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1780: The Oldest Card Catalogue


Gottfried van Swieten, the son of Gerard van Swieten, served as the court library’s prefect from 1777 to 1803. During his term, some 300 manuscripts, 3,000 printed works, and 5,000 diplomata came into the court library’s possession as a result of the dissolution of monasteries under Emperor Joseph II. However, Gottfried van Swieten also earned his merits when it comes to the library’s organisational development, seeing to the compilation of the oldest card catalogue in the history of librarianship

What may appear so unimposing is nevertheless an important landmark in the history of the library’s accessibility and use. Previously, library catalogues had had the form of books, so that it was difficult to keep them up to date on a regular basis. The card catalogue was the first technical means that did justice to the incomplete nature and topicality of information. It is no coincidence that, a few years later, the French Revolution government, which made it a matter of national importance to appropriate cultural heritage, took similar steps. 

In Austria, too, the ideas of the Enlightenment sparked the wish and the demand to access cultural treasures, at least in the academic world. In 1781 it was thus possible for a critical article to appear in the Realzeitung, which complained that the library was “not made for edification but for being looked at”. This can be perceived as a first sign of criticism of the old and mainly representative function of the court library.




» 1784: Scholarship at the Library – Michael Denis and Adam von Bartsch

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