Finding a Title at the Great Library of Greyhawk



Oct 12, 2004 11:17:58
In a module I am writing, the PCs need to find a specific book in the Great Library of Greyhawk. Can anyone describe to me (or point me to a source that describes) the process one might have to go through to gain access to the book?




Oct 12, 2004 16:23:41
Greyhawk: Gem of Flanaess- Clerkburg section has the best info on the library and it's procedures.

Also Vecna Lives, Chapter 3 has some good examples of a GHC library search, including non-magical tomes.


Oct 12, 2004 21:00:44
In a module I am writing, the PCs need to find a specific book in the Great Library of Greyhawk. Can anyone describe to me (or point me to a source that describes) the process one might have to go through to gain access to the book?



On the topic of libraries, one can choose to transplant something of a modern public library to Greyhawk without difficulty. I would suggest something nicely Victorian in such case. Roleplaying admits of anachronism without complaint. And Victorian libraries are quite atmospheric, as well has having examples readily at hand.

One can also chose other models. However, a distinction should be drawn between public and private libraries.

In the medieval period, specifically that time before printing presses when all manuscripts were copied by hand with any number illuminated, there was no real public library as we know it. Most of the public could not read and the idea of lending out a book to the general public to read was largely unthinkable. Monastic libraries were not public, as we use that term, but did house substantial collections, nonetheless.

In Imperial Rome, however, public lending libraries were common. In the fourth century, Rome had no less than 28 public libraries from which books could be checked out. Julius Caesar planned Greek and Latin public libraries to provide ease of access to legal codes. Augustus actually carried out the plan. The most popular volumes in the Roman libraries, however, were volumes of poetry. Prose literature was also available, as well as political tracts, orations and rhetoric. When one recognizes that poets, such as Virgil, made a living praising the emperor, it is not difficult to imagine the political utility of a library in addition to the practical. Grammars, philosophies and histories were also available to the public. Documents of state (also housed in archives and registers as distinct from libraries) formed another general category, as did books of prophecy. Many libraries adjoined temples.

It was not uncommon for libraries to not only hold collections of books truly collected but to also hold collections of donated works, which authors would provide to the library to better secure their fame. Hmmmm.

Before the advent of printing presses and even medieval manuscripts, books were more properly species of scrolls. The volumina were rolls of 20, 30 or 40 feet. These were the chief holdings of the libraries. Libri were excerpts, although not exclusively, from the volumina generally on papyrus or parchment. Libelli were much more brief documents, unique from the volumina and libri. Each of the three categories were scrolls or rolls but the libri and libelli, particularly the libelli, could be thought of as very early books as we would later know them in terms of presenting their contents in discrete units, less than a single undivided whole.

The scrolls or rolls were contained in either capsa or scrinium. The capsa was a box large enough to hold a single roll. The capsa had a lid, which sometimes had a handle, hinge and lock. The scrinium was likewise a box but was much larger and designed to hold multiple rolls.

Each of the capsa and scrinium were contained in armarium. The armarium was essentially a cupboard-like bookcase, divided into sections where the volumes were placed horozontially. Titles were attached to the end pieces.

The idea of the modern “stacks” was most closely approximated by the loculamentum.

Catalogs or indexes of contents of the Roman library were kept, not unlike such are today. The best guide to a library, however, would likely be the staff. The procurator bibliothecarum was the official in charge of libraries. Sub-positions known were the procurator bibliothecis and the magister bibliotheca. The general administrator of an individual library was the bibliotheca and also bibliothecarius. The assistant librarian was the vilicus bibliotheca. Finally, there was the librarius, who might well have been a public slave, servi publici librarius.

In addition to public libraries, Rome had established public schools, bookshops and literary circles which all prized the written word. As relates to the last, private libraries were all the rage at several points. The public baths, somewhat unexpectedly, also fostered a literary culture and offered patrons access to books within the bath. Finally, there were the Acta, or acts, of the Senate. The most notable of these was the Acta Diurna, which in being widely circulated and recording government spending, births, deaths, marriages, divorces, fires, murders and court proceedings, were not unlike an early newspaper.

The present Vatican Library, in part, is the best surviving example of a functioning ancient library. While various sections date from different periods, there is a section that closely approximates what it is believed the ancient public library looked like. This includes examples of the pluteus, an ancient style of reading desk that was a fixture of Roman libraries. I see the Great Library in this line.

Turning back then to Greyhawk, of the human races now inhabiting the Flanaess, the Suel appear to have the oldest literary culture, to judge by the Suloise calander. I give to them the characteristics of the Roman library system. The Oeridians I imagine to have progressed more in line with the medieval manuscript makers and thus in lands predominantly Oeridian I locate no public libraries, unless the Oeridians are copying the Suel. I see this only in Rel Astra. The Baklunish and those most directly influenced by them, directly or through trade, I allow printing, recognizing that the printing press is not a sure sign of modernity as the Koreans and Chinese both printed texts without advancing to Western standards of technology.

