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Profiles

This is an international project. Feel free to add translated "overview" pages & project titles. Project collaborators, please go ahead editing or adding to the project overview.

Please add Geni profiles of book keepers, archivists, professional librarians, etc to this project (profiles must be set to public).

From A Brief History of Librarians

The Earliest Libraries

Libraries in the Western world began as archives in ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. These archives were record depositories kept by court scribes and religious functionaries. Two of the first libraries we know of which were recognizable as organized collections of written knowledge were at Alexandria in Ptolemaic Egypt and Pergamum in Hellenic Turkey. Ancient librarians would have had high status in their societies because they were often scholars or priests and they would have been among the only people able to read.

Medieval and Renaissance Libraries

During the Middle Ages in the West librarianship and libraries were centered around monasteries. The monks were scribes and in most cases the chief scribe was placed in charge of the library. These monasteries were the only repositories of written knowledge and in a period known for its religiosity these monk librarians were accorded a high status. In the later Middle Ages the stranglehold that monasteries had on knowledge in Europe was loosened, as universities were founded in cities like Bologna and Paris, with college libraries to follow.

The Growth of Libraries

In the 1450's the Vatican Library was becoming a sizable manuscript collection of over 1200 volumes under the patronage of Pope Nicholas V but technical developments would soon change the definition of a large library collection. The development of movable type printing presses caused a revolution in the transmission of written knowledge and in the growth of libraries. The further development of printing led to a higher literacy rate along with the cheaper and more widely available books and sizable libraries became a status symbol among the elites of Europe. Royal libraries formed the basis of developing national libraries such as France's Bibliotheque Nationale which grew greatly during the reign of Louis XIV. But librarians were still largely classical or religious scholars, and, although honored members of society, they were not a profession unto themselves.

Libraries in America

The beginnings of libraries in America came not long after the first colonies were founded and the first library to take on a permanent status in America was the Harvard College library founded in 1638. Library history in colonial America and the early United States includes the founding of a library in Philadelphia by Ben Franklin in 1731 and ends with Thomas Jefferson selling his library to be the basis of the Library of Congress in 1814. The nineteenth century would prove to be the birth of modern libraries and librarianship. The first tax-funded public libraries were developed in New England in the 1840's and the first recorded woman to work in a library was in 1856 at the Boston Athenaeum library.

Librarianship: A Profession

The biggest changes in libraries in the U.S. occurred after the Civil War and 1876 has been called the 'annus mirabilis' of the professional librarian with the founding of the American Library Association and Melvil Dewey's publication of his Dewey Decimal Classification system. In 1887 Dewey founded the first library school at Columbia College in New York and the profession became more and more open to women through library education. In 1893 when Dewey was asked to recommend somebody to found the University of Illinois' library school he said "the best man in America is a woman, and she is in the next room"-- referring to Katharine Sharp who went on to become one of the most important library educators. The late 19th and early 20th century also saw an explosion in professional literature for librarians and and further organization with the founding in 1909 of the Special Libraries Association. This growth in the profession was especially needed at this time because 1884 marked the year of the first public library funded by Andrew Carnegie and well over 1600 libraries would be funded by the philanthropist and his foundation down into the 20th century.

