Thursday, August 22, 2013

Library Power and Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683)

At the American Library Association Conference in Chicago this summer I attended the Edward G. Holley Lecture of the Library History Round Table. It waa a presentation by Jacob Soll, Professor of History and Accounting at the University of Southern California. The title of his presentation was "Library of Power, Library of Enlightenment: Libraries as Foundations to the Modern State 1400-1806". The lecture was far more entertaining than its title would indicate. A big portion of the lecture dealt with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a 17th century Frenchman who was one of the first significant political figures to realize the power of libraries and to make use of that power.  Starting in 1661 he served in a number of capacities under King Louis XIV, most notably as Controller General and Finance. As Superintendent of Buildings he was supervisor of the Royal Library, the predecessor of the Bibliotheque Nationale.  Colbert also built an extensive personal library that he used to help administer the French State.  Soll is author of The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert's Secret Intelligence System (Univ. of Michigan Press, 2011).  According to Soll Colbert, "Believed that all knowledge had practical value for politics." I collect postage stamps stamps that depict librarians or other library people.  Colbert is one of those people. He was depicted on a French stamp issued in 1944 (see above). Thanks to Soll I know a lot more about Colbert. For my list of library people on postage stamps (outside of the U.S.) go HERE.

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