Why Do Libraries Still Matter?

It turns out that other people think libraries matter as well, after all the debate this week around Amazon replacing public libraries (although the original Forbes article seems to have mysteriously disappeared and a 404 error pops up in it’s place). This piece, highlighted by Discover, talks about why replacing public libraries is absurd and this piece, in The Guardian has librarians suggesting it’s ‘twaddle’ (what a delicious word) that “libraries don’t have the same value they used to”.

This is a collaborative post with Jo at The Inquisitive Writer, who has written about her take on why we definitely need libraries in our lives. Go and check out her thoughts on the topic as well!

Here are my thoughts on what libraries bring, and things that an Amazon Bookstore would struggle to deliver:


It goes without saying that Libraries are essential for the preservation and ongoing care of rare & unique items of history. They are equipped to conserve items that might be one of a kind, or need serious restoration work. The Bodleian Libraries have Jane Austen’s ‘Volume the first’ in their collection and you can see how they conserved the original and repaired the breakdown of two hundred years here.

The British Library has the famous Sir John Ritblat Treasures Room. There are items in here that are one of a kind, and require extreme care to maintain for future generations. Items include one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta (dated twelfth century); the score from Handel’s ‘Messiah’; a notebook from Leonardo Da Vinci; a bible belonging to Elizabeth I… and many more. These items are simply stunning, and if you’re anything like me, it’ll blow you away that these items were really theirs, that these historical figures held, wrote, touched, read these items. It’s gob-smacking, and it is truly miraculous that places like the British Library exist in order to take of these remarkable items.

Da Vinci Notebook
Da Vinci Notebook, written in his famous ‘mirror writing’. Picture from The British Library.


Libraries are indispensable to academics. They wouldn’t be able to do half of their work without the collections and the incredible people who manage them and curate those collections. I remember when I was doing doing my undergraduate and masters degrees, and I literally would not have gotten anywhere without the university library. I overheard some fellow students say they had never set foot in there, and my immediate reaction was ‘how’??

Digitization & Access

We live in a digital world. Information is available to us in our pockets and at the touch of our fingers. Libraries have had to find a place in this new and exciting place where people don’t necessarily need a book to get information. Yet this has provided new opportunities to libraries to increase access and to digitize collections that previously have not been available to the public due to their delicate or damaged condition.

Aelfrics-Colloquy-cotton_ms_tiberius_a_iii_f060v (1)
Aelfrics Old English/Latin translator: read David Crystal’s introduction to old English. From The British Library Collections.

It means that curators and librarians have been able to provide extra information and engagement to items that previously had been off limits except to scholars of that area. Latin texts, for example, can now be translated in front of a child’s eyes, so he can find out exactly what Roman soldiers were eating for breakfast, or what Greek school children were reading about the Gods.

What do you think? Do you still use libraries? When was the last time you visited a library? Let me know in the comments!


22 thoughts on “Why Do Libraries Still Matter?

  1. I LOVE my local library. As a student I’ve spend quite some days in the reading rooms and now that I am working I go to my local library at least twice a month for new books. I like that I don’t have to be sure that I will love the book, I can get whatever looks remotely interesting and if it is not I can just return it, no harm done.

  2. Although I rarely use libraries nowadays – I have the internet, and books I want to read rarely appear in my local library, I have always felt libraries are vitally necessary: I would not be the person I am today without my home town’s public library (https://litgaz.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/stamford-public-library-and-the-joys-of-reading/) . And when I was a student, where else could I have accessed the materials I needed? Libraries are necessary repositories of learning and knowledge which need to be widespread and accessible to all. I loathe nit-picking bean-counters who say ‘we can’t afford your library unless it’s run by volunteers’ and other such nonsense…
    Rant over, I’ll now go downstairs and calmly read a book…

  3. Amen to all this! I was just as my local public library two days ago. For helping me with research and simple pleasure reading and for instilling a love of the written word in my kids since before they knew what a word was–I LOVE my public library. Great post!

  4. I haven’t been to a library in ages…this is a great post that captures the true essence of a library… I took my son to the library once. Our library doesn’t quite have all those fancy features…but it was a great day, now he has a library in his room… 🙂

      1. I was working on a manuscripts of John Lydgate’s Fall of Princes, specifically the The Oedipus Legend section. I had to transcribe it myself first, it was a lot of fun.

  5. I have been thinking about this recently. I love libraries but I can’t see how they will stay relevant in the future once everything is digitised. Thanks for this!

  6. Yes, they do! My Dad loved going to the library and I loved taking him there. There aren’t too many book stores near me, so the library is where people go for book signings and book club activities.

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