Facing onto the courtyard between Buildings 16 and 20 – the Panizzi café takes its name from one of the most influential figures in nineteenth century librarianship.
Antonio Panizzi strived to make collections accessible to all members of society, changing the face of libraries as they were then known. Born in Brescello, Italy in 1797, Panizzi received a doctorate in law in 1818.
Whilst working as a respected lawyer, Panizzi joined a secret revolutionary group that sought to free Italy from Austrian control.
In 1822 he was arrested for his suspected involvement in revolutionary activities and fled to England. There he settled initially in Liverpool and learned English, securing work teaching Italian language and literature.
In 1831 Panizzi was offered the first in a string of positions at the British Museum Library. This was at the time the world’s largest library, and Panizzi’s long career culminated in his appointment as Principal Librarian in 1856.
He is credited with moving it from an unwelcoming institution with little funding and a largely stagnant collection to a more vibrant centre of learning and scholarship. He initiated a rigorous acquisition plan, increasing funding from the government, and forged a Copyright Act agreement that saw the Library receive a copy of every book published in Britain rather than relying solely on gifts and donations.
With a greater volume of books to store, Panizzi initiated the construction of the Library’s iconic circular Reading Room and the surrounding stacks in 1857. Panizzi’s contributions extended to the field of librarianship through his cataloguing work.
His 91 cataloguing rules later became the basis of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules and effectively standardised cataloguing processes around the world.
He would, in fact, go on to be knighted by Queen Victoria in 1869 for his extraordinary services as a librarian, as well as gaining various other honours.
Most importantly, Panizzi’s passion for free and equal access to learning became the measure for libraries around the world and shaped the library as we know it today.
Miller, Edward. Prince of librarians: the life and times of Antonio Panizzi of the British Museum. London, Deutsch, 1967. Negrucci, Teresa. Historiography of Antonio Panizzi. 2001.
"I want a poor student to have the same means of indulging his learned curiosity, of following his rational pursuits, of consulting the same authorities, of fathoming the most intricate inquiry as the richest man in the kingdom…"
(Panizzi cited in Miller, p.120)