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Book Reviews and Comments

At last a reference book that is only about library and book superlatives.

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Book Reviews and Comments

Here is a selection of what people and organizations are saying about Library World Records. Feel free to send me any recent reviews or comments not listed here. I have given some replies to some reviews or comments to make this web page an interesting place to learn more about my book. Critical summaries are all welcome, because I would like to make huge improvements for future editions.

I will add brand new reviews for the 3rd edition in due course by the end of 2017 and beyond.

At OCLC website for FirstSearch Database, you can preview and sample several pages of the 3rd edition of Library World Records here: OCLC First Search Preview login required.

American Reference Books Annual, ARBA, Santa Barbara, Californi, USA. Critical review, Spring 2018, Page 1.

Library Book Watch (Midwest Book Review) October 2017. Vol 12, Number 10. MBR, Oregon Town, Wisconsin, USA. Critical review. The Library Science Shelf.

Indian Association of Special Libraries and Information Centres, IASLIC Newsletter, Kankurgachi, Kolkata, India. Critical review, February 2017, page 6 (Special Feature).

In Quest of Superlatives

Which is the largest library in the world? this is one of the common questions often asked in interviews for recruitment of library/information professionals. Every professional knows that it is Library of Congress in USA. But this is not the only superlative relating to libraries. There are many such superlatives about which we are not much aware of. For example, the longest overdue book, issued to Robert Walpole of England from Sidney Sussex College library in 1668, was returned after 288 years, without fine, while the largest overdue fine of $345 was paid by Emily Canellos-Simms of USA for returning a book of poetry Days and Deeds, which she returned to Kewanee Public Library after 47 years; the highest (230.9m) library from ground level is located on the floor of the J W Marriot Hotel at Tomorrow Square in Shanghai, China; the most sold copyrighted book and the most stolen book in the world is Guinness World Records; the largest book in the world is This the Prophet Mohamed, which measures 16.40ft x 26.44ft, weighs 3,306 lbs and consists of 429 pages, while the smallest book is Teeny Ted from Turnip Town, which is a 30 micro-tablet book carved on a pure crystalline silicon page, measuring just 70 micrometres x 100 micrometres; and the largest atlas is Earth Platinum Atlas, which measures 6.08ft x 4.75ft, with a depth of 2.36 inches and weight of 4411b and so on.

But then, where can we find such superlatives or records relating to libraries and their resources and users? The first source that comes to our mind is Guinness World Records (previously known as Guinness Book of Records) and innumerable other fields. Yes there is no doubt that it is an important source in this regard, but its scope is wider and it includes records in innumerable other fields. Another similar initiative is Golden Book of Records, which too has several entries relating to libraries, such as largest research library in the world (New York Public Library), largest library in the world (British Library, though Guinness World Records gives this credit to Library of Congress) and also several entries relating to books. But its scope is also quite wide and records relating to library and books included in it are not significant in number.

Interestingly, a British librarian Godfrey Oswald, who has worked as a cataloguer, database searcher and library manager, being interested in identifying superlatives in his own field, started to do research in this area which culminated in introduction of a Library World Records section in 1997 in the free Info Connect Library and Information Science Directory website ( created by him in 1995 and later publication of a record book entirely devoted to library and related fields, entitled Library World Records in 2004, which was later greatly revised in 2009. A new edition of the book is scheduled to be published in summer 2017. His massive reference record book provides hundreds of intriguing and comprehensive facts about ancient and modern books, manuscripts and libraries around the world, e.g. :

What are the names of oldest public libraries in all ofthe different continents ofthe world?
In which year was the first CD-ROM book released?
When was the first major computer database used in libraries?
What are the titles of the largest, heaviest, smallest and most expensive books ever published?
What are the titles of the largest journals and magazines in the world?
Which libraries have the most expensive budgets in the world?
Which countries publish the largest number of books in the world?
What are the names of the oldest surviving papyrus, vellum, parchment and paper manuscripts?
What is the name of the very first printed book in the world to have page numbers?
What are the names of the first books and illuminated manuscripts to be printed in colour? ........and soon.

Naturally, this book is often termed as the Guinness Book of World Records on libraries and books. In India too some efforts have been made to create similar record books. Limca Book of Records, first brought out in 1990, includes library related records under Education category. Some of the entries relate to largest library in India, (National Library, Kakolta); first Little Magazine that it is an important information source in this regard, Library in Kolkata; first Comic Book Library in Mumbai; but its scope is wider and it includes records in record of highest new member registration in a library (in a day ) held by Pais Friends Library in Dombivli, Thane, Maharashtra; only library with clippings incorporated in books (The Phoenix Library, Pune) and so on. India Book of Records is another initiative started in 2004, but it specializes in the fields which mostly are not included in any organized sport. It has one entry on mobile library (packed inside a box) introduced in a Gujarat school and a few entries relating to books, but not specifically about any library or related fields. Another similar initiative is Asia Book of Records, but it does not cover many records relating to library and related fields. It has only recorded the first international journal on poetry Kavita Sagar and the first book of Indian Constitution in poetry form. There are two more similar initiatives, viz., Indian Achiever Book of Records and World Records India. The former does not seem to have any entry relating to library or related fields, while the latter has one entry relating to public library set up by a child and a few entries relating to books.

Obviously, there is dearth of any book specifically for library and book related records in India. We eagerly look forward for any young enthusiast who can take up this responsibility so that we can also boast ofhaving a Library India Records.

