is the study of human-made structures in their historical and stylistic contexts.

Library History Example

Architectural features such as niches in walls help historians identify the locations of libraries in homes, palaces, and other buildings.

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Read Black, Alistair (2011). "New beauties": the design of British Public Library Buildings in the 1960s. Library Trends, 60(1), 71-111.

Chained book Flickr ArenamontanusArt History

Art History is the study of objects of art in their historical and stylistic contexts.

Objects including the major arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture and the minor arts of ceramics, furniture, and other decorative objects.

Library History Example

The study of book shelving can help historians understand how materials were stored and accessed. For instance, chains were used to attach books to bookcases and lecterns during the Middle Ages. The photo on the right shows a book chained to the bookcase.

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Read Gwynn, Lucy (2011). The design of the English domestic library in the seventeenth century: readers and their book rooms for an article that used furniture in the examination of library history. Library Trends, 60(1), 43-53.

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Read Elhard, K.C. (2005). Reopening the book on Arcimboldo's Librarian. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 40(2), 115-127.


libraryBook History

Book History is the study of the book as a physical artifact as well as part of material culture.

Library History Example

Books including the text and illustrations can be used to gain insights into how libraries were used and perceived at particular times in history. Works of fiction can help historian learn about how people envisioned the past, present, and future of libraries. For instance Jules Vernes incorporated a library into the Nautilus in his famous work Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (see image on left).



papyrus, wikimedia commons PDChronology

Chronology is the study of arranging events in their order of occurrence in time. The result is a timeline or sequence of past events. Radiocarbon dating, dendrochronology, and other methods can be used to estimate the age of a formally living thing. This field also explores the use of calendars.

Library History Example

It's possible to learn about the age of the materials in an ancient library through scientific dating methods. This provides evidence of the age of the materials in addition to a chronology of the library.


Codicology is the study of books as physical objects. Sometimes called 'the archaeology of the book' it focuses on the materials and techniques used to create books. Owner inscriptions and physical decoration is also included. The writing aspect is considered paleography.

Library History Example

Medieval illuminated manuscripts are often studied to determine the origin of inks, pigments, and vellum used in their production. This can provide information about the people and places that provided manuscripts to the library.

manuscript, Wikimedia Commons PD


Letter of Troy, Diplomatics is the study and textual analysis of historical documents. Developed as a means for studying charters and diplomas, the field now encompasses other types of official documents and legal materials as well as private letters and even metadata of electronic materials. The study focuses on analysis of the document creation, its contents, its means of information transmission, and its relationship to the creator. Diplomatics stresses the linguistic elements of the communication rather than the physical artifact itself.

Library History Example

A study of a collection of letters written in 1971 by authors to children about the importance of libraries is an example of diplomatics. Explore a letter collection.


Inscription Wikimedia Commons PDEpigraphy is the study of inscriptions or epigraphs as writing. From native rock art to building dedication plaques, probably the most famous epigraph is the Rosetta Stone. Decipherment is the analysis of documents written in ancient or unknown languages. An epigraphist is responsible for reconstructing, translating, and dating the item, while a historian interprets the content of the inscription.

Library History Example

The inscription (shown right) regarding Tiberius Claudius Babillus of Rome (d. 56 CE) is a piece of evidence confirming that the Library of Alexandria existed in the first century CE.


National MedalFaleristics is the study of orders, decorations, and medals including the sociological, historical, and art history aspects. It also include the study of badges and pins created for civilian use.

Library History Example

Trace trends in the themes of those libraries receiving the National Medal for Museum and Library Service for the past decade. Explore examples at IMLS National Metal.


Genealogy is the study of family relationships and history through the use of historical records, oral traditions, and other information sources.

Library History Example

Trace multi-generational use of libraries through the use of oral histories and storytelling. Is library use connected to family attributes? How?

Multigenerational reading, Photos.com


Herald bookplate of Christian Ernest, Grat zu Stolberg-Wernigerode flicr kladcat CC-AHeraldry is the study of armorial devices including describing and recording coats of arms and heraldic badges. In addition, it explores records of pedigrees and the history and practice of bearing insignia.

Library History Example

By examining the heraldry in engraved library ex libris or bookplates, I hope to learn more about the provenance of books in a small New England library.

The bookplate on the right is of Christian Ernest, Grat zu Stolberg-Wernigerode (1691-1771)

The journal Libraries & Culture published a bookplate on the cover of each issue for 29 years.

There's even a society for bookplate artists and collectors.

Exploring how heralds are represented in illuminated manuscripts provides insights into the scripts and the leaders of the time. Here's an excerpt of a review of the exhibition:

"By embedding the monarch's coat of arms into Biblical stories, the aim is to reinforce his authority - an authority which often rested not simply on military might but on precarious genealogical arguments." - Royal Manuscripts

LOCcoin PDNumismatics

Numismatics is the study of coins and money including other payment media used to resolve debts and exchange of goods.

Scripophily is the study of stocks and bonds.

Exonumia are items such as tokens, membership cards, and notes.

In studying the history of circulating collections, library cards, pledge cards, and other documents of exchange were examined.

Library History Example

Some libraries have commemorative coins to be studied such as the 2000 Library of Congress Commemorative Coin.

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Read Bonous-Smit, Barbara (2009). The American Numismatic Society library and numismatic scholarship. Library & Information History, 25(3), 147-170.


Paleography is the study of ancient handwriting. These items including advertisements, commemorative items, and souvenirs.

Library History Example

Through the study of handwriting, it's possible to identify how many monks worked on an illuminated book or whether two books were written by the hand of the same copyist.

Faroe Stamp Wikimedia PDPhilately

Philately is the study of stamps and postal history.

Library History Example

Trace the history of library week through stamps. Learn more at Library History Buff.

On the right is a commemorative stamp showing the Old Faroese National Libary (1828-1978) in Finland.


NYPL Seal Wikimedia Commons PDSigillography is the study of seals attached to documents.

Also known as sphtagistics, the study helps historians place artifacts to particular time periods.

Library History Example

The seal on the left is the New York Public Library seal designed by Victor David Brenner in 1909.

Examine a list of the Library of Congress Classification Outline for Auxiliary Sciences of History.



Bloch, Marc (1954, 1992). The Historian's Craft. Manchester University Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=YZdCcT_1Z8YC

Colson, John C. (1976). The writing of American library history, 1876-1976. Library Trends, 25(1), 7-22.

Harris, Michael H. (1972). The Purpose of the American Public Library in Historical Perspective: Revisionist Interpretation. ERIC. Available: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED071668.pdf

Inayatullah, Shaikh (1938). Bibliophilism in medieval Islam. Islamic Culture, 12(2), 154-69.

Garraghan, Gilbert J. (1946). A Guide to Historical Method. Fordham University Press.

Krzyr, Richard (2003). Library historiography. In Miriam A. Drake (ed), Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Second Edition, CRC Press, 1621-1641. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=Sqr-_3FBYiYC&pg=PA1621

Olle, James G. (1971). Library History: An Examination Guidebook. Second Edition. Archon Books & Clive Bingley.

Tillotson, Dianne (2005-2007). Medieval Writing. Available: http://medievalwriting.50megs.com/


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