2.4.1: 1585 - 1725 - Introduction

The Republic had, in all probability, the highest level of literacy in all of Europe. There were many reasons for this: it was important for those who wished to participate in economic activities to be able to read and write, not only to administer a business, but also to profit from all kinds of printed information on trade, technology and crafts. Literacy was also stimulated by a wide range of theological and edifying reading material, initially mainly for Protestants but soon also for Catholics. The burgeoning political awareness caused an endless stream of pamphlets. The cultural success of the Republic was expressed in a wide variety of literary publications which, as in the case of the works of Jacob Cats, could achieve enormous print-run figures. In addition, all kinds of songbooks, plays and second and third rate prose was published.

The result of the increasing levels of literacy was a rapidly increasing readership. The bookshops were no longer only visited by scholars, but by people from all walks of life. This expansion of the reading public gradually ensured an increasing differentiation in the supply. New publishing genres during this period were, for example, periodical publications with a high news content such as newspapers and journals.

Although the ownership of books among the general population was usually limited to a few books among which almost always a Bible, the growth in book production resulted in an increase in size of institutional libraries and private libraries. Public collections such as town libraries and university libraries were mostly limited to reference works, text editions and source publications. Scholars and collectors often put together collections with a broader outlook. A major source for acquisitions were the many auctions of private libraries which were held in the towns of Holland. More than in the surrounding countries, collections were broken up on the death of the owner and the books found new owners through these auctions.

author: O.S. Lankhorst