[Sources:,, http://www.guinness, 7891,, letters:elan_issue38Jall2005.pdf,,,, http://www.worldrecords]

Copyright © Indian Association of Special Libraries and Information Centres, IASLIC Newsletter, Kankurgachi, Kolkata, India, 2017. All rights reserved.

Libraries & The Cultural Record, University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, U.S., , critical review, April 2011, Number 4, 412-441.

The Literature of American Library History, 2008-2009 by Edward A. Goedeken Iowa State University.
Although no major encyclopedias or other works of this sort appeared during 2008 and 2009, several items were published that deserve attention. Jeffrey Wilhite updated Smith’s 1968 A Chronology of Librarianship with his own volume that brings the chronology up to the year 2000. Wilhite’s work treats each year separately and is nicely crafted and easy to use. One wishes someone could go back and make Smith’s older work equally accessible. Another source replete with facts and figures is Oswald’s new 2009 edition of Library World Records. The first edition came out in 2004, but in this new version, Oswald was able to add more information to many of the entries and update the bibliography. In so doing he increased the earlier book’s length by nearly 100 pages. Copyright © University of Texas Press, 2011. All rights reserved.

American Library Association, Chicago, Illinois, U.S., Booklist Review, critical review, September 2009.

This revised and expanded edition provides a potpourri of useful, interesting, and quirky information about libraries around the world. Compiled by a British librarian, the work contains an eclectic range of topics: largest university libraries, largest botany and zoological library, oldest library buildings, first library OPAC in Europe, etc. In addition, the book also offers unusual tidbits about books (first book blessed by a pope, first volume to use page numbers); periodicals (biggest and heaviest newspaper and magazine issues); and authors (Mark Twain was the first to use a typewriter). Illustrated with black-and-white photographs, this ready-reference work is fun to browse. Although the work contains a bibliography, the 382 entries do not list sources. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining book that gathers unique information in one volume. Copyright © American Library Association, 2009. All rights reserved.

Australian Library and Information Association The Australian Library Journal, MacRitchie, John critical review, February 2010.

This publication lists the superlatives of the library world--the biggest library, the most overdue book, the oldest book, and so on. Librarians will enjoy dipping in to it, and the general reader will also find it of interest. It has an attractive cover and a very good index. Copyright © Australian Library and Information Association, 2010. All rights reserved.

Book Review, London CILIP Newsletter Critical review, May 2009. Issue 19.
PDF version, page 4 London, U.K

Review of Godfrey Oswald’s Library World Records (2nd edition)

Ever wondered what the most overdue library book was? Or where the oldest surviving block-printed book was printed? Or which author has held the longest book signing in the UK? Or how much a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, hot off Caxton’s press, sold for in 1998?

Godfrey Oswald has done the work for you: with this fascinating second edition of Library World Records. The book celebrates all aspects of library life, and lists the various world records in an orderly index that only a librarian could create: contained within are records for national, public, academic and subscription libraries, special libraries, archives, librarians, associations, and databases, authors, and even records about the library buildings we use.Want to know what is the oldest library building in Europe? Or – more obscurely - where the largest collection of African legal databases can be found? These records and more are here, and all detailed in a fascinating personal and humorous fashion.

Oswald’s book is also more than simply a comprehensive list of records: it is woven together with a strong and poignant sense of library history. If you want to know what exactly happened to the greatest library in the ancient world, in Alexandria, you can find out under the record sadly titled ‘Twenty-three Major Libraries That Have Suffered Devastating Fires or Natural Disasters’.

The strong historical emphasis that runs throughout the book is tempered by an astounding collection of facts about the contemporary library world. For instance, I never knew that the budget for the most expensive library in the world - the National Security Agency Library in Maryland, USA - is one billon dollars per annum, a figure which dwarfs the annual budget of many countries, or that the British Council is officially the library with the most branches worldwide (1,441 libraries and information centres in 110 countries). Shouldn’t we know these facts and be championing them?

Aside from a great reference tool, and a fascinating snippet of library history, the guide is also very handy for the avid library enthusiast on holiday! The images and detail on fascinating library buildings from across the globe, in places like Japan and Portugal, provide a real glimpse of the less well known, but no less interesting buildings that the world’s books inhabit. Oswald even intersperses the records with some travel advice for the hardened librarianon- tour: according to him, the most amazing view of the Victoria State Library building in Melbourne is, apparently, ‘at night, when the whole place is lit up inside and outside, showing the magnificence of architect Joseph Reed’s design’.

At this time of uncertainty for libraries and librarians, the personal, insightful and fascinating snippets the book offers remind us of a number of important things: how libraries have long been at the centre of communities, collaborating with users and authors, how they have been very good at responding to change throughout history, and finally, reminding us how the relationship between libraries and governments is an important one, and one that has lasted centuries.

As for the most overdue book? It was Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum Septentrionalism, taken out of Sidney Sussex Library at Cambridge University in 1667 by Robert Walpole – and returned by a direct descendant of Walpole in 1956, some 289 years later. Needless to say, no fine was charged! Stephen Sharrock

Personal Development / Books / Librarians Library ALA American Libraries Critical review, March 2009.


Want to know (a) the busiest library in Latin America? (b) the first U.S. libraries to install an OPAC? (c) the tallest library building? You'll find answers to these and other questions in the second edition of Godfrey Oswald's Library World Records . Not only are there listings for the largest, busiest, oldest, first and earliest libraries in various categories, but Oswald also provides tidbits such as "First author to Use a Typewriter" (Mark Twain) and "First Major Reference Work on CD-ROM (Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia). Library Trivial Pursuit anuone? Answers: (a) Sao Paulo Municipal Library in Brazil; (b) Ohio State University Library and Princeton University Library in 1979; (c) Shanghai Library, China.

