Libraries have been around since the ancient world (3rd millennium BC, no joke) as a way to document, record, and archive. They precede other community institutions like hospitals and schools because of the sheer magnitude their job of preserving history holds.
What differentiates the libraries of today from the libraries of the ancient world? Excluding the enormous technological capabilities of today’s modern world, the main difference is what most of us actually consider their defining characteristic — the ability to borrow from them.
In their inception, libraries were not as they are today; a place to spot antique relics of the olden days (hard copy books) or for public radio’s local live broadcasts. Libraries were a place to store recorded history. Stone tablets came first, replaced by papyrus scrolls when the Egyptians realized it was ridiculous to carry, move, and store these obscenely heavy things (Thank you, Egyptians!).
They’ve continued to change over the centuries, as enduring institutions tend to do, always maintaining their role as meeting point, educational center, and archive.
The great diversity of physical form, purpose, location, and services we’ve now seen throughout the history of the library is ultimately due to their essential nature, and our increasingly digitalized life and times will also augment and nurture the growth and evolution of this essential community institution.