The development of new ways to record, acquire, and house fast-accumulating knowledge and the shift from feudal to Humanistic values during the Renaissance combined to create a demand for more and better libraries throughout Europe. This movement began with the founding of the Bavarian State Library in 1558, gathered momentum with the founding of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in 1602, and provided critical resources for the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.
The modern public libraries that emerged from the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century were rooted in the royal, national, and academic libraries of the seventeenth century. Before the time of the Renaissance, libraries in Europe were made up of the private collections of kings, nobles, cardinals, and the wealthy, as well as a few collections that were affiliated with universities. These collections burgeoned after Johann Gutenberg invented printing with movable type about 1450.
In the next 150 years, better methods of recording and transmitting knowledge in turn led to an increase in how knowledge in natural science, social science, philosophy, art, literature, and politics was gained, analyzed, and used. Transcending the gulf between Roman Catholic and various Protestant worldviews that arose through the Reformation, the Humanistic, inquiring spirit of the times demanded new and larger repositories for its books and other written and artistic products. These new libraries helped to solidify cultural gains and promote further intellectual and artistic progress.
Duke Albert V
In 1610, Bodley arranged for the library to receive free copies of every title registered at Stationers’ Hall, thus laying the foundation for legal deposit and, eventually, the concept of copyright. Legal deposit got a boost in 1624 when Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II
Several other national libraries in Europe originated around this time. The Swedish Royal Library
The Academy of Turku in Finland established its library in 1640. After a catastrophic fire in 1827, the school moved to the new Finnish capital, Helsinki, and since then the Helsinki University Library
As an integral component of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation
The Biblioteca Angelica,
Other Roman Catholic leaders followed Rocca’s example. Archbishop of Milan Federico Borromeo,
Some of the most important Roman Catholic repositories began as libraries of religious orders. Most active were the Jesuits
The most celebrated Protestant thinker involved in the seventeenth century growth of libraries was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Many of the European libraries founded before 1700 remain among the world’s most important repositories. The Wittelsbach Court Library evolved into the Bavarian State Library, which owns the world’s largest collection of incunabula, or books printed before 1501. With 19,900 copies of 9,660 editions, this collection holds about one-third of all known surviving incunabula. The Bodleian Library has almost 7 million volumes, including 7,000 incunabula and 170,000 manuscripts. The other surviving libraries have smaller but highly specialized collections with exceptional research value, particularly manuscripts and incunabula. Together, these libraries provided the resources from which the Enlightenment emerged in the eighteenth century.