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Modern Libraries: 1800-1824 CE

Let's examine the push for government libraries including National, Provincial, and State archives and libraries as well as law libraries.

Specifically established by the government of a county, a National Library is a library designed to serve as the primary repository of information. Most of these libraries do not circulate their collections, instead they serve as a repository for rare, valuable, and significant works.

Because many of original libraries were closely allied with religion, the arrival of secularism marked a change in philosophy. Many of the collections were lost. For instance, library histories of Germany indicate that between 1803-1806 their collections were lost.

In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, France, Sweden, Singapore, and other countries, the national library is a legal depository for the country. Publishers are required by law to provide a copy or copies of every book published to the library. In the United States, publishers are required to submit copyrightable works to the United States Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, but not all works are selected for inclusion in the national library.

One of the functions of a national library is to maintain bibliographic control of documents published in the country. In the United States, this is accomplished through the cataloguing in publication service. The national libraries work at the international level to develop standards for library classification, cataloguing rules, and other areas of bibliographic control.

Many national libraries maintain a significant music library.

Learn more about National Libraries at Wikipedia.
Explore a list of National Libraries from around the world at Wikipedia.

National Libraries

Many national libraries began as royal collections, while others were connected to monasteries or university collections. National libraries are sometimes connected with a country's struggle for independence and reflect a young government's need to establish its own identity. Regardless of their original, the collections are often established with a combination of donations and appropriations from conflict. Many libraries were established during the 18th and 19th centuries. However many national libraries were also added throughout the 20th century around the world.

The photo below shows the National Library of France in 2005.

National Library of France Wikimedia CC-BY-SA Zubro

Bibliothèque nationale de France
Paris, France

The Bibliothèque nationale de France was the first free public national library.

In 1368, Charles V founded the royal library at the Louvre. The library continued to evolve through the next few centuries. It was opened to the public in 1692.

The collection was greatly expanded during the French Revolution when private libraries were confiscated. In 1792 the library became government property and was related the National Library. Napoleon required all books from provincial libraries be sent to the national library and expanded the collection through the spoils of war. In 1868 the library was renamed the Imperial National library. For a while in the late 1880s, it was the largest repository of books in the world.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Oliver, Bette Wyn (2007). The Bibliotheque nationale from 1792-1794: becoming a national institution during the French Revolution. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(1), 48-56.

National Library of Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

King Gustav Vasa established a vast collection in the 16th century. This Royal library was expanded by a series of kings through the confiscations and war acquisitions. Beginning in 1661, all printers were required to submit two copies of all printed works - one for the archives and one for the library. Much of the library was destroyed by fire in 1697. In 1768 the collection was re-established in the new royal palace. In 1877, the National Library was moved to a new location in Humlegarden.

Biblioteca Nacional de España
Madrid, Spain

Founded as the Palace Public Library in 1712, King Philip V required printers to submit a copy of every printed book to the library. The Ministry of Governance took ownership of the palace in 1836 and renamed the library Biblioteca Nacional. The library was expanded through donations, purchases, and confiscations throughout the 19th century.

Royal Danish Library
Copenhagen, Denmark

National Library of Findland, Wikimedia, Flickr Vestman, CC-AThe Royal Library is both the National Library of Denmark and the Copenhagen University Library. The largest library in the Nordic countries, it has been in existence since the 17th century. Founded by King Frederik III in 1648, the library was opened to the public in 1793.

Like the Royal Danish Library, the National Library of Finland is connected with a university. Part of the University of Helsinki, it was established in the mid-1800s.

The image on the right shows the National Library of Finland.

National Library of Russia
St. Petersburg, Russia

Catherine the Great established the Imperial Public Library in 1795. The initial collection included 420,000 volumes plundered from Poland. The building was opened in 1814. The image below shows an image from 1812.

Library 1812 Wikimedia PD

Library of Congress
Washington, DC., USA

Library of Congress 1890, Wikimedia PDAlthough both the Library Company of Philadelphia and the New York Society Library were used temporarily by Congress in the late 1700s, the Library of Congress was formally established in 1800 when President John Adams signed legislation for a library to be used by Congress.

The first catalogue of the Library of Congress was a ten-page document printed in 1802.

In 1814, troops of the British army set fire to the Capitol causing fires that destroyed the library. President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as the foundation for a new library.

The first comprehensive catalogue of the Library of Congress was published in 1815.

In the mid 1800s, a territorial dispute broke out between the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. In the end, the Smithsonian transferred its library to the Library of Congress.

Another fire in 1851 destroyed about two-thirds of the collection and the Civil War continued to weaken the library. In the late 1800s under the direction of Ainsworth Rand Spofford, the library flourished.

The photo on the right shows the library when it was housed in the Capitol Building in 1890 before moving into the new Thomas Jefferson Building in 1897.

