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A library (from ancient Greek βιϐλιοθήκη: biblio, “book”; thêkê, “deposit”) is the place where an organized collection of books is kept and read. There are private libraries – including rich libraries open to the public – and public libraries. Libraries often offer other documents (newspapers, periodicals, sound recordings, video recordings, maps and plans, sheet music) as well as internet access, and are sometimes called media libraries or computer libraries.

Duke Humfrey's Library, Oxford, England.
Credit: Diliff, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Duke_Humfrey%27s_Library_Interior_6,_Bodleian_Library,_Oxford,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0 license

(Duke Humfrey’s Library, Oxford, England.)

The majority of libraries (municipal, university) allow free consultation on site as well as the loan of documents. Others, such as the Public Information Library in particular, only allow on-site consultation. They can then be divided into reading rooms, open to the public, and library stores, closed, for the storage of books less consulted. Other spaces, open to the public or not, can be added.

In 2010, with more than 144.5 million documents, including 21.8 million books, the largest library in the world is the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Nevertheless, the cumulative collection of books of the two Russian national libraries reached 32 , 5 million volumes and the collection of the British Library 150 million items. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the oldest library in the world still in operation is the Al Quaraouiyine library in Fez, Morocco, it contains four thousand invaluable manuscripts that belonged to to universal scientists like the geographer Al Idrissi, the botanist Al-Ghassani, or the doctor Avenzoar.

Internet and digital book

BLI:B, public library Vorst - Forest,
Credit: Rony Vissers, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20171209_BLIB_bibliotheek_01_006.jpg, CC BY 4.0 license

(BLI:B, public library Vorst – Forest, at avenue Van Volxem 364 in 1190 Brussels (Forest). Credit: Rony Vissers, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20171209_BLIB_bibliotheek_01_006.jpg, CC BY 4.0 license)

The majority of libraries now have their own Internet portal, or at least one access page granted by their supervisory administration, with their online catalog, which can be consulted remotely. For the most important, their catalog is integrated into the portal, as well as their digital library and tools such as bibliographies, lists of novelties, virtual exhibitions, as well as access for each reader to the status of their subscription ( borrowed documents and deadline for return).

In most countries, the development of the Internet has caused library enrollment rates to stagnate, and loans are generally declining. But reading on the Internet is increasing, especially for old books that have fallen into the public domain, scanned and put online by Google or other operators. Reading rooms and multimedia stations, however, remain highly desirable.

Libraries, through their digital lending system, allow remote communities access to books. However, some libraries limit the registration of their user to a defined territory.

In the United States, libraries are seeing their financial means reduced due to new technologies and the disengagement of States: “For several decades, political leaders, guided by the logic of the market, claim that they have become obsolete: better according to them investing in new technologies. In most regions, libraries are therefore sorely lacking in resources and are housed in dilapidated buildings. Despite an increase in attendance, they have had to reduce their hours and cut back on opening days. The number of librarian posts has steadily declined, as have the budgets allocated to the purchase of books, newspapers and films.” (Eric Klinenberg, ”Facebook contre les lieux publics”, in Le Monde diplomatique, April 1, 2019)

Sociological dimension of the library

From Antiquity, during its development, the library was designed from a perspective of storage and conservation of knowledge, with a view to protecting power (like the great library of Alexandria). It is then reserved for scholars, with the practice of silent reading and research work.

The missions of libraries are numerous, and these first are notably cultural missions.

The preservation and dissemination-communication of culture are the essential tasks of libraries.

Libraries, in their cultural missions therefore feel involved in all the missions related to books, reading, and culture: from heritage conservation to the constitution of funds and the development of collections but also of promotion and dissemination of cultural creation, and above all making it available to readers. So it is for them to disseminate the memory and current events of thought, literary and artistic creation, scientific and technical innovation.

Libraries meet many daily needs, whether for information (not everything is on the internet) or creation (we have never published as much as today), but also for equality because, through their cultural missions, it should be emphasized that these public libraries do not target certain audiences but are intended for all.

A liberal conception with the prospect of welcoming the public has its origins in the Anglo-Saxon model of the Public Library in the course of the 19th century. It is an objective of democratization, of opening the library to the entire population. Nevertheless, many sociologists from the School who have analyzed it as a factor of social reproduction analyze the library according to the same principle. They note that despite a desire to open up to the public (via free admission), this institutional space remains strongly marked by the domination of academic and scholarly culture. It acts as a real place of symbolic domination, its access is made difficult depending on the distance of the user from the legitimate culture. Serge Paugam observes the frequentation of the library by the working class and the students, and analyzes the practices of this “new” public. It demonstrates the difficulties of this popular public in appropriating the codes and prescriptions for information retrieval, compares entry to the library with entry into the world of the ruling class. The construction of Idea Stores comes from this observation and tries to find a solution.

Researchers in information and communication sciences Valentine Mazurier and Anne Lehmans observe the construction of otherness and diversity in documentary spaces such as libraries and documentation and information centers. In the latter, they describe the gap between private information retrieval practices and school practices.

Includes texts translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu from Wikipedia

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