What is a library?

Our readings and discussion for this week in my Introduction to the Information Profession class have been centered around defining “library.”  This has actually been a very interesting assignment because it challenges us to think beyond my idea of the traditional public library to find the underlying purpose of a library.
So, what is it?
A library is really just a bunch of stuff organized so a person can find what they’re looking for.  This stuff can be anything from books on a shelf to mp3s on a media player. A librarian is person who creates and improves services and programs to organize and allow access to this stuff. They are the gatekeepers, in many instances, to the information the user needs to understand the world.
In their introduction to The Portable MLIS, Haycok and Sheldon give the reader an overview of Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Librarianship:
  1. Library resources are for use.
  2. Library resources are for all.
  3. Every resource its user.
  4. Save the time of the user.
  5. The library is a growing organism.
For me, the most powerful of these is the idea that a library evolves over time to meet the needs of the users. The way I see it, libraries are an important part of their community. By their collections and services, they reflect the values of that community.  For instance, in my local public library you can find quite a bit of information about learning English as a second language.  There are classes offered by a local organization that meet there. Our local community has many immigrants and, apparently, we have placed a good deal of importance on assisting those people in learning English.
When doing a (very small) bit of research on Arthur Curley, the LIS Leader I chose to learn/write about for my Introduction to the Information Profession course, I ran across the following quote on his Wikipedia page that highlights the library as a the keeper of community:

I have always felt that I could go into any town, community, hamlet anywhere in this country, and if you blindfolded me so I didn’t know what community I was in, took me into the public library and suddenly took the blindfold off and let me look around for about ten minutes I think I could tell you more about the values of that community than I could derive from countless hours spent poring over census tracts and other sources of statistical information about it. Why? Because a library is a representative of intangible values and those intangible values more than ever are important to us as a society at this time. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Curley)

To me, a library is a place I go to get the information I need.  I can usually find that information with very little trouble because it’s organized in a way that makes sense. Usually, this information comes in book format, both hard copy and electronic.
My public library is also the place that offers programs and services that encourage my children to engage with their reading; that offers space for my writing group to meet; that buzzes with tutors and their students; where the homeless that come in from the shelter next door can access a computer and the internet or just get out from the cold during the winter. 
A public library is more than an information center: it’s a community center.  One that I hope we’ll have around for a very long time.
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