A scriptorium is a room set aside for the purpose of copying books. Most people use the term in the sense of a room attached to the library of a medieval monastery, in which monks would copy books out by hand. With the advent of the printing press, the scriptorium was no longer necessary, as books could be mass-produced on the press.
The history of scriptoria is probably as old as the history of the written world, because as long as people have been writing documents, other people have been wanting to read them. Without multiple copies of a book, manuscript, or record, it would be difficult for people to access the material, as they would have needed to travel to the site where it was stored. By hiring people to transcribe written materials, wealthy individuals and institutions could have their own copies of desirable texts.
By the 3rd century, Christian monasteries were being built with scriptoria or copying niches, and facilities without the space for a scriptorium would encourage monks to copy books in their cells. Evidence seems to suggest, in fact, that most monasteries lacked a full scriptorium, and that such facilities were probably temporary, used at the time the library was being built up and then converted to other uses. Some monasteries, however, made a living from copying written materials, with a member of the staff known as the armarius supervising the duplication of written materials.
In the 13th century, the scriptorium began to pass beyond the purview of the Church. Secular copy rooms emerged in some urban areas, with some freelance copyists working from home. This made written materials even more readily available to the members of the general public who could read. Traveling copyists could also arrange to see written materials in private libraries and collections, staying until their copies were finished and sometimes exchanging access to other books and manuscripts in trade.
When every book was written out by hand, copying a book ate up a substantial amount of time. Scribes and copyists also decorated their work, creating illuminated letters, adding illustrations, and generating lavish covers to protect their finished pieces. Books and manuscripts turned into works of art in a scriptorium, with some monasteries and individual monks becoming known for the high quality of the work they produced. Some very fine examples of manuscripts produced in scriptoria can be seen on display in museums around the world.