What is a Library?

Over the course of the past three weeks, I have given this question much thought. When I first began pondering this question I had a very simple answer. A library, to me, was a place to go to check out books. However, as time passed, I became more enlightened on what a library actually is. My reading is what really influenced my new answer, specifically, my reading of Library An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles.

In his work, Battles described how libraries changed over time. I focused on this heavily. If something has been called a library and continues to be called a library, it must be a library. So, with this thought, I looked at the examples Battles gave. One thing I noticed was no matter what he called a library, each had a collection attributed with it. Some were open to the public and some only allowed high class citizens, but all had a large focus on that one collection; usually knowledge or information based.

People typically think of libraries to be public entities. While this is usually true, it is not always true. Thought they are usually community based, it is possible for libraries to be private. Private libraries tend to be biased toward the ideals of those who own or fund it. Public libraries, on the other hand, are typically more biased toward the ideals of the community in which their use is prominent. If a man has his own collection of novels in his home, those novels will tend follow his beliefs and ideals. There is no point for him to purchase a book in which he finds does not belong in his collection, and because he is the sole funder of this private library, he will not collect any books he does not empathize with. In the public sphere however, more than just one man funds the library. In a  large town for example, where numerous people reside, a handful of wealthy people may fund a library for public use. This library, while likely having a less biased collection compared to the private, single owner, library, will still have some bias. This bias will focus on things that all owners agree upon or what a majority would align with. With this being said, libraries always have biases that align with those who fund it.

Another characteristic of a library is the ability of the collection to be shared with others. Whether it is a library of ideas, a DVD library, or a library of books and articles, the contents of each have the ability to be shared. Whether they are or not is a separate discussion itself. A library does not depend on the building the materials are in. In fact, in terms of an idea library, there may not even be a building. Maybe the collection is only available online. I would call that an e-library, but still a library.

So the question stands. What is a library? To me, a library is a collection of similar or related items that show the bias of those who control it and whose collection can be shared with others. This definition fits best to me because it explains what I have come to know over the past weeks. As long as something fits this definition in all aspects, I consider it a library. However, it is not necessarily limited to the stipulations I have put forth, as libraries can be more than this.Do you agree? What is your definition of a library?


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