“A monastery without books is like a fortress without an armoury”

By Julie Somers

As the summer comes to a close and the new semester begins, I attended a week long course on ‘The Book in Western Europe’ sponsored by the University of Amsterdam Bijzondere Collecties ‘Books from Afar’ Summer School.  The lecturers were David and Rosamond McKitterick, some of the most knowledgeable book historians around. Covering the whole of Western European book history in one week is quite ambitious, yet the McKitterick’s gave a successful attempt. Starting with Antiquity, the course took us through to the 19th century, plotting the important developments in book production along the way. The program closed with the fourth Frederik Muller Lecture given by Alberto Manguel. We were also given the unique opportunity to try a replica wooden printing press.

To support the daily discussion, manuscripts and facsimile editions were displayed for us from the special collections library of the University of Amsterdam. It was “the library” that remained a resonate theme throughout the week. Initially, Rosamond McKitterick asked us to think what a medieval library collection would look like.

What books would be needed? Why? Who are the readers? This led us to discuss what judgments are made in regards to library creation. We talked about the relationship of the scribe to the medieval library all the way to the possibilities and limitations of printing in relation to modern libraries. Here, David McKitterick introduced the topic of collections in an online library, such as the Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht. What should be digitized? Again, who are the readers?

The theme of the library was continued by Alberto Manguel during the book salon where he discussed his private library collection as a reflection of himself as a reader. It is interesting to consider that from Antiquity to the Digital Age, many of the same questions and choices had to be made in determining the content of a library collection. I found this to be a poignant connection between the medieval, modern, online and private library. Each is a reflection, a representation of the needs of the reader.

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