Recognition of the museum’s role within Western culture has come relatively late in its evolution. In comparison, libraries, universities, and hospitals have—in one configuration or other—been considered functional and valuable elements of civilized society since classical antiquity. Three interesting and emblematic examples, among many, can be cited.

The Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena was the first civic (as opposed to princely or ecclesiastical) library to be founded in Europe. The building was designed by a pupil of Leon Battista Alberti and completed in the 1450s. Its role today remains essentially unchanged; its holdings, interestingly, have not been diminished by the...


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