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Modern Libraries: 1750-1774 CE

Let's examine the continued development of museum libraries, private libraries, and ongoing restoration of existing libraries.

From royal libraries to diocesan libraries, personal and small libraries gained momentum in the 1700s. However, only those wealthy, educated individuals with a passion for reading took the time and effort to build a library. Wealthy and privileged colonists around the world faced the problem of transatlantic connections to acquire books.

Museum Libraries

There has always been a unique relationship between museums and libraries.

British Museum Library
London, England

Founded in 1753 and opened in 1759, the British Museum Library began as a department of the British Museum.

In 1753, Hans Sloane bequeathed his cabinets of curiosities containing 70,000 objects as well as his library as the core collection for this new museum. The Sloane collection was joined with the King George II and King George III royal libraries, along with the collections of Robert Cotton and Robert Harley to serve as the foundation collection for the museum.

The first catalogue of the British Museum Library titled Librorum impressorum qui in Museo Britannico adservantur catalogus was published in 1787.

Private Libraries

Although free, circulating, and subscription libraries were the trend, private libraries continued to evolve.

King's Library
London, England

King's Library

When King George III (1738-1820) took power, he was dismayed to find that the royal library had not been maintained. Having been well-educated, he sought to built a high quality collection that included historical documents and books in addition to works of art. He was particularly fond of the sciences.

Although not an intellectual, George III had a high regard for learning. Using his own funding, George III hired librarians to develop the collection known as the Royal Library. The ibrary was housed in specially built rooms at the Queen's House, later expanded and renamed Buckingham Palace. In the 1700s, bookbinding took place on the premises and was later moved to the basement of the building. The library was open to scholars and others with credentials. It's been noted that the king allowed even those scholars like John Adams and Joseph Priestley with differing politics and religions to use the library.

George III intended the library to be a working library rather than a showpiece.

George IV continued development of the library during his reign. The collection was eventually moved to the British Museum and became part of the national library. The photo above shows the current gallery at the British Museum.

Archbishop's Library
Kalocsa, Hungary

Located in the archiepiscopal palace near the cathedral, this diocesan library was established by Archbishop Adam Patachich in 1784. Begun with his own collection, it now contains 90,000 volumes including 800 volumes of manuscripts and 64 codices of the Middle Ages (11-16th Centuries). The library's oldest manuscript is the St. Fulgentius codex (shown below right) from 1040. Four works of Aristotle dated to the 13th century contain comments and annotations from the same era. A book by Petrus de Crestentius from 1431 focuses on agriculture. The collection contains a medical section dating from 1330 that contains suggestions for dealing with illnesses accompanied by high temperature. Book from before 1500 include 508 incunabula.

Courtesy of Archbishop's LibraryCourtesy of Archbishop's Library

The collection contains many books from the modern age and 17th century Hungary. For instance, the Chronicle of Nurnberg (1626) is one of many books focusing on the battles against the Turks in Hungary. An image from this book is shown below.

The images are Courtesy of Archbishop's Library.

Learn more at Archbishop's Library.

Courtesy of Archbishop's Library

The library's reading room is surrounded by 12 grisaille paintings by Franz Anton Maulbertsch reflecting great thinkers of the ancient world.

Learn more about Maulbertsch at Wikipedia.

John Winthrop II
New England

John Winthrop II (ca. 1587-1649) was a wealthy English lawyer who brought his library to America in 1631. He was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

According to Hayes (2008), he expanded his collection to over 1000 volumes by 1460 making it the largest collection in Colonial America. With an emphasis on science, his collection including astronomy, mathematics, and alchemy.

Robert Keayne
Boston, Massachusetts

First Townhouse Wikimedia Commons PDRobert Keayne (1595-1656) was a tailor and prominent public figure in Boston.

In 1653 Keayne bequeathed funding for the first town house to contain government offices and a library. Others made donations for completion of the building. The library was located in one of the upper rooms.

Keayne also donated his books to the town of Boston in hopes of establishing a public library. He wanted his books to be available for use by the citizens of Boston.

The image on the right shows the Town-House of Boston he funded.

His was the beginning of a growing trend of "private-turned-public collections" (Hayes, 2008).


Over the centuries many libraries underwent varying degrees of renovation. In some cases renovation was needed because of natural disaster such as fire, while in other situations war or the need for additional space caused the need to change.

