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11 Awesome Libraries and Librarians!

Libraries are awesome! Did you know libraries have existed almost since the beginning of the written word? A collection of 30,000 clay tablets found in ancient Mesopotamia are said to date back more than 5,000 years.

The first great public library was the Library of Alexandria, founded around 300 BC in Egypt. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the valuable collections held there were lost when the library was destroyed. A modern version was opened in 2002 as a memorial to the spirit and scholarship of the original library.

Every great library is staffed with talented librarians. Many famous people and world leaders throughout history served as librarians before achieving recognition in other fields.

So in honor of the awesomeness of librarianship, here are 11 notable libraries and librarians throughout history:

Vatican Library

“The Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library” Photo credit: xiquinhosilva / Foter / CC BY

Vatican Library, Vatican City. Established in 1475, the library of the Holy Roman Church holds the oldest complete manuscript of the Bible, as well as over one million other printed volumes and 65,000 manuscripts. Most of the works are in either Latin or Greek.

Pope Pius XI (1857-1939). Before he became pope (from 1922 until his death in 1939), Achille Ratti was a librarian and scholar, and famously reorganized the archives in the Vatican library.

"Bodleian Library" Photo credit: Poul-Werner / Foter / CC BY

“Bodleian Library” Photo credit: Poul-Werner / Foter / CC BY

Bodleian Library, Oxford, United Kingdom. The main research library of the University of Oxford is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to 1602. It has more than 11 million items within its walls.

The Brothers Grimm. Before they published their classic work Grimm’s Fairy Tales in 1812, Jacob (1785-1863) served as the royal librarian for Napoleon Bonaparte’s youngest brother Jerome, King of Westphalia, with brother Wilhelm (1786-1859) as his assistant.

Harvard University Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The oldest library system in the United States began in 1638 when John Harvard donated 260 volumes. The Harvard Library has grown to become the largest university library in the U.S, and the largest private library system in the world, with more than 18,000,000 volumes.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976). The Communist leader of the Chinese revolution and founder of the People’s Republic of China lived in Beijing as a young man, where he was an assistant librarian at the University.

Library of the Benedictine Monastery, Admont, Austria. The largest monastery library in the world was completed in 1776 and holds some 200,000 volumes, including more than 1,400 manuscripts (some dating from the 8th century) and 530 incunabula (early printed books before 1500). Some of the manuscripts were the gifts of Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg, who founded the Monastery in 1074.

Golda Meir (1898-1978). The fourth Prime Minister of Israel (1969-1974), worked as a librarian in both Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois. The main library of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she graduated in 1917, is named in her honor.

Library of Congress Reading Room

[Main Reading Room. View from above showing researcher desks. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]
Photo credit: The Library of Congress / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Established by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1800, it is the largest library in the world, holding millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.

J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972). The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924 until his death in 1972 put himself through law school at George Washington University by working at the Library of Congress as a messenger, cataloguer and clerk.

Laura Bush Portrait. White House photo by Krisanna Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Laura Bush Portrait.
White House photo by Krisanna Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Laura Bush (1946-). The former First Lady earned her Master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Texas at Austin in 1973 after working as an elementary school teacher. She worked in both school and public libraries in her home state of Texas.

Find more information on some of these renowned libraries and prominent librarians in these websites offered on SIRS WebSelect. All sites are selected, curated and updated daily by SIRS editors to ensure quality and accessibility. Or you can easily create your own search using keywords, natural language or subject headings to explore this topic or virtually any other classroom lesson.

The Vatican Library

The Library of Congress

J. Edgar Hoover

Laura Bush

Becky Beville

Becky Beville

Editor I at ProQuest
Works on content for SIRS Issues Researcher and eLibrary products.
Becky Beville

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