Issue 4, Evidence newsletter review, at the "Guest Column" section, December 2008.
Brideall Libraries, Glasgow, Scotland, U.K.

Guest Column

Library World Records is a fascinating book of almost 400 library and books superlatives that are often hard to track down in conventional sources. The book deals with factual information about libraries and the three important things we normally find in them: books, periodicals and reference databases.

Hence if you were looking for information on the first books written in English, French, Thai, Japanese, Spanish, Africa and Turkish; the names of the 100 oldest libraries in the world or the list of the largest legal databases available today, the book should be you number one source. First published in 2004, the second edition of the book is soon be published this winter 2008.

Since its publication Library World Records has established itself as an international indispensable reference work on fascinating superlatives covering libraries and books around the world, not just for librarians, researchers and students, but practically anyone who loves reading books or visiting libraries.

As with the first edition, the new edition of Library World Records is complimented with photographs of books, libraries and famous librarians, etc from around the world. The author, Godfrey Oswald, a British librarian, has worked as cataloguer, database searcher and library website manager for over 10 years. In 1995 he developed The Info Connect Library and Information Science Directory, a free Internet directory for information scientists, and librarians, ( Library World Records is thus a natural additional excellent library reference source with the online directory.

Facts in the book make fascinating reading, to summarise a few ones:

* the G8 country with the smallest number of public libraries per capita is Japan;
*the first library to make use of microfilm was the National Library of France;
*the oldest continuously trading bookstore world is at the Vatican;
*the annual budget of the library at the U.S. National Security Agency library at Fort is over $900 million, the largest in the world;
*in 1986 the Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia was the first major reference book to be released on CDROM;
*copyright as we know it today had its origins in the arrangement called the Privilegii started in Venice, Italy with the first one given in 1469;
* the first recorded patent was also granted in Italy in 1421;
*the oldest and continuously scholarly journal is Philosophical Transactions first published in 1665;
*a book from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University in the U.K., borrowed in 1667 was not returned until 1956;
*the biggest modern book-burning ritual ceremony in Europe occurred outside Berlin’s Humboldt University in May 1933;
*St Benedict, Hector Berlioz, Jorge Luis Borges, Immanuel Kant, Charlemagne, Laura Bush, Stephen King and Golda Meir are all former librarians;
*Los Angeles and New York are the two cities in the world with the largest combined collection of public library books and the largest annual budgets;
*Russia has a total of over 64,500 public libraries making it the country with the largest number of libraries in the world;
*the ancient Sumerians not the ancient Egyptians, were the first to set up a library;
* there is a proven link between the 50 largest university libraries in each continent and the 50 best universities in each continent.

Library World Records is made up of 9 major sections titled: World Records for National Libraries; World Records for Public and Subscription Libraries; World Records for University and Academic Libraries; World Records for Speciality Libraries and Archives; Miscellaneous World Records for Libraries; World Records for Books, Periodicals and Bookstores; World Records for Library Buildings; World Records for Library Catalogs, Databases and Technology; World Records for Library and Information Science Organizations; in this way it caters for all possible categories of factual superlatives about libraries, books and reference databases. No major superlative is left untouched by the book!

Many of the facts are accompanied near the end of each entry by cautionary or explanatory notes that contain additional interesting information. This adds extra spice to the book, making it appealing to read from start to finish. Be warned though the book is too large to read thoroughly in a day.

Finally complimenting the book is a very detailed 32-page index. It was written in a way to make navigation of the book easier. For instance if you wanted to know the names of the largest or oldest libraries in France, Brazil, South Africa, the Caribbean Islands, Japan, Mexico etc, just looked under the appropriate alphabet. Likewise to find information on the oldest books, largest books, smallest books, most expensive books, either look under “books” or under “oldest”, “smallest”, “largest” and “expensive”.

Library World Records has surprising facts for everyone. It would make a good present for a librarian or bookworm. Both editions were published by the well-known American publisher McFarland. To order the book please visit the publishers website at: Library World Records (1st and 2nd editions) can also be ordered from the major online bookshops around the world, such as A full list of these online bookstores is given at

BOOK SPECS: Second edition: ISBN (13 numbers) 9780786438525 / ISBN (10 numbers) 0786438525. Includes brand new photographs, an updated bibliography and an expanded and comprehensive index. Paperback (alkaline) edition, 7 x 10 inches. OCLC number TBC). Library of Congress number (TBC). LC Classification: Z721 .O79 2008. DDC 027 OSW.

About the author : Godfrey Oswald, BSc, MSc is a British librarian, who has worked as book cataloguer, database searcher and library website manager in the U.K. and Switzerland for over 15 years. In 1995 he developed and still manages The Info Connect Library and Information Science Directory, “a free Internet directory for information scientists, librarians, academic researchers, etc., as well as university library school students” Library World Records book seems a natural extension of the online directory.

George M. Eberhart Association of College & Research Libraries website (new publication section), journal critical review, Back Issues 2004 (September).
American Library Association, Chicago, U.S.

Library World Records, by Godfrey Oswald (238 pages, March 2004), serves up a simmering soup of 315 library superlatives that are often hard to track down in conventional sources.

Oswald lists the oldest national libraries, the largest public libraries in France, the largest university libraries in Scandinavia, the largest engineering libraries, the earliest written works in various languages, the “most fascinating” library buildings, the first library to make use of microfilm, and many others. Some entries are accompanied by cautionary or explanatory notes. $29.95. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1619-X.

