Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version

Spring 3-27-2023

Document Type



This article traces the history of the relationship of papermaking and paper to libraries over time. Paper was first made in China and is traditionally considered one of that nation’s four greatest inventions, along with gun powder, printing, and the compass. Papermaking was often associated with archives in its early development in China, as well as when it was introduced to Japan, where it came to be a part of some Shinto and Buddhist temples, and later governmental agencies. Under Islam, the availability of paper was linked to increased literacy and growth of libraries. In early modern Europe, before the widespread use of wood in the papermaking process, libraries and archives were part of an “economy of paper” with paper at times being in short supply. In the modern era, the world of papermaking did not intersect much with the world of the library, which made progress with the problem of brittle books, one of its greatest challenges, slow, though recent efforts of government, industry, scientists, and representatives of the library have produced positive results. The damage caused by wood-based paper in libraries was mirrored by the environmental damage caused by wood-based papermaking in communities. The history of papermaking and libraries demonstrates the importance of understanding the technologies which support the library, while also advocating effectively to the representatives of all its sources of support in ways which promote the values of the library and its associated community.