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Modern Libraries: 1650s-1690s CE

Let's examine the variety of libraries emerging worldwide.

Ho Trai

The Ho Trai libraries are found throughout Thailand. The library of a Thai Buddhist temple is called a ho trai. These libraries hold the sacred Tripitaka scriptures written on palm leaves and pressed between two pieces of teakwood.

Photos of this library are shown below.

Ho Trai  Heinrich Damm CC-AHo Trai  Heinrich Damm CC-A


The bookcases of a ho trai are made of mother-of-pearl inlay or gold left on black lacquer.


To preserve the texts against humidity and termites, the libraries are built on columns above the ground. In addition, bricks are used to reduce the risk of termite infestation. Ho trai are often found above man-made ponds.

Parochial, Provincial, and Layman's Libraries

As the British began to create colonies around the world, wealthy colonists brought their collections with them. A paster in Rhode Island, Samuel Lee brought a collection of books to North America in 1686. Upon his death, Boston bookseller Duncan Cambell acquired much of the collection. Cambell published a catalogue of the collection in 1693, one of the first catalogues in North America.

In addition, churches seeking to convert colonists brought religious materials to these colonies. The St. Phillips Episcopal Church began a parsonage provincial library in Charleston, South Carolina in 1698. This was the first public lending library in North America.

Thomas Bray PDThomas Bray

Thomas Bray (1658-1730) was an English clergyman. He became interested in establishing parish librarians in the British colonies to spread the message of the Anglican church.

In 1698, Bray and a small group of friends formed the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK). The group formed a publishing house and began the largest producer of Christian literature in Britain. The Society became involved in the formation of parish libraries.

As the overseer for organization of the Church of England in Colonial America, Bray sent book collections to Anglican parishes in Maryland. Bray's 1695 proposal stated that colonial ministers should be provided with "a sufficient Library of well-chosen books" including works of theology as well as science, social science, and mathematics.

Bray envisioned three types of libraries: parochial libraries tied to the individual work of ministers, provincial libraries located in key towns and made accessible to all, and layman's libraries intended to be lending libraries for parishioners.

In the ten years around the turn of the century, Bray oversaw the creation of eighty libraries ranging from parochial collections of a hundred books to provincial collections of one thousand volumes. This impact was felt most in the colonial South where few libraries existed. He convinced the legislatures in Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina to turn the provincial libraries into public libraries. He had less success in the northern states.

Initially Bray's proposals focused on British colonies in the Americas, however by 1709 printing presses were sent to Tranquehar in East India.

According to Hayes (2008, 351),

"Bray's activities had a significant effect on the trajectory of American library development. By introducing multiple types of libraries, Bray helped broaden the colonial vocabulary regarding library organizational models. Bray's layman's libraries, for instance marked the first real attempt in America to support lending libraries of a formal sort. Indeed, in his plans for the enlargement of colonial libraries, Bray imagined libraries sharing collection catalogs and charging small annual subscription fees to facilitate new acquisitions, ideas that presaged eighteenth-century lending library practices.

Offering visionary ideas that shaped American understandings of libraries, Bray had an impact on colonists' access to books that is harder to assess. The main beneficiaries of the parochial and provincial libraries - ministers, vestrymen, and political officeholders - were the colonists most likely to have access to printed materials already. The layman's libraries may have introduced tracts into households previously without books."

School Libraries

The first known survey of school libraries was conducted throughout England in the 1670s by Christopher Wase. According to Clyde (1981), Wase began collecting data in 1673 with the aim of publishing a guide to classical schools.

In 1678 he published Considerations Concerning Free-Schools, as settled in England. He indicated that school libraries were not unusual and varied tremendously in age and size. He stated that "the greatest benefit to Learners after the Master, is a good Library" (Quoted in Clyde, 1981). He explained that contents of most school libraries were closely connected to the school's curriculum.

Wase praised two school libraries specifically. First, the Merchant Taylors' School in London stating that benefactors "erected a fair library, and replenish'd it with a store of choice Books, some contributing 50 pounds others too very considerable sums toward it." Second, St. Paul's School in London was mentioned. The library was "competently provided with usefull Books, and Globes."

Other schools mentioned included Gloucester School library which had a considerable book collection of more than two hundred titles and Master of the Grammar School at Newport that was furnished with excellent books of all sorts.

Finally, the survey found much evidence of loss related to political conditions, natural disasters, and destruction through neglect.

Library Management

Wase's book Considerations Concerning Free-Schools, as settled in England also provided suggestions for library organization and management. He suggested that the Keeper of the books should be of the "uppermost form" and be "studious, faithful, and discreet." Wade suggested that the library rules not be "so rigid as to debar all lending forth of any book", nor yet "so laxe as without occasion, without memorial, to part with them". Finally, he suggested that the librarian must ensure that the books are not maltreated.

In his book The Reformed Librarie-Keeper published in 1650, John Dury suggests that a librarian is essential to the operation of a library. He view the librarian as more an a guardian. Instead, he should encourage books to be used and promote learning. Finally, he suggested the importance of catalogue as a way to easily identify the location of books.


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/

Dury, John (1650). The Reformed Librarie-Keeper. London.

Hayes, Kevin J. (2008). The Oxford Handbook of Early American Literature. Oxford University Press.

Wase, Christopher (1678). Considerations Concerning Free-Schools, as settled in England.

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