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Note: this entry is as yet incomplete.

Libraries are a type of repository of knowledge, generally defined as buildings which house stores of books (often times they contain both fiction and non-fiction), reference materials such as maps, and periodicals. With advances in information and communications technologies, libraries are coming to provide technological services including access to computers, internet, printing, and more. Libraries have been established to serve a wide variety of user groups, ranging from academic researchers and policy makers to poor communities with very limited access to printed or electronic sources of information. In order to extend access to all people, especially the latter types of libraries play a major role.


Context within NORA

Relationships to Needs

The Human Needs section on the NORA page lists many things that we need as human beings that can be found within libraries, and more specifically, within books. For example:

Opportunities to learn anything and everything relevant to one’s life
There are books on every subject imaginable. A person is only limited by the collection that the library possesses, or to which it has access via interlibrary loan. If the library offers an internet connection, the worldwide web is available. By establishing libraries, this need can be fulfilled to a large degree.

Participation in collective economic and political decision-making
People’s ability to participate in economic and political decision-making is generally limited by the type of government in the country in which they reside. However, in those countries that allow for participation in the decision-making process, a more educated and well-read populace will be able to make more informed decisions. Libraries give people the tools to supplement their knowledge and become more well-rounded individuals. Libraries can also impact the economic landscape themselves as their services have frequently been deemed necessary to local businesses in academic studies (Glass, 2000).

Having enough time to relax, to think, to imagine, to enjoy life, to play, to be alone
For many people, reading a book is a hobby or an activity to be used to release stress. While libraries do not assist with giving people enough time to relax and enjoy themselves, to play or be alone, they are generally considered spaces where all of those activities can take place and can increase personal fulfillment (Barron, 2005).

Contemplative spiritual connection with ones deeper self and with a transcendent unity
Many governments and religious institutions throughout the centuries have feared books because of the power they had to stimulate self-reflection. With the walk down the appropriate stack, a trip to the library can become an extremely spiritual experience. It is entirely possible for a person to find greater understanding of life and its meaning from reading a book.

Self expression
This relates to the previous need and the previous explanation in that by looking through the correct book, a person can come to conclusions they had never previously reached about themselves and life. This can influence both immediate forms of self expression, and life-changing decisions. The number of professions chosen in childhood from reading books is incalculable. Libraries also allow access to materials useful and essential for education and career pursuance, and hence meaningful livelihoods (Barron, 2005).

For more information and an academic review of literature regarding how libraries can accomplish the above in developing countries, see source: (document of the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, no longer available as of July 2013).


Relationships to Organizational Forms

Libraries are most commonly set up in the context of a long-term relationship to a community, which puts them into the committed sales or services cluster. However, they can also be formed within a context of community solidarity. Since they involve the lending out of books and other materials, they fit within the sharing and renting cluster. Finally, they tend to support the free sharing of knowledge.


Relationships to Resources

Libraries are a subset of repositories of knowledge, along with such institutions as archives and museums. They obviously draw on the intangible resource of knowledge; they also require buildings and other physical, human-made assets, land, and energy for their operations.


Libraries and Abundance

How libraries contribute to abundance of knowledge and information

The most basic function of libraries is to lend out books to people. A single book can be read by many people (meaning better use of that book), while an individual can read many books without having to buy them, saving large amounts of money. As many new media have been developed, these also can be kept and lent out in libraries, for example, audio-visual materials. Art works and other non-written materials can also be kept and lent out in libraries. With the advent of computers and the Internet, providing Internet access has become an important function of many libraries.

[Some discussion on history of libraries, what kinds of institutions support libraries and for which reasons, and where they obtain their funding should be added here. A more complete overview of the kinds of services libraries provide and how they contribute to abundance of information availability would also be useful.]


Financial and other challenges for libraries

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has been providing a World Report on the state of libraries across the globe since 2001. In their most recent report in 2010, they had institutions from a 122 nations participate in their survey.

They found that the abilities of most libraries to provide internet services was severely lacking. They explain that: “Due to factors such as poverty and other expenses, money is usually spent on resources to meet basic needs, rather than on information services and/or sources. An increase in access to computers and free access to the Internet will play an important role in overcoming the digital divide, and in establishing societies in which there is a culture of valuing information as a critical resource for development.”

It is stated that, “Of the 122 countries participating in the 2007 Report, 24 could report an 81‐100% level of Internet access in all four categories (compared to 18 in 2007)”. These countries were predominantly in Europe. Those countries unable to provide higher than a 20% level of internet access were all in Africa.

The World Report also stated, “There was increased growth in HIV/AIDS education for those that cannot read from 2007 to 2009, especially in the Asian countries which participated.” (34) This is far from the only social issue referred to in the report but it serves as example of the social impact libraries can have on communities and community education.

The African continent is where reference institutions are particularly scarce. According to an extensive report by Aissa Issak, the main detriments to the system in Africa (as of 1993-1999) are lack of resources, both financial and human, lack of government support, and lack of coordination among institutions. (18)

The author asserts that we need a more anthropologically minded approach to library modeling in other nations/continents for successful institutions and to enhance distribution of services. (18)

The African institutions would be served well by pursuing a model of sustainability. According to the author, “The question of sustainability was raised. At present, almost all successful initiatives rely upon external donor support. Measures must be taken to examine how these services could be run on a cost-sharing basis and eventually become self-supporting in the community.”(18)

This is not only true for libraries in Africa, but for other institutions the world over as well.

Since the mid to late 1990s, libraries all around the world (not simply in developing countries) have experienced difficulties with funding. Without the ability to fund our current library institutions it would be hard to imagine the idea of their expansion either in new locations or by providing additional services to the public. However, work is currently being done to make existing institutions financially sustainable.

In 2010, the Library Joint Powers Board (LJPB) of the city of Santa Cruz, California commissioned the formation of a task force aimed at sustainable modeling for their library system. The models that they developed all included differences in the number of hours the libraries remained open to the public, what types of services they would offer, if any branches would close, cut backs in personnel, use of volunteers, and an emphasis on community based learning. [see Barbara Gorsen reference below]

Models such as those mentioned in the Library Joint Powers Board document cannot be automatically applied elsewhere in the United States or in other countries. However, the idea of assigning a task force or commission in order to tackle issues of sustainability might be a good starting point. This is, however, only possible in those places where library institutions cooperate with one another.

[Note: this section would benefit from an analysis of some of the reasons why funding may be or has been cut, and of creative ways to secure financial and other support for libraries in several different contexts.]


Links and Stories


Room to Read

Libraries Without Borders/Bibliothèques Sans Frontières



Barron, Daniel et al. 2005. The Economic Impact of Libraries on South Carolina. Executive Summary. A study prepared by The School of Library and Information Science, the University of South Carolina.

Bernard, Sara. 2008. Room to Read: Building Libraries, Schools, and Computer Labs in Developing Countries:One man's simple plan to expand worldwide literacy, thousands of libraries at a time. Edutopia website.

Glass, Robert et al. 2000. The Role of Public Libraries in Local Economic Development. Report No. 260, The University of Kansas Policy Research Institute.

Gorsen, Barbara et al. 2011. Final Task Force Report to the Library Joint Powers Board on Financially Sustainable Service Models for the Santa Cruz Public Libraries.

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) 2010 World Report.

International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP). Public Libraries in Africa: document no longer available as of July 2013.,b2rpmkgk,w




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