A gateway to knowledge and culture, libraries have played a fundamental role in society since the advancement of writing and documentation of man’s activities and intellectual progress. Culture and traditions have opened new horizons in people’s maintenance of lifestyles unique to each society, subsequently giving birth to what we call civilization.
Historical records show evidences that the oldest library in the world, the Royal Library of Alexandria, was built in approximately 300 BC in Alexandria, Egypt. This obvious statistic indicates that libraries were in existence way before the birth of Christ. However, the world’s oldest library does not exist anymore. During its inauguration, the library functioned as a major learning center in its time. Man’s follies know no limits and it was burned down by Julius Caesar during the Alexandrian War. Some say it was attacked and desecrated accidentally by Caesar.
Libraries were considered sacred, glorified next in line to temples and monasteries in ancient times. The St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, also in Egypt, was constructed around 550 AD. It is believed to possess one of the largest collection of religious literature in the world and a collection of Byzantine manuscripts. However, this library, nothing short of a bunker of knowledge, is not accessible to the public. Only monks and invited scholars are allowed inside. This restriction clearly supports the unshaken role of libraries being the sacred stores where religious texts were kept and treasured, preserved for the growth and development of religious doctrines.
In the modern world, the library has evolved to be the center of education excellence, maintaining its core functions of supplying the platform for intellectual stimulation and growth through intense focus on reading for examination preparation purposes, conducting research via an assortment of informative materials and above all, displaying a conducive environment of serenity, very suitable for mind development. However, the explosion of information technology in the late 20th century, embedded in multifunctional devices, has made libraries a deserted entity, what more, in some views, obsolete. In a click of a button on one’s computer, laptop, iPad and tablet, the world is brought right adjacent to the individual, opening up debatable arguments for books, in their conventional form, being boring, too wordy, bulky, time consuming, hence halting one’s speed in obtaining the information needed.
As much as the above arguments may seem to be true to a certain extent, the opponents of library have forgotten one important detail on why libraries are a rare commodity till this date. A library sets an environment not available anywhere else in term of plain thinking. The library functions in a manner where users are strictly herded into an ambience of peace, strictly catered for doing references, research and mere intense reading for information. The ‘silence’ rule enforced in a library says it all that users are there in the first place because they have an obligation to seek knowledge, to gather information and to utilize the gathered information for a definite purpose. The information age allows an allowance for an individual to take charge of his learning through his own pace without even stepping into the library. However, one’s self-determination and motivation factors play a crucial part in this quest.
The library disciplines its patrons to adhere to set guidelines and house rules. It invokes the inner consciousness of the patrons that they are there for a common goal, a common space where everyone is striving to accomplish some sort of task. Hence, the library has a drive in it that it awakens the fossilized non-activeness in an individual unlike when he dwells in other premises. Other than engaging oneself with the library, one may take matters simple as he will not be confined to any rules and regulations, often leading him astray from the actual quest of what he had set to do.
On another note, libraries are very synonymous with education and offer countless learning opportunities which can fuel economic, social and cultural development in a country. The inspiring story of William Kamlewamba from Malawi underlines the difference a library can make. Having borrowed a book about windmills from his local library, Mr. Kamlewamba learned how to build energy-producing turbine for his village. On the strength of this experience he went on to study at a leading University in the United States. That one book not only changed his life, but also transformed the lives of those in his village. Such encouraging stories explain why many countries are eager to ensure that libraries continue to provide access to knowledge, learning and development of ideas. In addition to leading books, modern libraries are also involved in providing copying materials facilities for research or private study purpose. There may also be students who cannot afford to buy every book or pay for every television broadcast or journals that they need to access for their studies. They, therefore rely on services of the library. Thus, one of the roles of libraries in today’s world is supporting education on a broader basis, providing the opportunities and catering those opportunities for all levels of society.
Another role of the library that would debunk the notion of it becoming obsolete is preserving the cultural heritage of a nation. Recognizing the cultural importance of sharing, Mahatma Gandhi once said that “a culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive”. The stimulus to share and reuse information and knowledge comes in many guises. Perhaps the most deep-rooted of our human instinct is the desire to preserve our culture for future generations. This is one of the most important functions of libraries. Libraries are rich repositories of historically and culturally significant collections, many of which are not available anywhere else in the world. Without an appropriate copyright exception, a library cannot preserve or replace a damaged work while it is still covered by copyright. For example, it could not lawfully copy or digitize an old newspaper or a unique sound recording to preserve it. Without appropriate library exceptions, this cultural heritage would be lost to future generations. Today, many works are only “born digital”, such as websites or electronic journals and are unavailable in print format. Without the legal means to preserve and replace works in a variety of media and formats, including format shifting and migrating electronic content from absolute storage format, many of these works will inevitably be lost to future generations or histories, if not for the libraries.
In conclusion, libraries play an essential role in today’s world. They are enabling the public to explore a wide range of knowledge based materials that they deliver. They are also encouraging creativity and learning by providing services like lend books and allowing people to access the internet through their computers. Libraries are a place for people to not only improve their knowledge and gain new information, but also a place where users get to touch and feel the pulp and print of great literary works. The joy in experiencing the feel of having flipped through the authentic materials is non-comparable to dull virtual prints in electronic gadgets. Libraries are the silent “educators” in today’s world. We still need them to make us ever wiser.