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Early Libraries: 700s CE

scholar of Carolingian Renaissance Wikimedia Commons PDLet's explore the times of Charlemagne including school libraries and monastery libraries.

The Carolingian Renaissance was a period of Europe in the late eighth and ninth century.

Charlemagne noted the lack of literacy and difficulty of finding qualified scribes. He ordered he creation of schools and welcomed scholars into his court.

One of the efforts was the creation of a standardized curriculum and use of textbooks. A standardized version of Latin was developed and minuscule books were created using lowercase letters.

The image on the right shows a scholar of Carolingian Renaissance.

School Libraries

schoolbook from The Schools of Medieval England, PDIn her history of school libraries, Clyde (1981) notes that school libraries existed in England in the 8th century. The image on the right shows a schoolbook from the 10th century.

She points out that when Aelbert was appointed Archbishop of York in 766, he selected his friend Alcuin to take over as head of the episcopal school. Aelbert stated that he was giving him ,

"the sphere of wisdom, the school (studium), the master's chair (sedem), the books, which the illustrious master had collected, piling up glorious treasures under one roof." (Leach, 1915, 60).

A scholar and teacher, Alcuin founded a new school at the Frankish court in 780. To supply it with books, he asked permisson for copyists to be sent to York to reproduce books. Alcuin's request read,

"I have need of the most excellent books of scholarship learning, which I had procured in my own country, either by the devoted care of my master, or by my own labours. I therefore bessech your majesty... to permit me to send certain of our household to bring over into France the flowers of Britain, that the Garden of Paradise may not be confined to York, but may send some of its scions to Tours." (Quoted in Savage, 1911, 36)

Alcuin's letter goes on to list the many books available in the collection and it's value to the new school.

A school also existed at Hexham because Alcuin refers to it in a 797 letter to Dishop Ethelbert stating,

"May the light of learning remain among you... teach the boys and young men diligently the learning of books in the way of God, that they may become worthy successors in your honours and the intercessors for you. He who does not sow neither shall he reap, and he who does not learn cannot teach." (Leach, 1911, 21)

Monaster Libraries

Built between 790 CE and 814 CE, Charlemagne was devoted to learning. He encouraged monasteries to increase the role of books and teaching.

Palace of Aachen Library
Aachen, Germany

Charlemagne's biographerThe palace had a school, scriptorium, and library. The location of the library in the palace is unknown. Charlemagne enjoyed having scholars read aloud.

The image shows Eginhard, Charlemagne's biographer.

Benedictine House of S. Riquier

In 831 CE, the library inventory shows 250 volumes. The words were organized by headings including divinity, grammar, history, geography, sermons, and service-books.


Casson, Lionel (2001). Libraries of the Ancient World. Yale University.

Clark, John Willis (1901). The Care of Books. Cambridge University Press Warehouse. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=uvQ_AAAAYAAJ

Clyde, Laurel A. (1981). The Magic Casements: A Survey of School Library History from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century. PhD Thesis, James Cook University. Available: http://eprints.jcu.edu.au/2051/

Leach, Arthur F. (1911). Educational Characters and Documents 598 to 1909. The University Press. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=td5EAAAAIAAJ

Leach, Arthur F. (1915). The Schools of Medieval England. London. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=vyKV-3p7u50C

Savage, Ernest A. (1911). Old English Libraries. London.

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