Jean Weihs, ELAN ExLibris Association Newsletter,journal critical review, Number 38, Page 18, November (Fall) 2005.
Faculty of Information Studies, Univrsity of Toronto, Canada.

If you are a fact junkie, as I am, you will love this book. If you can’t resist looking through The Guinness Book of World Records, this is a book for you. Godfrey Oswald, a British librarian, has worked as cataloguer, database searcher and library website manager.

In 1995 he developed and still manages The Info Connect Library and Information Science Directory, “a free Internet directory for information scientists, librarians, academic researchers, etc., as well as university library school students” ( Library World Records seems a natural extension of the online directory.

As would be expected from the book’s title, the largest and oldest libraries of various types; the largest, oldest, and tallest library buildings; the largest collection; and the largest special collections in the world and in individual countries are listed. There are a few “smallest”: the G8 country with the smallest number of public libraries per capita (Japan); the state with the smallest library budget in the United States (North Dakota).

The section World Records for Books, Periodicals and Bookstores includes the earliest written works and the first books printed in various languages and other records about these materials; for example, the most overdue library book (287 years), the most popular author among library users in the U.K. (Catherine Cookson), the oldest continuously trading bookstore in Europe (John Smith & Sons Bookshop in Glasgow, Scotland).

Some of the interesting facts found in the Miscellaneous World Records for Libraries section include the most expensive library (the U.S. National Security Agency library at Fort Mead, Maryland, with a annual budget of $900 million); a list of major films that featured libraries; a list of some notable people who have worked in libraries or as librarians; and 40 translations of the word “library” around the world.

There is a section that deals with library catalogues, databases (in 1951 the U.S. Census Bureau produced the first important database), indexing services, citation indexes, microfilm (in 1884 the National library of France was the first library to make use of microfilm), electronic journals and books (in 1986 the Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia was the first major reference book to be released on CDROM), search engines (the largest search engine, FAST, also known as AllTheWeb, based in Oslo, Norway, holds over 700 million webpages); and OPACS (Geac Library Automation Systems, based in a suburb of Toronto, was the first company to develop library OPACs).

The last section of the book deals with library and information science organizations, such as library schools (the Columbia University School of Library Service in New York City was the first library school, established in 1887); library associations (the Japan Library Association, set up in 1892, was the first national library association in Asia); and other tidbits of information that did not fit into the other sections (the first full-time paid librarian in the U.K. was Richard Johnson, who in 1653 was appointed by the Chetham Library in Manchester at an annual salary of 15 pounds).

Occasionally Oswald strays into opinion rather than pure facts. He lists “the ten greatest inventions used in libraries today” (paper, book printing, the Internet, microfilm, electric bulb, television, photocopying, personal computer, CD-ROM disk, and DVDROM disk) and the “18 greatest texts of all time”. Other librarians might have chosen different items for these lists.

In addition to his list of facts Oswald has provided “notes” at the end of many entries. These notes contain interesting information that is not a record; for example, the Coptic language; how an original map of 1507 came to the Library of Congress; the living organism that has existed for thousands of years. Each section begins with an introduction to the topic and there are many explanations about topics that the general public is unlikely to understand, such as classification and the Anglo-American cataloguing rules. Some topics, such as the earliest libraries, are in essay form rather than in list form.

The book’s content is enhanced by 211 black and white photographs of buildings, library interiors, paintings, rare books and much else. There is a two-page bibliography and an excellent 16-page, small-print index.

It is probably obvious at this point that I recommend the purchase of this book. Oswald states that The Guinness Book of World Records is one of the three books that have “broken the 100 million barrier”. This book is unlikely to match that feat, but it will provide lots of fodder for lunch-time conversations.

David Newton, associate editor World Patent Information,journal critical review, Vol 27, Issue 1 (63-67), March 2005.
Elsevier Journals.

What do Laura Bush, wife of George W Bush, and Joseph Priestly, the chemist have in common? Both feature in this book of records so read on to find the answer.

Libraries and librarians are usually portrayed as decidedly dull so what should we expect from book written by a librarian about libraries? This book is far from dull as it is more of a 'Guinness Book of Records' than a catalogue of libraries. Most of the records are of the type largest, oldest or first and the author has done a good job of judging between often not altogether clear cut claims and by giving us notes about the records which explain the background.

The first sections cover national, public and subscription, academic and special libraries. We learn that the National Library of the Czech Republic was founded in 1366, the largest national library is the Library of Congress with twenty-five million books, the largest public library is the NYPL with 12 million books and 84 branches and the largest scientific periodicals library is the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information. The book is illustrated with black and white photographs though many of the libraries are either not photogenic or the pictures taken of them are unflattering. Not all the records are largest or oldest: there is a list of major films featuring libraries. How many people can remember how a library appears in 'Ghostbusters', 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' or 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone?'

One section covers books, periodicals and bookstores and gives us a short history of writing, listing the oldest written tablets from Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria (present day Iraq) from about 3500 BC and stone-carved hieroglyphics of Egypt about 4000 BC. Copyright had its origins in the Privilegii granted in Venice with the first given to John de Speyer in 1469. The author notes that the first recorded patent was granted to Filippo Brunelleschi in Italy in 1421.

The first scholarly journal published in the UK, though no earlier journals from other countries are listed by the author, was Philosophical Transactions first published in 1665. For thoses of us worried that we might forget to return our library books on time we should not, for Robert Walpole borrowed a book from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in 1667 and it was only returned, by a descendant of Walpole's, in 1956 and no fine was requested. We are brought more up-to-date with the largest online bookstore, Amazon, the largest electronic information service, Thomson, the largest DNA database, GenBank, and so on.

