Academic libraries have had a long and varied history throughout the world. Very early libraries such as the library of Alexandria in Egypt and the libraries of Mesopotamia are shrouded in mystery but renowned for their devotion to academia. They represented the epitome of knowledge and wisdom in the ancient world. While these ancient libraries may no longer exist as they once did the essence of the library in academia traveled throughout the world and history, manifesting it’s self in the medicinal libraries of Europe and the grandiose libraries of America.
Libraries in the ancient world varied depending upon location and the availability of written language or pictographs among the culture. Many ancient libraries which have survived in records were rooted in the Mesopotamia region, often referred to as the cradle of civilization. Libraries in this area were kept for three general reasons: temple or religious records, governmental archives and business records. There is a possibility of a fourth reason, personal and family records, however the social and economic condition in the ancient world would most likely limit this reason to highly affluent and influential people.
While none of the reasons listed are blatantly academic in nature, one of the more important function for many temples and government archives was the education of scribes. It was necessary to study for many years to become proficient in written language and classification among temple and government archives, among written languages students also learned a range of skills and disciplines which were not offered outside of religious affiliations. “Students were trained not only as priests and scribes but also in other professions such as astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and accounting” (Harris, 1984)
In an attempt to entrust their scribes and priests with secular and religious knowledge, priests of the ancient world inadvertently became the precursor to academic libraries. However, while religious tutoring may have been the most common form of academic study, a few exceptions exist. Most notable is the Library of Alexandria. While many libraries were confined to religious and government roles within the community the Library of Alexandria in Egypt became the epitome of knowledge and wisdom in the ancient world.
Unlike temple libraries and government archives the Library of Alexandria was dedicated to the arts and scholarship. While the main purpose of the library may have been to show off the wealth of the country, research and the pursuit of collecting all known knowledge became foundation for which the library was awarding outstanding acclaim. Through an aggressive collection policy the Library of Alexandria became one of the world’s legendary academic and scholarly libraries.
The history and importance of European libraries is numerous. A complete and concise account would be endless and inappropriate for this paper. However,...