In the fourth volume of The History of the Library in Western Civilization, eight chapters unfold the events that influenced the tradition of the great imperial, public and other libraries in the West from the time Christianity was imposed as the official religion of the Empire.
The first chapter speaks of the history of geography, meaning the realignment of populations of the North and the formation of new kingdoms, as well as the emergence of new intellectual centres of a local character. Writing activity is noted, as well as the more general movement of books, which are contrasted to the reproduction of books with Roman literary works of the Late Roman period. The issue of Christian education is also touched upon, with the models devised by the Church Fathers, as well as the ancient personalities who exchanged letters with Christians, on the topic of the role of the book in monastic centres.
Chapter two presents the practices of authorship and publication, the reproduction of books, their availability and their movement, according to St. Jerome. An attempt is made to reconstruct the library of St. Augustine, calculating which books he would have required in order to complete his written works. The Vivarium is also described as a model monastic centre, as are the role of the scriptorium and the significance of the Bible in the Christian conscience.
The third chapter is devoted to the British Isles: the promotion of regional tribes to kingdoms, the course of their conversion to Christianity, and the nature of the education cultivated in the monastic centres of the period. Mention is also made of the role played by the various local centres in the preservation of the tradition of ancient literature, and its transfusion by missionaries to Continental Europe, from the pre-Carolingian era on.
Chapter four deals with the Carolingian era. Charlemagne's contribution to upgrading schooling, the foundation of a considerable number of monastic centres based on books, and the chronicle of the founding of Charlemagne's personal library. There is also an extensive description of two major monastic centres of books, St. Gallen and Corbie, as well as descriptions of their scriptorium and library.
Chapter five assesses the influence exerted by the Carolingian period in the diffusion of knowledge and books in general, giving examples of the private libraries of men of letters and officials of the Church. The birth of a new family of books is noted as national languages find their place, and educational centres and their libraries are established in cathedrals.
The birth of the institution of the university in all the European countries is the subject of the sixth chapter, as an unprecedented system in regard to books, as the indispensable tools for education. There is an extensive description of the Sorbonne's college library and of the new teaching methods, comprising theology and a reassessment of the Aristotelian corpus.
The interests of eminent men of letters are outlined in Chapter Seven, in the matter of books and the genesis of the French royal library, with a chronicle of the papal library at Avignon and at Hereford Cathedral.
Chapter eight, finally, is an overview of the installation of a library as architecture. The diverse bookstands serving as diminutive `libraries' are described, up to the time when, as much in monastic centres as in universities, chambers were set aside for the purpose, henceforth functioning as libraries under library science specifications.