The coverage is not restricted to the major Western countries and there are interesting facts from Africa, Asia and elsewhere and information on books in Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi and other languages but the author acknowledges that as he conducted most of the research for the book in the UK there is a greater than expected number of records from the UK.

And what if this information is lost? There is a note on book-burning rituals from the destruction of the Alexandra library in Egypt in the 7th century through medieval religious book burnings to the more recent public ceremonies of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s such as happened at Berlin University in May 1933 when 30,000 books were burned. The book also lists 18 major libraries that have suffered devastating fires or natural disasters.

There are some records of direct interest to the patent searcher: the largest patent database is given as that of Delphion with over 45rniIlion patent records and over 40rniIlion records on technical reports and bulletins. The largest patent databases in Europe and the United States are given as Derwent and IF! respectively. In the library world the 10 greatest inventions used today are said to be paper, printing, the internet, microfilm, the clcctric bulb, television, photocopying, the personal computer, CD ROM disc and DVD ROM disc.

This is a book to dip into and there will be surprising facts for everyone. It would make a good present for the bibliophile. In answer to the question posed earlier both Laura Bush and Joseph Priestly worked as librarians: one worked as a librarian at Dallas Public Library and elsewhere and the other worked as librarian for the second Earl of Shelburne. If you cannot guess which is which you need to read the book.

Copyright © Elsevier Journals. All rights reserved.

Evelyn C. Leeper, MT VOID 11/26/04 (Vol. 23, Number 22, Whole Number 1258) website, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A. Book comments, November 26, 2004.

This Week's Reading

For Thanksgiving, I figured I would pay tribute to that great American institution, the public library, with a few quotes.

"It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ambition and ability to develop it as the founding of a public library." --Andrew Carnegie "Once as a boy of twelve I was emboldened to search for some books in Leipzig's Musical Library. To be admitted to its august precincts as a regular user, one needed pledges from three citizens of high standing. After securing these I presented my "want list" to the librarian. Like a dragon protecting his holy grail he viewed me critically, then blurted out with all the friendliness of a drill sergeant: 'Come back in three days and we will show you what we have found.' No wonder that, by contrast, I was startled upon my arrival in America to find its libraries groaning with books liberally available to all citizens, with no questions asked." --Otto L. Bettman

"My mother and father were illiterate immigrants from Russia. When I was a child they were constantly amazed that I could go to a building and take a book on any subject. They couldn't believe this access to knowledge we have here in America. They couldn't believe that it was free." --Kirk Douglas

And what more appropriate book to start off with than Godfrey Oswald's LIBRARY WORLD RECORDS (McFarland, ISBN 0-7864-1619-X)? This is the sort of books that libraries should buy as reference material. Then again, at least three librarians read this zine, so who knows? Still, the average read may want to know the five largest universities in Italy, or the ten oldest existing written works, but probably does not know this is book that has the information. By the way, the latter is not an entirely accurate heading, since Oswald lists "Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria" as number one, "Egypt" as number two, etc., naming the oldest from each. But the ten oldest existing written works are probably actually Sumerian.

One item of particular interest to those living in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area: The world's oldest existing bookstore is the Moravian Bookstore in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, dating back to November 17, 1745.


Thanks for the comments on my book. Let me explain my section called "the ten oldest existing written works" on page 96 in my book. I am refering to the 10 oldest groups of written works in the world. You are right of course when you said the ten oldest existing written works are probably actually Sumerian. But when refering to the 10 oldest groups of written works in the world, then those in civilization of Sumer is one of them, while those in ancient Egypt, ancient China, ancient India, ancient Greece etc are others, as my book gives in detail on pages 96 to 114.

Hope this helps.

Laura Gardner, Adult Services Librarian, Baldwin Public Library, Birmingham, Michigan, USA, Reference Reviews incorporating ASLIB Book Guide, critical review, Vol 18, Number 8, November 2004.
Emerald Journals.

Library World Records

Library World Records is a reference book that features all the facts that one could possibly need or want to know about libraries. It is best described as a Guinness Book of Records for libraries. Divided into roughly nine sections, the book not only covers records for national, public, academic and special libraries, but also records for bookstores (online and "bricks and mortar" types), library and information science organizations and library tools such as catalogs, databases and indexes.

There is an emphasis on qualitative descriptions such as largest, oldest, tallest, busiest, etc. Some of the facts are mildly interesting such as the "most overdue library book", details on the first written texts and printed books, book-burning rituals, important libraries devastated by fire, most expensive books, etc. It is also interesting to see Laura Bush among the list of the most famous practicing librarians or champions of libraries in history, along with St Benedict, Hector Berlioz, Jorge Luis Borges, Immanuel Kant, Charlemagne, David Hume and Golda Meir, amongst others. Most of the content came from research in libraries with the exception of the sections "Most fascinating library buildings" and "Greatest texts of all time". The former was based on data collected by the author from internet mailing lists targeting librarians and the latter on Oswald's personal research. The book has a UK focus, primarily because of the author's location, but the book is comprehensive enough in nature to appeal to library and book enthusiasts of other parts of the world.

The content appears to be accurate and relatively free of error and the index and table of contents are good. An exception is found on page 135 where the terms "Moravian" and "Monrovian" are used interchangeably, the latter being the incorrect term in this context. One suggestion for additional content would be to cite the internet sites for the institutions and organizations listed. Despite the dynamic nature of the web, many of these addresses have remained unchanged over the years.

In all, Library World Records is a useful addition to the world of librariana, but its use and application will probably be limited to librarians and those studying to become librarians.