The problem of theft and the development of chained libraries continued to be prevalent throughout the modern era. New libraries often incorporated chains as they were increasingly available to the public. In Locke's Treatise on the Epistles (1711), the following inscription was found in the book.

"Since, to the great reproach of the nations and a much greater one of our Holy Religion, the thievish disposition of some that enter into libraries to learn there no good, hath made it necessary to secure the innocent books, and even the sacred volumes themselves, with chains (which are better deserved by those ill persons who have too much learning to be hanged and too little to be honest), care should be taken hereafter that as additions shall be made to this library (of which there is a hopeful expectation), the chains should neither be longer nor more clumsy than the use of them requires, and that the loops whereby they are fastened to the books may be rivetted on such as part of the cover and so smoothly as not to gall or raze the books while these are removed from or to their respective places." (Putnam, 1896, 153)

In some cases renovation was necessary because of natural disaster.

Royale Archive of the Tower of Tombo
Lisbon, Portugal

The Portuguese national archive was established in 1378. Manoel da Maya (1672-1768) became director of the Royal Archive of the Tower of Tombo after during the aftermath of a large earthquake in 1755. He took on the task of salvaging and preserving the archives. In addition to damage from the earthquake, the collection also sustained damage from the associated tsunami and fire.

Maya actively advocated from the Torre de Tombo. He urged the government to guard the surviving documents and received persmission to build a shed for temporary storage. Known as an organizer, Maya set to work on the salvage operation. Maya lobbied to have the collection moved to the bishop's house at the Monastery of Saint Bento. Improvements continued to be made over the next several years.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Rodrigues, Lucia Lima & Craig, Russell (2008). Recovery amid destruction: Manoel da Maya and the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 43(4), 397-410.


Freising Cathedral Library
Bavaria, Germany

Courtesy Freising Cathedral LibraryFounded in the 8th century with materials from a monastery, the collection was expanded by the bishops.

To prevent theft, the books were chained to the desks using 269 chains. Students would sit at benches. The library contains all known manuscripts of the early Middle Ages.

A new building was constructed in the early 1700s and it became the first public library of the Catholic Bavaria.

The bishop funded the a majority of the new library. It was declared that the library should be "publique" and donations of books were requested. The collection was "pillaged" in 1802, but later rebuilt again.

Learn more at the Freising Cathedral Library.

Cathedral of Lincoln

Founded in the twelfth century, the library was originally just a single press containing 42 volumes. By the early 1400s, a new library was built and contained about 77 volumes. The new book cases contained chains.

Then in 1789, the old library was removed and a new larger library was constructed. In the floorplan below you can see the expansion.

Lincoln Clark 1901 PD

Lincoln Clark 1901 PDLincoln Clark 1901 PD


Francke Library
Halle, Germany

August Hermann Francke developed a foundation in 1698. By 1709 he reported donations of books and reported that "a good time with the library can come of it."

The library was expanded with donations from theologians including Friedrich Breckling (1629-1711), Johann Friedrich Ruopp (1672-1708) and Justus Lüders (+1708). Additional donations were made from private collectors to expand the collection. The library did not have a budget and was run by volunteers.


Libraries and Art

Increasingly, libraries were becoming places adorned with beautiful works of art.

Abbey of St. Peter im Schwarzwald
Sankt-Peter, Germany

Under Abbot Philip Jacob Steyr, a library was planned.

Like many libraries of the time, the gallery included allegorical figures that represent different areas of knowledge. It represents the Rococo period.

Abbey of St Peter im Schwarzwald

Learn more at Abbey of St. Peter im Schwarzwald.

Palais Bourbon Library
Paris, France

Alexander by Eugen Delacroix 1800s wikimedia pdThe Palais Bourbon was nationalized during the French Revolution. In the early 1800s, the library was re-established with books belonging to clergy and aristocrats who fled during the Revolution.

The library is forty-two metres long and was painted by Eugene Delacroix (example shown on right). The paintings were intended to reflect "humanity's quest for knowledge and information".

The five domes are devoted to the five branches of knowledge including theology, legislation, sciences, poetry, and history.


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

Coleman, Sterling Joseph (2008). Empire of the Mind: Subscription Libraries, Literacy, and Acculturation in the Colonies of the British Empire. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=fP-9bKK7yxkC&pg=PA17

Edwards, Edward (1859). Memoirs of Libraries. Trubner & Co. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=FgmsfVR5UFkC and http://books.google.com/books?id=l60FAAAAMAAJ

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

Spence, Jonathan. Treason by the Book.

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