Organizing The Bibliothèque Nationale The First Time, c. 1530

Organizing The Bibliothèque Nationale The First Time, c. 1530

Salda, Michael N.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 8 (1991)


The way we arrange books in our libraries often indicates the way categorize our thoughts. The Library of Congress classification systen, for example, mirrors late nineteenth-century American divisions of knowledge and our biases as well. Every pre-1900 American literary author can today be found under his or her own classification number (that is, to the left of the decimal), while entire subjects that have come into bibliographic existence since the turn of the century–computer science and all Latin American literatures, to name only those that come immediately to mind–are often grouped under the same classification number and can be differentiated in our libraries only by increasingly longer decimal cutters.

Medieval libraries also had their own peculiar organizing principles–or at least we assume they did. But this information rarely has come down to us. We are lucky to get an inventory of a collection, and luckier still if the manuscripts are grouped in a logical fashion in that inventory. It is unusual, however, to have any information about where books were actually located within a medieval library. The royal library of the château at Blois represents one of these unusual instances.

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