Copyright © Emerald Fulltext, MCB University Press. All rights reserved.

Moinuddin Khan, editor, Karachi, Pakistan, Dawn Newspaper, critical review, November 14, 2004 edition, page 9 Books and Authors section.

Who built the first library?

The study of library history and its related disciplines bears witness to the fact that the instinct to preserve, the passion to collect and the desire to serve humanity have been the dominant influences in the origin and evolution of the library concept.

As libraries and writing go together, there could be no other viable institution to maintain the track record of civilization and to benchmark human endeavours in documented form.

It is incredible that such a social institution did not have a "world record" of itself. The volume under review fills the yawning gap and helps save many man-hours of students and scholars looking high and low for information on libraries of the world. It is a handy reference work and a veritable first court of appeal to settle an argument against any "first's in library or writing, now in print or non-print media".

This book, containing an array of facts within its covers, is very much the end-product of a one-man effort, who lives amongst books as a librarian and information consultant.

Godfrey Oswald emerges as a dedicated and formidable collector of facts related to all departments of library from the sublime to the trivial. His canvas is global and it took him two years to amass and organize such impressive data into a book form. This was just possible because of present-day e-mail and internet resources.

There are around 315 entries in the book which are organized under sections on national libraries; public and subscription libraries; special libraries and archives; books, periodicals and bookstores; library buildings; catalogues, databases and technology; information science organizations and in between there is a chapter on miscellaneous world records for libraries. An exhaustive index is very useful for a clue to information.

In each chapter there are some very interesting known/unknown facts, which should interest the reader. It may be worthwhile to highlight a few only to pique the reader's curiosity to know more.

• There are 21 old libraries in Italy dating back to the 13th or 14th century while France is a close second with 18 such libraries with one Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

• Los Angeles and New York are the two cities in the world with the largest combined collection of public library books and the largest annual budgets. New York Public Library is again the busiest library receiving 10 million visitors a year and having over three million registered members.

• By the end of 2000 Russia had a total of 64,500 public libraries making it the country with the largest number of libraries in the world. This figure far exceeds Lenin's projected number of 50,000 public libraries as set out in the communist party's manifesto of the 1920s.

• In Scotland there is a residential public library with an attached hostel. It is St Deiniol's Library at Dunblane which was founded in 1889.

• The Hacettepe University Library in Turkey was established in 1160 while Kolkata, Mumbai and Madras university libraries stand fourth amongst the oldest university libraries in the Asia-Pacific region. Kolkata University had the unbeaten record of enrolment of over 250,000 students in the year 2000.

• Founded in 1953 the Poetry Library in London is the largest of its kind devoted to modern poetry with over 80,000 books.

• Tucked away in the 'Miscellaneous' chapter is the list of some 50 famous notables who have worked in libraries or as librarians. It starts with Al-Khwarizmi, 9th century Arab mathematician, who invented Al-Jabr (Algebra), who worked as a librarian in the famous library of Abbassid Caliph Al-Mamun in Baghdad, down to the 21st century Laura Bush, the current US first lady who worked as a librarian at Houston Public Library, Texas.

• Spain is a very library-minded country. On April 23 every year, which is St George's Day, Spaniards present each other with books and red roses, in a massive celebration of reading. Taking the cue from Spain UNESCO launched the United Nations World Book Day on April 23, 1996.

The publication of this book at this point of time poignantly underlines some facts about libraries in Iraq, which was once a cradle of civilization and has now been reduced to rubble. What are its contributions?

• The ancient Sumerians were the first to set up a library.

• The earliest significant Islamic libraries were founded during the time of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in 750 AD.

• The technique of making paper reached Baghdad in 793 AD.

• In the 9th century, the famous library of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mamun in Baghdad, also known as the House of Wisdom or Bayt al- Hikmah, had important translation departments.

• Baghdad was the largest book market in the world in the 10th century.

• Baghdad University, the largest in Iraq, had about 700,000 books in 1991.

• Iraq was among the top donors of the modern Alexandria library opened in 2002.

• In March 2001 an international forum was hosted in Baghdad by the Iraqi government to celebrate the 5000th birthday of the invention of writing.

There are these informative entries and many more in this book of knowledge. Some important items have been missed out and one hopes that the author will include them in the next edition when it comes out.

There is inadequate coverage of oriental libraries particularly in the India-Pakistan subcontinent. The Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library, Patna established in 1891 gets no ranking; so also the Theosophical Society Library and Research founded in 1886 at Adyar, Madras (Chennai) has no place in the sun.

In the special libraries section there is no coverage of sports libraries. (I had visited a chess library in Cleveland (Ohio, USA) in 1983 and there must be many more such libraries.) Another painful omission is the service provided to special and disabled people.

I shall refrain from repeating names of all the famous individuals who loomed large on the library scene in the past but shall emphasize the glaring oversight of one-time Russia's first lady namely Nadezhda Krupskaya, a cultural crusader and the librarian wife of Lenin.

She became a prime figure in the movement to centralize Soviet library services and helped her husband set up 50,000 public libraries throughout the USSR. Moreover, following the Russian Revolution many women were recruited into librarianship and a rapid feminization of the profession occurred.

I would strongly recommended this book for students and teachers of all disciplines, particularly the library and information science students. It would be a useful addition to school/college libraries to help them organize quiz competitions on any book event day to help in the acquisition of general knowledge.

Copyright © Dawn. All rights reserved.

Dawn is Pakistan's most widely circulated English language colour newspaper, available in print and Internet format.


