Meaning and Attribute of Library

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The word library is derived from the Latin word, liberi, which means book. The World Book Encyclopedia (1971) states that: The simplest definition of a library is a collection of books… But long ago. The libraries outgrew the simple idea that they are only warehouses for books. The most modern library has not only books, but also magazines, pamphlets, painting, motion pictures, photograph records, photographs and electronic computer tapes.

The earliest libraries were mere collections of books and records. However, over the centuries, the concept of library has undergone a metamorphosis. Libraries are no more regarded as mere collections of books but dynamic institutions providing societal information needs and preserving societal records in the most systematic and scientifically manner. Aguolu (1989) defines Libraries as: Collections of records of human culture in diverse formats and languages preserved, organized and interpreted to meet broad and varying needs of individual for information, knowledge, recreation and aesthetic enjoyment.

Encyclopedia Americana defines a library as a place or a building where book and non-book materials are kept for the purpose of reading and research endeavor. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, it is a building where print and non print materials are kept for the advancement learning and study. The library can also be described as a social institution for the exploitation of knowledge contained in published matter.


Many people in Nigeria abuse the use of the term, ‘library’. Often, one notices that rooms or personal offices in Nigerian schools or other public organizations are labeled ‘libraries’ simply because a few books or serial, no matter how old and irrespective of whether or not they are needed by anybody within the school or organization are kept there. What a layman in our society calls library is a mere collection of books often acquired with no specific policy and administered in contradiction of the purpose of the collection, Furthermore, once a collection is administered by a person, no matter his qualifications and position in society, he has neither the competence to acquire and organize library collections nor the competence to provide readers’ services.


The following therefore are the attributes of a library:

i. There must be a convenient space or accommodation set aside for no other purpose but library operations;

ii. There must be a dynamic collection of books and other ephemeral materials in the library space;

iii. People must be allowed to use the library

iii. The materials must be systematically organized in a useful order, stored and preserved for posterity;

iv. Only a person who has undergone formal education and training in librarianship (librarian, library officer, teacher librarian) must be in charge of the library, and at specified time. In other words, there must be library users.

Keeping a collection, no matter the quantity and quality, out of the reach of prospective users negates the concept of library. Libraries have a common objective of acquiring information materials such as books, newspapers, journals, magazines, photographs, maps, films, microfilms, CD-ROMS and other forms of records. These are systematically organized, processed, preserved and disseminated to users in order to meet their educational research, information and recreational needs.

Harrison (1980) states that the broad function that lies at the heart of almost all library services is the provision of information and or cultural materials. Some libraries are not meant for everybody and so restrict their use. These libraries, known as special libraries and academic libraries are meant for a group of users who have free access to the library’s resources. The roles and nature of libraries depend on the objectives of the individual libraries and these vary from one type of library to another.

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