The Online Library of Knowledge


Books and libraries

Stuttgart library, built in 2011Stuttgart library, built in 2011Public libraries are places where people go to find out information or read for pleasure. They hold collections of books, journals, audio books and sometimes films and music. On becoming members of the library, people can borrow books and other items. Nearly all of a library’s services can be used for free. Libraries in schools, universities, towns and cities are known as lending libraries. National libraries—such as the British Library in London—and research libraries contain rare and valuable books and other printed materials that only be consulted in the library itself. The first libraries were private collections, which were sometimes opened up so other people could browse them. Public libraries, open to everybody, appeared in the Western world in the late 1800s.


The first libraries

The first libraries consisted of collections of the earliest form of writing: cuneiform script on clay tablets, created in Sumer, a region of Mesopotamia. Some collections date back to 2600 BC; they mostly contain records of commercial transactions or lists of what someone owned. Papyrus scrolls containing similar records were housed in ancient Egyptian temples

Tablet from the Library of AshurbanipalTablet from the Library of AshurbanipalIn the 7th century BC, the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, ordered the collection of thousands of ancient texts, including a Mesopotamian poem called the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 1500 and 1000 BC and one of the world’s first works of literature. Assyrian scribes copied out these texts in cuneiform script on to clay tablets or wooden writing boards. Archaeologists working in the 19th century found some 30,000 tablets and writing boards at Nineveh, Ashurbanipal's capital. Most are fragments of larger tablets. They were classified according to shape: round tablets were about farming, while four-sided boards were about money and banking. The collection makes up what is called the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal.

The first library to be set up in the Americas was the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, which opened in Puebla, Mexico in 1646.

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