Owning Books: A Short History

The practice of collecting books was first introduced in Greece. During those times, only the wealthy have the right and privilege to collect books and start their private library.

Besides those private libraries owned by wealthy families, there are public libraries that made books accessible to the masses. Wealthy family also owned these libraries; as opposed to the modern public libraries, which are owned and financed by governments or organizations.

Around 30 of these public libraries were in existence by the end of the 3rd century, before 300 AD. Some of them were erected outside of Greece, like the Royal Library of Alexandria, the largest and most important library of the ancient world, which was located in the city of Alexandria in Egypt.


Monastery and University Libraries

In time, churches and monasteries started building their own libraries, which were made available for the public as well. During the 12th century, these monastery libraries became exceedingly popular. Although the books in these libraries were available for reading, people couldn’t check them out for borrowing. Some of them, the important ones, were even chained to the walls.

Scholars, academics and other patrons also started building university libraries around this time. They implemented the same rules as the monasteries.

When people started donating books to libraries in the 15th century, that is when modern and truly public libraries began to emerge. This practice of donating to libraries emerged in the United States during the late 19th century when entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie began donating money to different libraries in the US as well as in Canada and Scotland.


Introduction of Paperbacks

Despite the fact that books became more accessible to the poor (most but not all), there was still a separation between them and the rich in terms of owning books. Books were very expensive then so the rich, who had the means, bought, owned and collected books and had their own private libraries while the poor didn’t own them. The poor and even the average people still relied heavily on public libraries to read books.

In an effort to break this inequality, a German publisher tried to mass-market books by printing and producing them in paperback formats in the 20th century. A paperback is a book that uses inexpensive paper, uses covers made of paperboard and is held together with glue instead of stitches. In 1935, Penguin Books in the UK implemented and commercialized this idea and began to successfully sell paperback to the masses for much lower prices.

Since paperbacks were (and still are) sold very cheap, they made it possible for average and poor people to own book and start their own book collection and small libraries. Suddenly, everybody had almost equal opportunities in owning books.


Organizing Books

When there is a huge collection of books like in a public library, bookends are used. Bookends are supports to keep a row of upright books in place. They help ensure that books are organized.

Another organization technique being used is cataloguing. Book cataloguing is the method or system of using codes and adding them to books so that people can easily find the books they want or need in the public library.

If a book collection is small, there is no need to catalogue them. They can just be stored anyway the owner wants to. If a book collection is large like in a public library, it proves difficult for the people to find the books they want. So, libraries started creating standard card catalogues that served as guides on the different library sections and book locations.

Still being used today even by booksellers and bookstores, these catalogues also show which books are available. Codes are added to each book on its spine and people use those codes with the catalogues to get information like what section the book is in, what shelf it is on, etc. The catalogues also contain information like the author’s name, the title, the year of publication, the publisher, and many more written according to the established ANSI or NISO standard. Libraries and booksellers also add abbreviations that provide information about the size of the paper used to make a specific book.




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