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Attempts at Preservation in Ancient Libraries

Early Attempts at Preservation

"In ancient times a library building almost always faced the east, as also did the temples.... Whatever the religious reason for this orientation of temples, the arrangement had a practical advantage for libraries, since it gave access early to the morning sun, and thus ensured the dissipation of the night damp, which was very injurious to papyrus and parchment, especially the latter, which molded easily"
source: Ancient Libraries by James Westfall Thompson, pp. 83-84

"The development of prose literature, a medium destined for a reading public, made for utilization of papyrus.... Papyrus, however, was not suitable for perservation; for, aside from its destruction through moths and bookworms it crumbles easily, and the result is gaps which impair the manuscript. It was an advance when animal skins were utilized for the library at Pergamum, and the preparation of this writing material had great care. Parchment, however, owing to its greater expense, never succeeded in ousting papyrus."

"The revival of leather in classical antiquity was due to an improvement in the method of preparing the skins by which it was possible to write upon both sides of them."
source: Ancient Libraries by James Westfall Thompson, pp. 62-63
[Imperial Library (Constantinople (Turkey))]

Most of the text and literature of Ancient Greece was written on papyrus and as the material making up the text began to deteriorate there was a movement to transfer the text to parchment. Around the 4th century, Constantine the Great began the movement to transfer text (specifically Holy Scripture) from papyrus to parchment. Constantine's heir to the throne Constantius II continued this movement. It was his work that culminated in the first Imperial Library of Constantinople. The library is estimated to have contained some 100,000 volumes of ancient text. The movement was headed by one Themistios, who commanded a group of calligraphers and librarians.
source: Wikipedia--accessed24sep10
[Library at Pergamum (Pergamum (Turkey))]

""Historical accounts claim that the library possessed a large main reading room, lined with many shelves. An empty space was left between the outer walls and the shelves to allow for air circulation. This was intended to prevent the library from becoming overly humid in the warm climate of Anatolia and can be seen as an early attempt at library preservation. Manuscripts were written on parchment [a leather writing material that was developed at Pergamum], rolled, and then stored on these shelves."
source: Wikipedia--accessed 18sep10
[Celsus Library (Ephesus (Turkey))]

"The scrolls of the manuscripts were kept in cupboards in niches on the walls. There were double walls behind the bookcases to prevent the them from the extremes of temperature and humidity. The capacity of the library was more than 12,000 scrolls. It was the third richest library in ancient times after the Alexandra and Pergamum."

[Celsus Library (Ephesus (Turkey))]

The library building was surrounded by second set of walls from outside to keep the humidity and the temperature variations outside. The internal dimensions of the library was 11 x 16.7 m.
source: Focus Mediterannean Online Magazine--accessed25sep10

[Celsus Library (Ephesus (Turkey))]

"The Library of Celsus was designed not merely for beauty; it was specially engineered for the preservation of books.

The main gallery had double walls separated by a corridor. Rolled manuscripts were stored in square niches along the inner walls. The cavity between the inner and outer walls helped protect parchments and papyri from mildew and pests. Narrow walkways and stairs in this cavity lead to the upper level."

[Celsus Library (Ephesus (Turkey))]

"The current interpretation of the corridors describes them as having two functions 1) passage and 2) protection against dampness. Support for the second interpretation is drawn from Vitruvius, VI, 4, 1 where he shows support for the problem of dampness in private libraries. Vitruvius says nothing about corridors in that context. He merely suggests that the building be oriented to the east to make use of the morning light. This orientation (as well as the north orientation) would protect against the winds that cause the books in a library to rot. Vitruvius VI, 4, 1 cannot be used by itself to explain the function of the corridors as protecting the books from dampness.

"It seems more reasonable to interpret the corridors as a result of the need for secondary walls along the west and south sides. This would be due to the rise in terrain and the need for buttressing and protection against water run off. This need is reflected in the presence of drain pipes.
source: Lora Lee Johnson, The Hellenistic and Roman Library: Studies Pertaining to Their Architectural Form, pp. 22-23.
[Rogatinus Library (Timgad (Algeria))]

This library (Timgad) faces east, following the traditional rule of VITRUVIUS (vi,4,1):

Cubicula et bybliothecae ad orientem spectare debent; usus enim matutinurn postulat lumen, item in bybliothecis libri non putresant. nam quaecumque ad meridiem et occidentem spectant, ab tineis et umore libri vitiantur, quod venti umidi advenientes procreant eas et alunt infundentesque umidos spiritus pallore volumina corrumpunt.

(In the translation of M. H. MORGAN, Cambridge, Mass., 1914 :) “Bedrooms and libraries ought to have an eastern exposure, because their purposes require the morning light. and also because books in such libraries will not decay. In libraries with southern exposures the books are ruined by worms and dampness. because damp winds come up. which breed and nourish the worms, and destroy the books with mould, by spreading their damp breath over them .”
source: The Roman Library at Timgad...Homer F. Pfeiffer
Alexandria (Egypt)... Main and Serapeum Libraries
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