Thank you for the review of my book.I admit that there is inadequate coverage of oriental libraries in the book, but I am pleased to say that the second edition of the book, will have lots of extensive records from the Asia-Pacific region.

Donald Altschiller, American Library Association, Chicago, Illinois, U.S., Booklist/Reference Books Bulletin, critical review, September 2004.

For those who love lists--and not necessarily the "10 Best Places to Buy Pesto" featured in city magazines--this book should surely whet your intellectual appetite. Compiled by a British librarian, the work includes a wide variety of interesting and unusual facts (largest military library, oldest dental-school library, major libraries suffering fire or natural devastation, 14 major films that featured libraries, etc.).

In addition the book contains many fascinating facts about books, periodicals, and bookstores.

The author, a diligent researcher, combed through many of the major European libraries to collect all this information. Although he acknowledges his book has a disproportionate number of entries on the UK, other countries and continents are still well covered. One problem: the work would have been greatly enhanced with a list of consulted sources, which would have been especially useful in some entries for researchers pursuing more information.

This work, combined with the "Librariana" section of the Whole Library Handbook 3 : Current Data, Professional Advice, and Curiosa about Libraries and Library Services (2000), will certainly enlighten and entertain librarians about the enduring and remarkable history of our institutions.

Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.

Book News, Inc, ,Portland, Oregon, U.S., Reference and Research Book News Critical review, August 2004 (vol 19, number 3, Z721).

Librarian and information consultant Oswald presents 315 entries detailing facts about libraries, library collections, and books, including lists of oldest continuing libraries, largest buildings, a large variety of firsts (first book published in various languages, first library to make use of microfilm, etc.), largest databases, and other similar "world records."

Copyright © Book News Inc. All rights reserved.

Mark R. Costa, University of Illinois at Chicago Library, U.S., Library Journal, critical review, August 2004.

Where is the world's busiest public library? The answer can be found in this intriguing handbook of library and book-related facts. Compiled by the British librarian who also created the online Info Connect LIS Directory, the 300 brief, readable entries allow for easy, enjoyable browsing.

Copyright © Library Journal. All rights reserved.

Article about Library World Records, I contributed in summer 2001, for a cultural review magazine funded by the European Union called Cultivate Interactive during the ongoing book project work.

This is a fascinating review of Library World Records by the British library journal Managing Information back in 1997, when it existed as a website.

N.B. if you click on the website above, and do not get through, remember it is the Way-Back-Machine database, which searches for old web pages that are no longer indexed in search engines like Google. So this means on any given day, thousands of people are trying to access it. I have thus copied the whole review (from the search results of the Way-Back-Machine database), and pasted it here as an alternative access for readers.

Robinson, Charles W, San Francisco, California, U.S.Library Administrator's Digest Critical review, October 2003

Beautiful libraries

Every once in a while, a publisher sends LAD a book to review, even though I seldom review books unless they are of particular interest to public library administrators. Anyway, the other day I received a heavy package via UPS. It turned out to be a large coffee table book - you know, the kind you can't possibly read in bed, but have to bend over to read on a coffee table, I guess.

The book's title was The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World, with photographs by Guillaume De Laubier, text by Jacques Bosser, foreword by James Billington. It was published by (who else?) Harry N. Abrams, with a list price of $50. There is no publication date given in the book, but an accompanying flier says it will be published in November 2003. It'll probably be available as a remainder at Borders in about a year at $10, won't it?

De Laubier is described on the dust jacket as "one of France's foremost photographers of interior design." He certainly takes great photographs. Maybe Billington's foreword was written (by the LC PR people?) for the American edition. The jacket front shows the Great Hall of LC.

But what really got me interested was the title. The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World? Would it include some of the spectacular glass edifices we have seen lately?

Well, no.

Would it include any public libraries? Again, no, unless you include the 42nd St. building of the New York Public Library, which I believe is referred to as the "research library." This NYPL building is also the most modern library in the entire book. The only other American library other than NYPL and LC is the Boston Athenaeum.

The rest of the book is a compendium of pictures and descriptive text of 20 libraries, all of them in Europe. They include the national libraries of Austria, the Czech Republic and Russia, together with pretty unusual libraries (at least to me) as The Cabinet Des Livres of the Due D'Amale, the Abbey Library of St. Gall in Switzerland, and the Herzogin Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany.

I'll bet the photographer and his crew are the only people who have been to every one of these libraries. Big job, but not really worldwide travel.

But the Most Beautiful Libraries in the World? No libraries in China, India, Japan, Iran, etc., etc. are beautiful?

I guess it depends on your definition of beauty, which I understand is in the eye of the beholder, which in this case is the eye of a French photographer of interior design. As far as can be determined by the book, the only beautiful interior design was created between 1500 and 1900. And beautiful doesn't include exterior architecture. all photographs are of the interior of these libraries.

The day I looked at this book I was having lunch with a retired public library director who has experience in building a number of buildings during his career in several cities. I asked him what building he would consider including in a book about the most beautiful libraries in the world. he replied, after some thought, that he would have a tough time with that question and couldn't come up with a candidate, at least on short notice.

Neither could I, but after I returned to my office, I happened to check my e-mail and a friend had sent me an article from the Detroit Free Press (see News section). The article, about the new Southfield (MI) Public Library building, included a small photograph of a multistory glass wall, which looked really interesting. Maybe here was a beautiful building?

So I whizzed to Southfield's Web site, hoping for more pictures. Nope. The "Virtual Tour" was still under construction.

While I was on the Web, I discovered that there's a librarian in England, one Godfrey Oswald, who is working on his second book, The Most Fascinating Library Buildings in the World. (His first book, Library World Records, will be published in October by McFarland -ISBN 0-7864-1619-X, which I haven't seen.)

