From the prefect’s desk: Gerard van Swieten’s library correspondence

Journal Article | Published | English

Scopus indexed
Chlebak, Clara AISTA ; Reid, Peter H.
This article investigates library-related documents written by Gerard van Swieten (1700–72) during his tenure as Library Prefect in the Imperial Library of Vienna (1745–72). Van Swieten’s time as Library Prefect is considered through a textual analysis. Handwritten letters were deconstructed in terms of their appearance, layout, and tone in order to mine them for meaning. Furthermore, the contents were examined for library matters such as censorship, catalogues, and collection development. The Imperial Court Library held a prominent role as a repository for rare and valuable works, later becoming the National Library of Austria. Gerard van Swieten’s work as a librarian tends to be overlooked, perhaps because he is better known as the private physician of Maria Theresia, as well as a medical reformer. Nevertheless, he was a hard-working chief librarian deeply involved in all aspects of librarianship. Van Swieten endorsed modern scientific works, which were otherwise banned officially by the censorship commission, for the use of scholars in the library, expanded the collection by acquiring books through his network of scholars and publishers, and reissued library catalogues. He also provided for the comfort of users in the library reading room, at a time when such considerations were unusual. In conclusion, a proposal is made that van Swieten viewed his role as librarian with some importance and pride.
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Library and Information History
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