Old Libraries Around the World: Background information when reading The Library at Mount Char

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The Library at Mount Char

by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins X
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 400 pages

    Mar 2016, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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About this Book

Old Libraries Around the World

This article relates to The Library at Mount Char

Print Review

One of the features of the magnificent library in Scott Hawkins' The Library at Mount Char, is its age. Some of the books and manuscripts it contains are said to be at least twenty thousand years old. In the real world there are many fascinating old libraries still in existence, a few of which are described below:

Haeinsa Temple

The Tripitaka Koreana In the Gaya Mountains in South Korea, the 9th century Haeinsa Temple houses the Tripitaka Koreana, a collection of Buddhist scriptures carved on over 80,000 wooden printing blocks that date back to the 13th century. Since 1398, the blocks have been housed in the Janggyeong Panjeon complex within the temple. The incredible condition of these ancient wood blocks is attributed both to the sunless building which houses them and the way there were originally made. Each individual block of birch wood was first soaked in salt water for three years and boiled. They were then exposed to the elements for a further three years. After carving, each block was varnished in poisonous lacquer to keep insects away and framed in metal to maintain its shape.

The Old Royal Library

This closed collection of manuscripts is part of the British Library, having been donated to the British Museum by George II in 1757. The collection includes nearly 2000 manuscripts and 9000 books and its inception can be traced to Edward IV who was King of England from 1461 to 1470 and 1471 – 1483. Around one fifth of the collection was added by Henry VIII and includes many manuscripts and books taken or acquired during the dissolution of monasteries, a vital part of Henry's plan to establish the Church of England and divorce the first of his six wives, Katherine of Aragon.

St Catherine's Monastery

St Catherine's Monastery St Catherine's Monastery can be found in Egypt at the foot of Mount Sinai, where it is said that Moses saw the burning bush. It houses the world's oldest continually operational library, established in the sixth century. Only the Vatican library houses a larger collection of early manuscripts. Housed here are the Sinai manuscripts including the Codex Sinaiticus, a handwritten copy of the Greek Bible. The monastery was built on the orders of the Emperor Justinian I who reigned from 527-565.

Biblioteca Malatestiana

Biblioteca Malatestiana The Biblioteca Malatestiana is one of the first public libraries in Europe, built in Cesena, Italy. Established in the fifteenth century, this library is remarkable because it has been maintained exactly as it was originally constructed in 1452. Each book, in its original binding, is maintained in its original position, chained to a desk and available to be examined but never moved. Its originator, Malatesta Novello, commissioned scribes to produce copies of 340 of the most important books then written. Since Novello's death in 1465, the library has continued to grow but the original structure remains unchanged.

The Sturgis Library

Sign outside the Sturgis Library The United States is home to many wonderful libraries – the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, the Library of Congress and the Beinecke Library at Yale for example – but identifying the oldest library in America is less than straightforward. The Sturgis Library in Barnstable, Cape Cod is often thought of as the oldest library, but the building is older than its library. It was built in 1645 and so it is the oldest building to house a library in America. The list of claimants for the first lending library includes the Franklin Public Library in Franklin, Massachusetts, The Redwood Library and Athenaeum of Newport, Rhode Island (a private subscription library), and the Library Company of Philadelphia, founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin. The title of oldest public library in the USA, on the other hand, is generally given to the Darby Free Library in Pennsylvania, open since 1743.

Picture of the Tripitaka Koreana from official site of Korea Tourism
Picture of Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt, by Berthold Werner
Picture of Biblioteca Malatestiana from Cesena Cultura
Sign outside the Sturgis Library from Classic Inns of Historic Cape Cod Bay

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Kate Braithwaite

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Library at Mount Char. It originally ran in July 2015 and has been updated for the March 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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