Notables

  • Jorge Luis Borges: was an Argentine writer who made significant contributions to fantasy literature in the 20th century. He shared the International Publishers’ Formentor Prize with Samuel Beckett and was a municipal librarian from 1939-1946 in Argentina, before getting fired by the Peron regime. One of his most famous short stories, “The Library of Babel,” depicts the universe as a huge library.
  • Laura Bush (b. 1948) Former U.S. First Lady worked as a librarian and elementary school teacher in the inner-city schools of Dallas, Houston, and Austin.
  • Lewis Carroll: The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Dodgson grew up in Cheshire and Yorkshire, England, and after graduating from Oxford with a B.A. in mathematics, he became a sub-librarian at Christ Church there.
  • Casanova (1725-1798) was not only a great lover. At the climax (!) of his career in 1785, the famous womanizer began 13 years as librarian for the Count von Waldstein in the chateau of Dux in Bohemia.
  • Melvil Dewey: Founder of the Dewey Decimal System, Melvil Dewey was born in New York in 1851. While a student at Amherst College, he worked in the school library to support his living expenses and stayed on as a librarian after graduation. After experimenting with different cataloging and organization methods for library collections, Amherst College published his work A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library. Dewey has been named the “Father of Modern Librarianship” and even helped created the American Library Association in 1876.
  • Marcel Duchamp is considered to be one of the most significant and influential modern artists of the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Around 1912, Duchamp became tired of painting and worked as a librarian at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genvieve, during which he devoted his time to math and physics experiments.
  • Eratosthenes: The Greek scholar Eratosthenes discovered the system of latitude and longitude and made significant contributions to astronomy. Eratosthenes was also the chief librarian of the Great Library of Alexandria.
  • Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911), poet, author and columnist for the Christian Science Monitor, became librarian of the Somerville, MA public library in 1898.
  • Ben Franklin didn’t sit behind a circulation desk and help college kids find research materials, but he is still a legitimate librarian. In 1731, Franklin and his philosophy group Junto organized the “Articles of Agreement,” which set up the nation’s first library.
  • FBI Head J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) was a Library of Congress messenger and cataloger in his first job.
  • Jacob Grimm: Grimms’ Fairy Tales was first published in 1812, but the stories, including “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cinderella,” and “Snow White,” are still classic children’s stories constantly reinvented as plays, Disney movies and more. Jacob Grimm worked as a librarian in Kasel, after graduating with a law degree.
  • David Hume (1711-1776), he British philosopher, economist, and hisorian, served as librarian from 1752-57 at the Library of the Faculty of the Advocates at Edinburgh, where he wrote his History of England.
  • Seyd Mohammad Khatami was the fifth president of Iran and a former Iran Minister of Culture. He is also a former head of the National Library and Archives Organisation of Iran. He is considered to be a reformist in Iranian culture and politics, supporting freedom of expression and foreign diplomacy.
  • Philip Larkin, English poet born in 1922 in Coventry. He began publishing poems in 1940 and was even offered the Poet Laureateship of England after the death of Sir John Betjeman, but he declined. Besides writing poetry and novels, Larkin worked as an assistant librarian at the University College of Leicester, a librarian at the University of Hull and was elected to the Board of the British Library in 1984, the same year he received an honorary D.Litt. from Oxford.
  • Saint Lawrence: As one of the patron saints of librarians, Saint Lawrence, or Lawrence of Rome, was a Catholic deacon who was killed by the Romans in 258 for refusing to turn over the collection of Christian treasures and documents he was entrusted to protect.
  • Gottfried Von Leibniz (1646-1716) was a German philosopher, mathematician, and intellectual giant of his time. Liebniz was appointed librarian at Hanover in 1676 and at Wolfenbuttel in 1691.
  • Madeleine L’Engle: American author Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is still a popular book among junior high students and almost like a rite of passage for young fiction readers. She has won multiple Newbery Medals and other awards, but later in life, she served as the librarian and writer-in-residence at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
  • Archibald MacLeish (b. 1892) had a varied professional life. He was a playwright, poet, lawyer, assistant secretary of state, winner of three Pulizer prizes, and a founder of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). MacLeish was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as librarian of Congress in 1939 for five years.
  • Golda Meir Golda Meir was the fourth prime minister of Israel, from 1969-1974. Before her distinguished political career, however, Golda Meir worked as a librarian.
  • Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) was a librarian before he became Pope. He served 19 years as a member of the College of Doctors of the Ambrosian Library in Milan, and then became chief librarian. In 1911 he was asked to reorganize and update the Vatican Library and four years laer became prefect of the Vatican Library. From 1922 until his death in 1939, the former librarian served as pope.
  • August Strindberg (1849-1912) Swedish author, was made assistant librarian at the Royal Library in Stockholm in 1874.
  • Mao Tse-Tung (1893-1976) worked as an assistant to the chief librarian of the University of Peking. Overlooked for advancement, he decided to get ahead in another field and eventually became chairman of the Chinese Communist Party.

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