Quotations About Libraries

"The best place to hide books, often, is the library" (Battle 80).

Discussion of Counter-Reformation Vatican librarian Girolamo [Gugliemo] Sirleto's treatment of books listed as prohibited.

"Canada stands alone among the nations--well, not quite alone, she ranks with Siam and Abyssinia. None of the three has a National Library" (Colombo 88).

Lawrence J. Burpee, civil servant, scholar and librarian of the Ottawa Public Library (1906-1912) in "A Plea for a Canadian National Library," Canadian Historical Review, June 1920.

"He who wants books to bring him fame must learn something from them; he must not store them in his library but in his head. But this first Fool has put his books in chains and made them prisoners; could they free themseleves and speak, they would haul him up in front of the magistrate, demanding that he, not they, be locked up" (Manguel 299).

Excerpt from a sermon delivered by humanist scholar Geiler von Kayersberg in 1509 commenting upon the covetous attitude towards books in Renaissance Europe.

"I remember having given up my clothes to the Greeks in Constantinople in order to get codices--something for which I feel neither shame nor regret" (Tolzmann 53).

Giovanni Aurispa commenting on his own efforts to collect manuscripts from classical Greek literature early in the C15th after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire.

"Touching the books [in the library of the palace of the Ptolemies] you mention, if what is written in them agrees with the Book of God, they are not required; if it disagrees, they are not desired. Destroy them therefore" (Battles 22-23).

Statement attributed to the Caliph Omar (circa 641 A.D.) which was most probably invented by Ibn al-Qifti, a twelfth century Sunni Chronicler to justify the sale of entire libraries by Saladin to finance the wars against the Crusaders.

"Your servant suggests that all books in the imperial archives, save the memoirs of the [current dynasty], be burned. . . . Books not to be destroyed will be those on medicine and pharmacy, divination by tortoise and milfoil, and agriculture and arboriculture. People wishing to pursue learning should take the officials as their teacher" (Lerner 52).

Grand Councillor Li Ssu writing during the Ch'in dynasty (221 - 227) seeking to undermine subversion by Confucian scholars who opposed simplification and standardization of the writing system.

"I do not worry about the book sources for the library collections. I am really distressed that there are no rules and regulations for collation. I have now written the book The theory of library science and bibliography in order that there are no people who hold posts without qualification in the national library, that there are no books that are eaten by silverfish, and that there are thousands of books that are circulated throught the national library" (Lerner 59).

Cheng Ch'iao (1103-1162) who codified the best practices in Chinese librarianship expressing his concern for the preservation of China's literary heritage.

"The library is a "sick ward for Chief Ministers" (Lerner 58).

A comment on the decline of the stature of the Imperial Library after military setbacks in the middle of the eighth century.

"ingenia hominum rem publicam fecit" ("He made men's talents a public possession.")

Pliny, in his Natural History, describing the accomplishment of Asinius Pollio when he established the public library planned by Caesar.

"If anyone attempts to carry away one of these books by theft, by fraud, or in any other manner, let his name be struck from the book of the living, that he not be inscribed with the just but instead, delivered to the fire of hell, be tormented endlessly" (Lerner 88).

Inscription in the catalogue of the Cistercians of Vaux-de-Cernay

". . . for safer custody of the books the university has ordained and decreed that all graduates now in the university and any others permitted to enter . . . will treat in decent fashion the books which they inspect, doing no damage by erasures or removing leaves or quires . . ." (Lerner 87).

Library Regulations adopted at Oxford in 1412.

. . . My library
Was dukedom large enough.
(Shakespeare, The Tempest I.ii.109-110)

Prospero regretting the way in which he neglected wordly affairs while committing himself to "the bettering of [his] mind."

"We cannot go back very far in our researches in their past history, as they have no libraries other than the memory of their old men; and perhaps we should find nothing worthy of publication" (Colombo 319).

Father Jerome Lalemont in The Jesuit Relations commenting on the oral history of the Algonquin peoples.

"Lake of the Woods in Ontario and Minnesota has 14 000 islands. Some of them are painted islands, the rocks bearing signs ranging from a a few hundred to more than a thousand years old. So these islands, which I'm longing to read, are book in themselves. . . . Books are nothing all that new. People have been writing books in North America since at least 2000 B.C. Or painting islands. You could think of the lakes as libraries" (Erdrich 3-5).

Novelist Louise Erdrich explaining part of the lure of the Lake of the Woods area in Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country.

"Both Catholic and Anglican hold the city of Toronto by the throat, and mould the habits and opinions of the people of Toronto. No book or lecture can have any success that does not have the stamp of approval of the churches. Perhaps you will understand the whole situdation when I tell you that the librarian of the public library . . . declared: 'No, we do not censor books, we simply do not get them.' He certainly spoke the truth" (Colombo 222).

Anarchist activist Emma Goldman in a letter to Ben Capes on January 27, 1928.


Battles, Matthew. Library An Unquiet History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.

Casson, Lionel. Libraries in the Ancient World. New Haven: Yale U.P., 2001.

Colombo, John Robert, ed. Colombo's Canadian Quotations. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1974.

Erdrich, Louise Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2003.

Lerner, Fred. The Story of Libraries from the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age.
New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002.

Harris, Michael H. History of Libraries of the Western World.Lanham, Maryland:
Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.

"Library." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online
School Edition
. 19 Oct. 2004 http://school.eb.com/eb/article?tocId=9051735 .

Manguel, Alberto. A History of Reading. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1996.

"Medicean-Laurentian Library." Encyclopaedia Britannica . 2004. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online School Edition .
19 Oct. 2004 http://school.eb.com/eb/article?tocId=9051735 .

Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, Alfred Hessel and Reuben Peiss. The Memory of Mankind.
New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2001.



History of Libraries


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