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Historically, the origin of libraries has an intimate association with written records supporting administrative or ritual functions at the palace or temple. This article attempts to discuss the possibility of the existence of China’s first library in the Shang dynasty (c.1570-1045 BCE) during the beginning of the formative period of Chinese civilization. The article analyzes and synthesizes both paleographical and archaeological evidence from the perspective of available materials, houses, and arrangement, which answers the questions of what the books were made of, where they were stored, and how they were arranged. The article ends with a conclusion that there is likelihood that China’s first library might have existed in the Shang dynasty, which grew on a great foundation on the technical aspect. This article also points out that the exploration of China’s first library is an ongoing process, considering new paleographical and archaeological discoveries in the future.


This is the author's manuscript of a work originally published in Library and Information History, available at



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