In tracing the history of books and libraries, I have come across passages that mark key moments in the development of librarianship.
I’m currently reading Books on Fire, by Lucien X. Polastron.
During and after the French Revolution, the fate of books was held in the balance, with conflicting viewpoints as to the need to preserve books. Sometimes the decision came down to destroying all books because they were associated with the vanquished regime or preserving at least some books to build up an educational system. In Munich in the early 1800s, books poured in, and an ex-Benedictine was chosen to put things in order.
This Martin Schrettinger … took his charge quite seriously. He showed in 1809 that "the memory of the librarian should be separable from the organization of the books; otherwise, every time the librarian changes, the book collection loses its functionality and, because of that, ceases to be a library." For the first time we are dealing with Bibliothek-Wissenkraft, thus "science." The fairly urticating word bibliotheconomy is not far off. For once the world has truly taken a turn.
The story of the Bamboo Annals is one the most remarkable tales of the survival and loss of precious texts. The Bamboo Annals tell the story of ancient China. The original text was interred with King Xiang of Wei who died in 296 BC. The kingdom of Wei was one of the warring states that were forcibly united under the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang in 221 BC. As part of an attempt to create a new empire uncontaminated with ideas of the past, Qin Shi Huang ordered the destruction of libraries and archives. The Bamboo Annals survived the great burning of the books. In AD 281, grave robbers discovered the Bamboo Annals in the tomb of King Xiang. Unfortunately, a few bamboo strips were lost in the fashioning of a torch. Once recovered, the Bamboo Annals survived for nearly a thousand years, but they eventually disappeared around the time of the Mongols. An effort was made centuries later to recover the text by painstakingly piecing together quotations from the Bamboo Annals that had been recorded in other texts. However, without the original text, the authenticity of these reconstituted texts has been called into question. The remarkable story of the Bamboo Annals shows how fortunate we are to have what texts we do have from the ancient past.