Oswald says, "What makes a library building fascinating? The size of the building, the shape of the building, the age of the building? Perhaps the architecture of the building is groundbreaking, or perhaps it is simply a very expensive library building!"

Oswald took votes on the Internet and received 279 replies about fascinating library buildings, but won't reveal the results until the publication of the book.

Well, fascinating isn't the same as beautiful, but the book, if it ever gets published, might be of more interest to librarians than the French photographer's book of baroque interiors. And both fascinating and beautiful are subject to a lot of interpretations, aren't they?

Well, sometime I'll get to see some photos of Southfield's library, I guess. The newspaper article certainly made it sound both beautiful and fascinating.

Copyright BCPL Foundation Oct 2003 Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

Lisa Foster, librarian, Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S. Personal comment via e-mail. May 2004.

Hi there Godfrey,just finshed reading my copy, what an amazing array of facts, it must have taken you quite a while to compile the whole thing. This book will always be by my side, and ready to be consulted when a reader comes and asks me again about the largest libraires in the U.S. Thanks for a great book !

Carlos Rodriguez, writer & librarian, Miami, Florida, U.S. Personal comment via e-mail. April 2004.

An invaluable reference for many librarians, especially in the U.S., and those interested in the history of books and libraries.

Gabrielle Sheen, student, London, U.K. December 2003. Critical review of the final draft manuscript in 2003.

Make no mistake about this fact: We all love superlatives, everyone wants to know about the oldest, the best, the largest, the smallest, the most expensive, etc

But it has been a long time since anyone decided to do serious research on book and library superlatives.

The guys who gave us "The Guinness Book of World Records" somehow neglected the library and book world, so if someone asked: Where can we find the oldest books and manuscripts in the world? or What is the name of the largest and smallest books in the world? we would be left scratching our heads as until now there was no reliable record book covering such facts.

Enter: "Library World Records" I congratulate Mr Oswald for compiling such a special book, 264 pages (plus 112 photograhs) of facts on books and libraries around the world. What I liked so much about this book is its international coverage, because thats what the book is all about: World Records about books and libraries.

So if I wanted to know about the biggest university library in Africa, the oldest public library in Asia, the first book to be printed in Europe, the biggest bookstores in Brazil, or the most expensive book sold in the U.S., I only have to look it up in the index pages of "Library World Records"

"Library World Records" is also an invaluable reference book for researchers and students because the book also has an academic value, blending fascinating trivia and with well written facts tracing the history of books and libraries over time, and bringing out the book in paperback format is a good idea.

Because the book is the first of its kind in the world to be published, it will be a good idea if the publishers considered versions in Chinese and Spanish or French to allow non-English fans of books to enjoy the "Library World Records" too.

Dawn Newspaper Excerpts, April 2004 Karachi, Pakistan.
In April 2004, a month after the publication of Library World Records Zubeida Mustafa, assistant editor of the international newspaper Dawn published in Karachi, Pakistan, was granted permission gratis (by my publishers) to take some excerpts from my new book and publish it in the newspaper. Dawn is Pakistan's most widely circulated colour English language newspaper, available in print and Internet format.
click here for the PDF version newspaper excerpts.

It makes very interesting reading and includes fascinating illustrations as well. If you are a periodical editor and would like to obtain permission gratis to take some excerpts from my new book and publish it your periodical, please contact my publishers. See link reference on the top left corner of this web site that links to "Book Orders" for publisher contact details.

Zubeida Mustafa, assistant editor, Karachi , Pakistan. Personal comment via e-mail. April 2004.

Dear Godfrey, thanks a lot for your publication "Library World Records" It's a lovely book and you deserve my congratulations for writing the book and getting it published. I shall get it reviewed in our publication as soon as possible. But I was wondering if you could grant me permission gratis to take some excerpts ( about 2000 words) from here. I am sure my readers will love to read some of it.

Are you planning another book?


Dear Zubeida

Thank you very much for your e-mail. I am pleased to hear that you have enjoyed reading my new book and thanks for the compliments.

I look forward to reading your review of my book in your publication.

Regarding permission gratis to take some excerpts, my publisher deals with all such requests, and I am sure they will be getting in touch with you ASAP.

Regarding plans for a new book,

Yes Zubeida. I am planning a second edition of my book, for a provisional publication date around 2006 or so.

It will be called Library World Records 2 and will not only be an update of records in the first edition, but also have more than 40 pages of brand new world records about libraries and books, plus brand new photographs throughout the book.

I am working on the new edition at the moment.

Moira Duncan, editor, London, U.K.

The entries in the book have all the pulling power of trivia, and I read through them smiling.

Henrik Wouters, editor, Oslo, Norway. Personal comment via e-mail.

Finally received my copy, after ordering it from Amazon. Exciting well researched facts and figures plus great photos of libraries around the world, make this extraordinary book a must for all librarians. Please let me know, when you have finished the second edition.

Steven M. Cohen "Library Stuff" weblog, New York, U.S. April 2004. Comment from a visitor to the weblog

A great coffee table book for my den!

Debbie Van Rynveld, Cape Town, South Africa. July 2004. Customer comment. Exclusive Books in South Africa

When I finished this book, I had a big smile on my face. First as a librarian myself, it made me happy that a fellow librarian had written a very interesting book to read, proving that librarians can WRITE as well as look after books.

Secondly, the list of libraries covers a vast number of countries from Canada to Australia. It is always great to compare things on a continental basis. My verdict: Brilliant.