Antonio Panizzi

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Sir Antonio Panizzi, 19th c. Italian patriot & librarian at the British Museum & Library
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See also John Cotton Dana | Melvil Dewey | Important librarians in history | History of librarianship degree programs | Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan

"The larger the library is, the more you must distinguish the books from each other, and consequently the more fully and more accurately you must catalogue them ... When I come to a great and national library, where I have the editions or works of “Abelard,” I have a right to find those editions and works so well distinguished from each other that I may get exactly the particular one which I want..." — Sir Anthony Panizzi

Sir Antonio Genesio Maria Panizzi (1797 — 1879), the prince of librarians, was born and raised in Brescello, Italy. His father, Luigi Panizzi, was the son of a lawyer, and his mother, Caterina Gruppi, came from a well-connected family. By 21, Panizzi had obtained his law degree from the University of Parma. In Parma, he probably met others who were joining secret patriotic societies in Italy of the time. While Panizzi practiced law for a time, he took a position as inspector of schools instead of practicing law. By 1822, he had fled Italy to avoid being arrested as a revolutionary, and he probably fled to Liverpool, England. Panizzi later established himself as a professor of Italian literature at University College, London. In 1831, Panizzi had accepted the position of Assistant Keeper in the Department of Printed Books, launching his thirty-five year association with the British Museum Library.

In 1856, Panizzi was appointed to the post of principal librarian having assumed many different bibliographic responsibilities and writing about library catalogues for some time. Panizzi assumed the post at a critical time just when the library was moving to new quarters, and when deficiencies in the collection had to be addressed. During his tenure, he improved the library catalogue, enforced the Copyright Act and wrote reports about how to improve library organization for researchers. Through his friendship with Thomas Grenville he secured an endowment for books. The general consensus is that Panizzi was instrumental in transforming not only the British Museum Library, but also Anglo-American library practices. See Panizzi's 91 Rules for Standardizing the Cataloguing of Books (1841).

Although Panizzi became a British citizen, he continued to further the cause of Italian freedom from afar. After Italian reunification, he declined offers from Garibaldi and others to return to Italy. He was given a knighthood in Britain in 1869 and received honorary degrees from Oxford, the Légion d'Honneur and chivalric honours from Italy. In 1879, Panizzi died in London and was laid to rest in the Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery. During his time at the British Museum, he published editions of Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato and Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. The Panizzi lectures are hosted annually and deal with bibliographic topics of interest at the British Library. In his honour, the staff room at the British Library is called the Panizzi Room.

Chronology for Antonio Panizzi

Panizzi reading room at the British Library
  • 1797 born September 16th, Brescello Italy
  • 1818 receives doctorate in law, August 8th
  • 1822 exiled from Italy
  • 1823 arrives in England, May
  • 1823 given death sentence in absentia
  • 1823-1831 teaches Italian literature in Liverpool
  • 1831 Appointed extra assistant librarian in the Department of Printed Books
  • 1832 becomes naturalized Englishman
  • 1836 testifies before Select Committee re: policies and practices of British Museum
  • 1837 appointed to post of Keeper of the Printed Books
  • 1837 Board of Trustees demand print catalogue be produced at maximum speed
  • 1838-39 moves collection to new building at Montagu Place
  • 1839 develops in-house cataloguing rules
  • 1841 Catalogue of the British Library, all entries for letter “A”, printed
  • 1842 Copyright Act requiring all publishers to deposit copy of all books printed
  • 1848 Testifies before Royal Commission re: publication of Catalogue of Books
  • 1852 Empowered to enforce Copyright Act, 1842
  • 1853-1855 construction of Reading Room
  • 1856 appointed to post of Principal Librarian
  • 1866 Resigns as Principal Librarian, succeeded by John Winter Jones
  • Dies April 8, 1879


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