The move from the Capitol building to the newly opened Thomas Jefferson building was a major undertaking. The photo below shows some of the Library of Congress' collection in 1897 as it awaits the move.

Library of Congress Wikimedia Commons 1897 PD

For a nice overview of the Library of Congress history, read Jefferson's Legacy from the Library of Congress.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Cole, John Young (2005). The Library of Congress becomes a world library, 1815-2005. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 40(3), 385-398.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Beckmann, Daniel (Winter 2014). The national library in all but name. Http: Documents to the People.

National and University Library of Iceland
Reykjavik, Iceland

In 1818, the first national library was established with donations from Icelanders, Danes, and the Icelandic Literary Society. The library was housed in the newly renovated Reykjavik Cathedral in 1825.

National Library of Greece
Athens, Greece

The National Library of Greece was founded in the early 1800s as part of the establishment of a new government. The collection was moved to the new capitol of Athens in 1834. In 1842, the Public Library merged with the Athens University Library in a new building at Otto's University, then became the National Library of Greece in 1866 (shown below).

National Library of Greece, Wikimedia, CC-A-SA Dimboukas

National Library of Colombia
Bogota, Colombia

The oldest national library in the Americas, the library was founded in 1777 by Manuel De Guirior. The original collection was expropriated from the Jesuit community. In 1825 the library was moved to the campus of Colegio de San Bartolome and formally became the national library.

National Library of the Argentine Republic
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Originally founded in 1810 as the Public Library of Buenos Aires, it was housed in an 18th century Jesuit mansion. Like many countries, the library was tied to the struggle for independence and began with the expropriated personal collections as well as donated collections. Mariano Moreno led the creation of the collection and rallied support for the program. The library became the National Library of Argentina in 1884.

The National Library of Chile, National Library of Uruguay, National Library of Venezuela, and National Library of Peru were also organized in the early 1800s.

National Library of Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico

Established in 1833, the Biblioteca Nacional's collection began with an endowment from the Pontifical and Royal University of Mexico. In 1867 the library was expanded and relocated to the Church of Saint Augustine. Later the library was linked to the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Jones, Phillip (2007). 'indispensable in a civilized society': Manuel Payno's 'las bibliotecs de Mexico'. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(3), 268-290.

National Library of India
Calcutta, West Bengal, India (now known as Kolkata)

The roots of the national library begin with the creation of the Calcutta Public Library in 1836. This library was combined with the Imperial Library in 1903. After independence, it became the National Library of India in 1948. The library is currently the largest in India.

Khedivial Library (now the Egyptian National Library and Archives)
Cairo, Egypt

Opened in 1836, the Khedivial Library was the central depository for books and manuscripts for Egypt. The library was noted for its information on early Islamic culture.

In 1870, it became the National Library. The Dar el-Kotob (or Egyptian National Library and Archives) is currently the largest library in Egypt.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Perez-Matos, N. & Fernandez-Molina, Juan Carlos (2010). The history of library and information activities in Cuba: the relationship with its constitutional periods. Library & Information History, 36(3), 231-224.


State and Provincial Libraries

With many countries, regional, provincial, and state government libraries have been established.

In the United States, state library agencies were developed beginning in the late 19th through the mid 20th century.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Phillips, Faye (2008). To 'build upon the foundation': Charles Gayarre's vision for the Louisiana State Library. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 43(1), 56-76.

Each province in Canada has developed a library system to meet the needs of its citizens. For instance, the Nova Scotia Provincial Library is part of the Department of Education.

Originally incorporated in 1910, the Bibliotheque du Quebec accepts legal deposit copies for all works printed in Quebec.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read MacLennan, Birdie (2007). The library and its place in cultural memory: the Grande Bibliotheque du Quebec in the construction of social and cultural identify. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(4), 349-386.

In Australia, each state and territory has its own library and library system.

The State Library of New South Wales is the oldest library in Australia. It began as a subscription library in 1826 and became in the Sydney Free Public Library in 1869. Finally, in 1975, it was named the State Library of New South Wales.

Many other countries like Germany have similar systems.

Law Libraries

Although law libraries were introduce centuries earlier, they begin to evolve in the 1800s.

Law Library of Congress
Washington, DC

The Library of Congress created a law library in 1800 as an in-house reference library. After the first Library of Congress was destroyed, new law books were acquired for the collection.

In 1832, the Law Library of the United State Congress was established to serve both the Congress and Supreme Court. Although part of the Library of Congress, the Law Library received its own budget and was housed in the former Super Court Chamber in the Capitol Building.

Learn more about the History of the Law Library.

Harvard Law School Library
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Established in 1817, the library was created inconjunction with the law school. By 1820, the library had 584 titles and 1841 the collection contained 6100 volumes. This first full-time librarian was appointed in 1870.

Learn more about the Harvard Law School Library.


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

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