If you are reading this post, chances are you have spent time in one of our library buildings or at least used our online resources. But how much do you really know about the history of libraries? To complement our running history of the Hopkins library, this post begins a three-part history of libraries in general.

A good definition of the term “library” comes from page 8 of the e-book How to Build a Digital Library. The authors call libraries “institutions that arrange for the preservation, collection, and organization of material, as well as for access to it.” Modern brick and mortar libraries collect books, journals, maps, manuscripts, photographs, and a host of other physical formats. Most academic libraries also create digital collections such as the Roman de la Rose Digital Library. You are probably familiar with both public libraries and academic libraries, but there are also school libraries, national libraries, and special libraries. The latter includes law libraries, business libraries, medical libraries, museum libraries, and prison libraries. Katharine Hepburn is wonderful as a corporate librarian in the 1957 movie Desk Set.

In case you can’t wait for the series to get rolling, you might want to do some investigating on your own. Try The Library: An Illustrated History  for a recent comprehensive history or browse through the issues of Information and Culture for scholarly articles about library history. The American Library Association even has a Library History Round Table for serious library history geeks. Check out their Twitter feed  for news about conferences, grants, and more.

In subsequent blog posts we will describe how libraries have changed through the centuries and highlight some unusual collections. You may even hear about librarians in literature and popular culture. Please comment on this post if you want to alert us to your favorite library!


One thought on “Libraries Through the Ages–Part I

  1. Thanks for mentioning Desk Set, one of my favorites. I also want to recognize the almost impossible task that public librarians face every day of remaining relevant in the face of digital, on demand, streaming…everything. In addition to recommending books, they teach and promote literacy; conduct storytimes for young children; host and present programs relating to science, culture, and literature; handle public PC problems; help patrons with online job hunting; officiate at book discussion groups; watch over homeless people and single-parent children; and keep the elderly and the lonely company.

    I am also a fan of the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.

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