Sunday, July 08, 2007

Library: An Unquiet History by Matthem Battles (11)

Swift’s executors started a list of his books during his long, last illness, and it gives a fair picture of the disposition of volumes in his study. The catalogue follows the shelves from left to right around the room, through folios (the largest books, each pages consisting of a full sheet of paper, the size of a modern atlas) and quartos (the size of a typical encyclopedia) to two shelves of duodecimos (one of the smallest book formats, in which the paper had been folded twelve times to fashion the page), all arranged by size. The sale catalogue of Swift’s books, drawn up after they had been removed from the deanery upon his death, similarly lists books by size. This is reminiscent of Harvard’s library, and other contemporary catalogues as well. Even the largest libraries were still modest enough to allow librarians to keep track of all the books without resort to complex cataloguing techniques.

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