Wednesday, October 31, 2007

As early as the third millennium B.C., Mesopotamian scribes began to catalogue the clay tablets in their collections. For ease of reference, they appended content descriptions to the edges of tablets, and they adopted systematic shelving for quick identification of related texts. The greatest and most famous of the ancient collections, the Library of Alexandria, had, in its ambitions and its methods, a good deal in common with Google’s book projects. It was founded around 300 B.C. by Ptolemy I, who had inherited Alexandria, a brand-new city, from Alexander the Great. A historian with a taste for poetry, Ptolemy decided to amass a comprehensive collection of Greek works. Like Google, the library developed an efficient procedure for capturing and reproducing texts. When ships docked in Alexandria, any scrolls found on them were confiscated and taken to the library. The staff made copies for the owners and stored the originals in heaps, until they could be catalogued. At the collection’s height, it contained more than half a million scrolls, a welter of information that forced librarians to develop new organizational methods. For the first time, works were shelved alphabetically. -- Anthony Grafton, "Future Reading," New Yorker.

In a separate piece entitled Adventures in Wonderland, Grafton also points to some notable online resources for readers, including Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library & Renaissance Culture.

1 comment:

Maria y David said...

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