What constitutes ‘library’?

“A shelf of books in a village hall is not a library. A phonebox full of books is not a library. A pub with some books is not a library.”

Over the weekend, an esteemed tweep posted his thoughts on what is not a library after reading the report in the guardian about how libraries will rely on volunteers to survive. Maeve Kennedy states that:

More and more books will be distributed from shops, churches and village halls, predict local government and library bodies.

Unfortunately, we are battling to save our public libraries.

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals estimates that a fifth of all library service points could close, with staff cut by up to 6,000.

I want to save libraries. I want to continue to have the facilities that my public libraries provide me with. What I don’t want to become, is snobbish about what constitutes a library. So this post isn’t about knocking any of the work that Cilip and Voices for the Library are doing to save libraries, this is just perhaps a more capricious and very personal take on what constitutes ‘library’.

Here are my thoughts:

So how about this –
The Travelling suitcase library is a unique notion, I have seen it written about on blogs, and even in a Cilip publication, and most definitely on tweets. The idea of a suitcase of books acting as a library and distributed from the local pub, the community hall, or the beer festival – wherever it may be needed. It is not a static building, but it does only contain print copies (of course!). It does have a manifesto of principles. To me, this is still a ‘library’.
Before I go on to the next example, consider this – are 30 subject books on a shelf in an academics office not a library? Does the word ‘library’ have to mean walls? Does it have to mean all facilities? Does it have to mean all formats? I don’t believe it does. I don’t think LibraryThing believes it does either. After all, their ad line is ‘enter what you’re reading or your whole library’. A home for your books.

a collection of books and periodicals held in a library

a room in a private house where books are  kept

a series of books or recordings issued by a company as a set

a collection of films, recorded music, etc., organized systematically and kept for research or borrowing:a record library

These borrowed lines from Oxford dictionaries definition highlights 2 things for me:  organized and collection……….
Library of Congress Gateway to Knowledge
The LoC ‘on tour’ or Gateway to Knowledge , is an exploration of how to bring the library to the people, which surely is what its all about.
‘The truck,  staffed and driven by two docents well-versed in the Library and its collections, parks at various universities, libraries, community centers and other public venues’.
Thats not all……Libraries without Walls – are collections of e-resources not a ‘library’ then?
One last thought on this would be that the notion of ‘library’ and librarianship is evolving. Although it is good to fight to hold on to the facilities that enhance our community, our lifestyle, we also need to look for opportunities in what is coming. Let’s start to think outside of the box. It is our service that is important to all of us.
And finally. When I’m sitting in my small room with wall to wall books, in my LaZy Boy recliner, glass of wine, book in hand and cat on lap, Hugh Laurie’s Let Them Talk playing softly, I will most definitely be sitting in my Library.

7 thoughts on “What constitutes ‘library’?

  1. How about “A shelf of books in a village hall is not a public library. A phonebox full of books is not a public library. A pub with some books is not a public library”?

    • Well is that strictly true also? Our bookcase in our staff room is not a library. It isn’t a managed collection and it certainly isn’t organised. It is random reading material not dissimilar to the bunch of OK magazines in the Dentists. If the bookcase in the pub is a managed and organised colllection why can’t it be a public library?

  2. This is a very well written piece, giving a lot of food for thought. In all areas of our profession things are changing rapidly and keeping a handle on what is a ‘library’ is becoming harder to understand

    • Thank you for this comment. I could’ve made the post a lot longer but I was thinking of readers here – I usually nod off with long posts and start skim reading. Suffice to say, I could say a lot more about this. Maybe a follow up post…….

  3. This is really interesting – I saw that tweet and it made me a bit uncomfortable too. I can’t remember who tweeted it, but whoever it was I like them and usually agree with them, and I can see their point here, so I didn’t reply. But you’ve neatly summed up how I felt in that instant with a well-written post…

    • Thanks Ned, I realise it was a tweet – something we don’t usually spend hours pondering over the correct wording etc. but yes it made me jump out of my seat a little so I felt the need to respond with a tiny reminder about staying grounded.

  4. Pingback: ‘Library’ in parts….. « Scarlettlibrarian's Blog

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