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What does it mean to have a library?

Unsurprisingly, a lot of my friends have been talking about the dismantling of the People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street, and it’s got me thinking about why the protesters set up the library and why people care so much that it’s gone. And why tiny towns have libraries, and why universities are judged on their libraries, and why tweed-coated English gentlemen built private libraries far larger than they could read through in a lifetime.

For lending libraries, of course there’s an economic benefit to the community that comes from sharing books. And I imagine that this was a core benefit to the People’s Library, too. It’s easy to see how the protesters would have wanted to carry out simple acts of sharing with all who were in want.

I think there’s also a nice metaphor of cultural exchange that happens with lending libraries. Ideally, more than one person will have read each book, and that means that those people will have experiences in common to discuss and build upon.

I think a library, any kind of library, is also a statement about belonging and longevity. “We are here,” they help us say, “and we plan to be here for a while.” And it’s not just belonging and longevity, but also a statement about progress. “We know things,” they help us say, “and we will continue to learn new things and add those things to this collection.”

I have been having a hard time feeling outrage about the dismantling of the People’s Library, but maybe it is in part because I have been thinking of it as a collection of books in a tent. Maybe it was more than that.

One thought on “What does it mean to have a library?

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