The earliest civilization, the Sumerians, invented cuneiform, an early form of writing. This marked the start of recorded history. Their temple scribes recorded information required to govern their societies, such as edicts, worship rites, harvests and floods on baked clay tablets. Royalty also had a vested interest in storing information such as lineage, (often directly from the Gods conferring their right to rule), trade agreements, foreign correspondence, administration documents and legal contracts were stored in depositories in royal places. The political and religious elite controlled the scribes, who also managed storage. These stores became libraries, containing information needed to establish city-states, along with knowledge, which helped them grow into civilizations. The development of an alphabetic writing system on papyrus scrolls facilitated recording information, which was eagerly acquired, through cultural exchange, purchase and the spoils of war. Libraries were prestigious and conferred power and status on their rulers.
The Mouseion at Alexandria was a ‘shrine to the Muses’, the goddesses of the arts, sciences and literature, who inspired creativity and imparted knowledge. Founded in the 3rd century BC, under the patronage of the Ptolemaic pharaohs, it was a learning and research establishment, similar to a modern university. It had a thousand literati in situ from the Hellenistic world. It attracted leading minds from around the ancient world such as Archimedes (engineering), Euclid (geometry) and Eratosthenes (astronomy) and Herophilus (anatomy) who taught and undertook research. They also collected literature from other cultures including Persian, Assyrian, Indian, and Jewish, translated into Greek. Works were stored in the largest library of the ancient world, the Great Library of Alexandria, part of the Mouseion. The library had public access to those with academic credentials. It survived until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC.
Prior to joining the Library, Sally Dummer was an Archaeologist, working at Newcastle and Glasgow Universities.