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Justus Lipsius Issues the First "Major" History of Libraries


De bibliothecis syntagma, a pamphlet of 34 pages published in Antwerp at the Plantin-Moretus Press in 1602, has been called, in spite of its brevity, the first "major" history of libraries. It was written by the Southern-Netherlandish (Belgian) philologist and humanist Joose Lips, or Josse Lips, best-known through the Latinization of his name, Justus Lipsius. "Based primarily on the writings of classical Greek and Roman authors, it surveyed the libraries of antiquity by describing their locations, buildings, storage methods, and, to a small extent, their contents" (Walker, Justus Lipsius and the Historiography of Libraries," Libraries & Culture XXVI [1991] 49-65.)

In 1907 librarian John Cotton Dana issued an English translation of the second edition (1607) of Lipsius's work as A Brief Outline of the History of Libraries.

In spite of its brevity because of the paucity of surviving information, and its dependence mostly on secondary sources, Lipsius's work remained widely consulted and underwent numerous editions through the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was superceded to a certain extent by the much more extensive work of Louis Jacob (1644), but replaced mainly by the work of Edward Edwards (1859). See Thomas D. Walker, "Ancient Authors on Libraries: An Analysis and Bibliographic History of De Bibliothecis Syntagma by Justus Lipsius," Justus Lipsius Europae Lumen et Columen: Proceedings of the International Colloquium... (Leiden, 1999) 233-247.

(This entry was last revised on 06-10-2015).

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