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What is a library?

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

I started to think about this question today when it was pointed out that my wife and I own more books than we can read in the remainder of our lifetimes yet still we will buy more books. We have read thousands, some repeatedly, but yet this very weekend we bought three more. Why?

I think for me the answer lies in the statement, “A library is a place of the possible.”

This began by considering my own personal library in my house, but even the smallest public library will have more books than you can read in a lifetime. In the modern era, libraries borrow books from one another as library systems, in case there are specific titles you want in a different location, and often order books that you request if they don’t have them in that system.

They are a repository of knowledge. They carry data that can enable you to do anything. Every non fiction topic you can think of is available, and every fictional story you can imagine will be accessible. They are the realm of possibility for the great outsourcing of data that is writing. While a public library can be much more than that, it is at least that.

“The internet does that,” some might argue. Does it though?

If you want to know about how to build a terrace in your yard, you will absolutely find websites dedicated to the topic. Some good, many not. You will find YouTube videos on the topic, some good, many not. I have defended on this website before that these are valid mechanisms of learning and their own story telling tools. For now, there does remain a sector for in depth books however, which are more vetted than websites, to teach and carry us away to other worlds of imagination.

More, libraries serve as locations for learning face to face. Most give talks, host clubs, have knowledgeable librarians. If you haven’t been to a library recently, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My personal library serves some of the same purposes. Though it's only staffed by my wife and me. I don’t need to read every book I own. I need to want to. It is my repository of the things most precious to me, that I don’t run to the public library for. It comprises the data close at hand. So, if you are tempted to buy a book, and think to yourself, “But I may not read it anytime soon,” buy it anyway. You are helping an author, keeping knowledge alive, and building your library of possibilities.

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