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From the prefect's desk: Gerard van Swieten's library correspondence.

Chlebak, Clara A.; Reid, Peter H.


Clara A. Chlebak


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. He 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.


CHLEBAK, C.A. and REID, P.H. 2022. From the prefect's desk: Gerard van Swieten's library correspondence. Library and information history [online], 38(1), pages 23-41. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 14, 2022
Online Publication Date Apr 1, 2022
Publication Date Apr 30, 2022
Deposit Date Apr 8, 2022
Publicly Available Date Apr 11, 2022
Journal Library and information history
Print ISSN 1758-3489
Electronic ISSN 1758-3497
Publisher Edinburgh University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 38
Issue 1
Pages 23-41
Keywords Gerard van Swieten; Librarians; Librarian correspondence; Library management; Austria
Public URL
Additional Information This article is a reworking of Chlebak's 2019 master's dissertation at Robert Gordon University, "An examination of the correspondence of Gerard van Swieten (1700–1772) and Maria Theresia (1717–1780) in terms of his role as imperial library prefect from 1745–1772, in Vienna, Austria".


CHLEBAK 2022 From the prefects desk (AAM) (384 Kb)

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