The City of Greyhawk is a melting pot. I think it violates any particular rule and takes something of the best from everywhere. This is said out of no great love for the City of Greyhawk but rather from the central role it takes in canon, for good or ill. In the City of Greyhawk then, I would see the public library system as Suloise in its main administration but admitting of non-lending collections of illuminated type manuscripts.

Of printed matters, I do not see a large scale adoption for four reasons.

First, printing is not aesthetically pleasing as a general matter. Greyhawk is of a nature where ownership of goods is personal and not corporate or even pre-corporate. There is a pride in personalized ownership that values the unique character of the possession. Magic items, which are uniquely crafted, are a chief example that bleed over into general considerations of possession. At the same time, the feudal mindset also places value on the unique quality of possession. The age of the fungible has not overtaken Greyhawk.

Second, a strong magical tradition can make no use of printing. This discourages the use of printing subtly, though not overtly. A powerful segment of society will be at best apathetic to printing with likely advice to those elites who take their counsel.

Third, literate populations in the Flanaess are not large enough to make printing economically necessary or viable. I believe the Flanaess grossly underpopulated but if you extrapolate historic literacy rates onto the Greyhawk populations given, the level of literacy outside the major urban centers is stark, and even within those cities. This is not helped by the Greyhawk Wars and likely repressive regimes that would suppress literacy as a threat to their rule or just because they see no value to them in promoting literacy.

Fourth, of those literate populations, there is no one faith that would see its holy book mass produced and there is no great orthodoxy to challenge. The rise of printing in Europe was greatly helped along both by a single, dominant faith, Christianity, and the rising schism within the chief expression of that faith, Catholicism. In Greyhawk, a rampant polytheism diminishes any one faith’s broader investment in its liturgy and precepts of devotion. There are just not that many adherents to any one faith, in the main (the Pale being an exception within its sphere). At the same time, there is a remarkable general tolerance for multiple faiths. No faith is strictly monotheistic. The result is less of an immediate utility for printing.

Taken together, I believe these factors greatly limit the popularity of printing. It is known but it does not displace the more typical pseudo-medieval model.

Consideration, however, must also be given to the demi-humans. This turns out to be not much consideration for the cliche nature of demi-humanity in the Flanaess. The elves are isolationist or are going into the East or both. The dwarves are hidden away in their mountain or hilly fastness, only peaking out in the Principality of Ulek, in the main. Halflings, and gnomes, are largely an afterthought. These sort (what would we do without Mr. Tolkien) are unlikely to heavily influence anything.

Certainly, the elves are likely a literate race. Their age, significant sophistication, ready access to materials and magical ability all suggest literacy.

Dwarves are more likely pre-literate, not illiterate. Dwarves are not magical, as are the elves (3rd Edition notwithstanding). Dwarves do not have easy access to materials, being more likely to carve in stone than anything else. And dwarves are altogether less sophisticated in their presentation. Writing is likely known but literacy is not wide spread. An average dwarf likely reads a rune like one can distinguish a stop sign from a yield sign based on shape. The dwarf does not read the rune but recognizes that it carries a specific, if generalized, meaning from its distinct appearance.

If more were said of halflings and gnomes, some hypothesis could be formed more readily about their literary culture, whatever it might be. So little is said, that it appears that whatever their literacy, it has negligible impact beyond their own limited range. Personally, I see both as literate after the fashion of those they most closely surround but to a lesser degree. Both gnomes and halflings are culturally pastoral in a way that suggests no great emphasis on literacy.

Interesting topic.



Oct 12, 2004 21:29:11
"Also Vecna Lives, Chapter 3 has some good examples of a GHC library search, including non-magical tomes."

It also reinforces the idea that a) the Library is obscenely hard to get in unless you are a member, and b) even the Circle weren't normally allowed to actually remove books from the building.


Oct 13, 2004 7:32:32
It also reinforces the idea that a) the Library is obscenely hard to get in unless you are a member, and b) even the Circle weren't normally allowed to actually remove books from the building.

Interesting. I'll certainly check out Vecna Lives and the Gem of the Flanaess reference. I also found references to the library in the LGJ article covering the Clerkburg section of Greyhawk City, which seems to indicate exactly the opposite: anyone can use the library, and for just a 100 gp annual fee people can become a member and thus borrow books.

Thanks for the help,



Oct 13, 2004 8:41:07
IIRC there's some material in Greyhawk the Adventure Begins too.I think most of the books mentioned can be downloaded for $5 on.pdf.