Collaboration of the Week – Libraries

Collaborative consumption is not a new idea. Humans are social creatures and working together for the common good is something that comes naturally to us (though perhaps you have to look a bit harder to find it today). One of the earliest examples of collaborative consumption is the library. Before the industrial revolution and the invention of the printing press books were not a mass produced commodity as they are in modern times. Whether is was stone tablets, papyrus or the hand-written codices of the middle ages, textual knowledge was not easy to come by. Enter the library…

Libraries have been around since the ancient times; the Library of Alexandria being one of the most well known examples. Since there was very little chance that you could actually own a book of your own, libraries were essential for the dissemination of knowledge. The Library of Alexandria is known to have been used by some of the great intellectuals of history such as Euclid and Archimedes, whose studies now form much of the foundation of modern life.

The Royal Library of Alexandria
The Royal Library of Alexandria

In modern times the role of libraries has remained largely unchanged, although it is probably safe to say that their reach has expanded substantially. No longer limited to the great scholars of the age, but rather giving access to books, knowledge and learning to the masses. I have got memories of visiting my local library on a weekly basis as a kid. Whether it was to take out a new book or to take part in story time I would always look forward to the trip. Many cities and universities around the world boast impressive libraries, be it due to the size or importance of their collection or the beauty of the building itself.

The Codrington Library, All Souls College, Oxford
The Codrington Library, All Souls College, Oxford

There is hardly a better example of the power of collaboration than a library. One book in a library can do the job of thousands of copies of the same book that are bought by people who read them once and then store them on a shelves for years on end. What could be better than having access to thousands and thousands of books on all the subjects you can imagine for a simple (usually inexpensive) monthly fee?

With the advent of ebooks the future of the library has been questioned. I personally don’t think they will disappear, but that they will have to adapt. Libraries can become knowledge centres within communities. A place where people can go to hear presentations or debates on subjects that interest them. A place for start-up companies to rent space and collaborate with other start-ups, a practice commonly seen in the business accelerators common these days. I don’t know, there are an infinite number of ways that libraries can mould themselves to fit in with modern needs. Whatever happens they will forever remain a stalwart of collaboration. So next time you are thinking of buying a new book think about visiting your local library instead…

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