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What is a Library anyway?

Barbara Fister is one of my personal must-read favorite thinkers-about-libraries. Her new article in LJ cuts to the point:

Fister wonders “whether we’ve made service such a virtue that we’ve forgotten our purpose.” She notes that when we build “libraries” that don’t include librarians or resources we end up with communities that find libraries don’t matter anymore. The whole, short article is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt for you:

But that name, it means something-doesn’t it? When you get right down to it, what is a library? Is it a room with a fireplace? Study tables? A collection of books? A service that provides people with the information they want?

There are warehouses full of books. Some of them belong to Ingram and Amazon. Those are not libraries. There are lots of rooms with fireplaces and study tables. You often find them at hotels. You’ll also find people there whose job is to provide information, but you don’t call concierges librarians. There is something beyond books, buildings, and people that defines what a library is, whether it’s a small public library, a research institution’s multi-branch system, or a digital library for distance learners. I think it comes down to something so common we forget how important it is.

A library is a social institution that establishes a common space (physical or virtual, but usually both) for the use of commonly-held knowledge resources. Such institutions require three things: a community, people hired to help the community share knowledge, and commonly-owned information resources.

See also: FDLP: Services and Collections.

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