A library, by definition, is a central, organized collection of a community’s documentation (historical accounts, artwork and resources) preserved, and made accessible for reading, reference and borrowing. The library was conceived to make public, the private spoils and treasures of a community.
The first libraries date as far back as 2600 BC in Mesopotamia, containing clay tablets of cuneiform script, the earliest form of writing. The early libraries of this region also contained evidence of an early classification system used to catalog and organize their collections, and most notably established the starting point of our world’s history.
As civilizations developed and evolved throughout the world, libraries played a critical role as the central repository for their laws, artwork, historical accounts, census data and genealogies, and academia. By providing citizens with access to the arts and literature on every discipline, communities prospered and advanced. Julius Caesar, among many others, even targeted the library for destruction during conquests, as in the case of the famous Library of Alexandria, as he believed it would severely handicap his enemy. While most of us identify our schooling and early learning with our frequent (or infrequent) trips to the library, these physical buildings have served a critical role in the development and preservation of civilization, since the beginning of man.
Traditionally, libraries served as the physical repository where our books, magazines, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, artwork and films were housed and made accessible for those eager, or by necessity, “had” to learn. The Dewey Decimal Classification System was implemented in 1876 and became the metadata classification standard for libraries in over 135 countries, and for the last 136+ years. As technology advanced, the physical library collection grew to include microfilm, microfiche, VHS, cassettes, CDs and DVDs. Many of us were first introduced to microfilm and fiche viewers, CRTs, Apples, and other early computer devices for aural learning, games, and digital media in its infancy at the library, of our past.
“Book lovers will understand me, and they will know too that part of the pleasure of a library lies in its very existence.” – Jan Morris (Quoted in Heart of the Community: The Libraries We Love)
NPR: New York Public Library.