The collectors whose achievements are described in this chapter possess some or all of a number of qualities which enable them to be seen as the creators for the first time in England of libraries as opposed to collections of books. The notion of extending has been deliberately introduced into the title, and it is size, generated particularly by the development of printing, which is the most obvious quality which these collections have in common. The collectors will be perceived not only to have crossed the physical dimension of owning 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 volumes, but an intellectual dimension in which the possible interests or research needs of a single individual have been exceeded; posterity and a future scholarly community have been envisaged.
The phrase ‘for the first time’ must immediately be qualified. A library embodies an agreement, tacit or explicit, to hold books in common for mutual and future benefit. This is not a novel idea in the sixteenth century; community, direction and anticipation appeared in the creation and enlargement of monastic libraries, certainly after the Norman Conquest. After the dissolution of the monasteries, however, these concepts had to be reinvented, often in a secular context. Renaissance England, in common with other European countries, did indeed reinvent them, with one vital difference: the availability, from the mid-fifteenth century, of books which could be multiplied indefinitely through the art of printing.