Redefining the Library

Something I’ve been chewing on for a few days is this article in the metro. Council members of the new Halifax library (which I unfortunately have yet to visit, blame my poor priorities) have been tossing around the idea that the word ‘library’ doesn’t quite sum up all it is that goes on in the facility. Having worked in a public library for three years, I agree. The general populace of non-library-visiting people have no idea what goes on there and the services they offer. Books are just a single facet of a complex organization.

However, the dangers of losing the title ‘library’ are significant. At the core of it, I think you don’t want to lose what started everything: the books. Phasing them out would simply create a community centre. A valuable resource to be sure, but not a library in its own right. As a classicist I may be a little biased at retaining old traditions, but only when they are still useful and relevant (additionally, my friend and colleague is doing her thesis on ancient libraries, so it’s on the mind a lot).

So what new name could fill the gap, if ‘library’ wasn’t used? Is there a term that can connote the same range of things? I think that we should simply accept that words, as they are wont to do, change definition over time. A library is not simply a place for books. It is a place of community engagement, display, interaction, and interpretation. Anyone who is not aware of this definition should be made aware. In fact, why not a larger campaign redefining ‘library’? Inform the public what it means in a modern context. If we change what visitors/consumers/whatever term you’d like think of when they hear the word, we can facilitate a great change in the way the community interacts with a place branding itself as such.

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