A library is an organized (using a classification system) collection of books and other print and nonprint materials. Library contents and materials vary according to the patrons or clientele being served. Library searches used to be done through the card catalog, a record of the collection’s materials. Most libraries, in the late twentieth century, switched their records (under the same classification systems) to computers, so that users can access information in various databases. Libraries’ vast collections of materials can be obtained by such methods as going to the shelf and finding a desired book, requesting a book (many libraries do not allow patrons to access books directly), making a computer printout, or asking for a book through interlibrary loan. Libraries are vital organizations in modern global societies. They house not only books but also other resources, including periodicals, newspapers, audiovisual materials and various other print and nonprint information. Librarians provide a variety of services to a clientele used to a service oriented, computer-age society. The Internet has enabled individuals to reach libraries across nations and to acquire information instantaneously. The roles of libraries and librarians have become more complex and challenging, especially in issues of selection and censorship.
The earliest known libraries (of clay tablets) date back to Mesopotamia of 3500 b.c.e. The ancient library (of papyrus documents) in Alexandria (305-283 b.c.e.) was destroyed in various fires. Scholars at this Egyptian library copied, revised, and collated works of classical Greek writers. Libraries flourished for centuries and held about 500,000 rolls. The Roman Empire had many libraries, but during the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic church kept the library traditions in Europe. Libraries in the Middle Ages were primarily in monasteries, cathedrals, and universities. Books were laboriously made by hand, by monks, thus limiting the size and number of libraries. Additionally, books that the Church thought immoral were destroyed. The great libraries of Damascus and Baghdad were destroyed by the thirteenth century. The first libraries in China appeared with the Ch’in Dynasty. A copy of every book was stored in the imperial library.
During the Renaissance more libraries emerged, including the Vatican Library. The invention of the printing press further increased the number of libraries, and more books became available, primarily for elites with private libraries. Public libraries started in the seventeenth century and their number multiplied throughout Europe and America. As illiteracy rates decreased, the use of public libraries increased in the eighteenth century. National libraries appeared—La Bibliotheque National in Paris in the seventeenth century, the British Museum in London and Italy’s National Library in Florence in the eighteenth century, Russia’s Saltikov-Shchdrin Library in Saint Petersburg, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., which started with purchases from Thomas Jefferson’s personal library.
Most countries have national libraries, as well as other scholarly libraries—Charles University in Prague, the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, the Egyptian National Library in Cairo, and others. In some countries, public libraries are not as abundant as in the United States and Canada. Canada maintains government libraries in Ottawa—the Library of Parliament, the National Library of Canada, and the Canadian Institute for Scientific and Technical Information. The Internet allows easy access to these libraries and others throughout the world. Several organizations work to improve libraries across the world, including UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), AID (the Agency for International Development), IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations), IASL (International Association of School Librarianship), and others.
Types of Libraries, Organization, and Services
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