Image: Library of Alexandria
Modern presentation of the interior of the Library of Alexandria, image taken from a work by Otto von Corvin, 19th century
Oak Knoll Press / Wikimedia Commons


Archives of human knowledge

A book collection can evoke feelings in me such as one feels when gazing at a starry sky.

Thomas Mann

Libraries have been projection surfaces for human desires and dreams since the beginning of written records. Starting with the library of Alexandria, the most famous in all antiquity, the collective images reach through the scriptoria of the Middle Ages – filtered through such novels as Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose – to fantastical designs like Jorge Luis Borges’ literary utopia The Library of Babel. Libraries contain the promise of global knowledge, collected and systematised – a noble dream which in the present day is increasingly being fulfilled by the globalised virtual cloud of the Internet.

The earliest known libraries were in the ancient Near East (for instance: the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, 7th century BCE); with the Christianisation of Europe, libraries remained in the hands of the clergy until the time of Charlemagne. The modern era brought libraries attached to universities and later royal courts. As the 19th century came to a close public libraries accommodated the growing reading demands of a literate populace. By archiving statutory copies of books, establishing national libraries and union catalogues as well as wide-ranging efforts toward digitalising library stock, the provision and preservation of knowledge is constantly being improved.