This week, after tweeting a link to ALA’s President Molly Raphael’s statement regarding the destruction of the Occupy Wall Street Library in New York City, I became engaged in a conversation on Twitter about what constitutes a library. To me this seems obvious, but I had a hard time coming up with a hard fast definition. I discovered that, like Justice Stewart, I’m of the know-it-when-I-see-it mindset when it comes to identifying it, a library that is. I am not sure I can define it in terms that reconcile with the statement from ALA. If I say the dissolution or destruction of any library is wrong I need a concrete definition for library, because while it may be uncool (and probably illegal) for someone to come into my home and destroy my personal library, I’m not sure that warrants a statement from the ALA President. Let me be clear, I am in complete and total agreement with the statement from ALA. I will happily defend that statement and ALA’s choice to make it. The problem I ran into was defining a library in terms that fit with it. Not just the OWS library but any library of this type. Even after doing some digging (see below) I still didn’t feel like I could offer a succinct definition, not the 140 character kind Twitter requires and probably not even a 140 word one.
For example, the Merriam Webster definition could apply to my private library, well not the morgue part but the rest of it, so that doesn’t work. Ditto for Oxford. The Whole Library Handbook requires that it be “ organized by information professionals or other experts”. So again that would apply to my private library. But this definition also leads us into that whole merry circle of a conversation (or shouting match and snipping remarks) about what constitutes an information professional. I don’t think a collection needs to be organized by an MLS holding person to qualify as a library. You could throw publicly accessible into the definition to rule out my home library because I only begrudging lend books to friends so I’m not about to let the public en masse have access to it. But there are many great libraries not freely available to the public. I read a couple more articles, linked below, but they didn’t help either. So I give up, I’m taking it to the masses, what do you think?
What makes a library a library?
1. a : a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale
b : a collection of such materials
2 a : a collection resembling or suggesting a library
b : morgue 2
3 a : a series of related books issued by a publisher
b : a collection of publications on the same subject
From the Oxford Dictionaries
a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for people to read , borrow, or refer to
From American Libraries
The Whole Library Handbook offers this definition:
“A library is a collection of resources in a variety of formats that is (1) organized by information professionals or other experts who (2) provide convenient physical, digital, bibliographic, or intellectual access and (3) offer targeted services and programs (4) with the mission of educating, informing, or entertaining a variety of audiences (5) and the goal of stimulating individual learning and advancing society as a whole.” (p.2)
- What Is a Library? An Attempt at Common Sense | Peer to Peer Review
- Council on Library and Information Resources Washington, D.C. Libraries Designed for Learning
- What is a library anymore, anyway? by Michael A. Keller, Victoria A. Reich, and Andrew C. Herkovic
- IFLA Treaty Proposal on Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries and Archives (PDF) Jump to page five for the definition of a library. [added 11.20.2011]
- What Do You Think Libraries Will Look Like in 2015?
- What Can We Learn From Pew’s Changing World of Librarians
- Seth Godin Misses the Point on Libraries, Again.