The Modern Library

Modern libraries, in addition to providing patrons with access to books and other materials, often publish lists of accessions and may maintain a readers' advisory service. Interlibrary loan services, lecture series, public book reviews, and the maintenance of special juvenile collections are other important recent developments. Three systems of book classification are widely used to facilitate access to library collections: the Dewey decimal system of Melvil Dewey, the system of Charles Ammi Cutter, and the Library of Congress system (see catalog). Since the 1930s libraries have had several technological tools at their disposal, including microphotographic techniques for copying, computer data banks enabling the storage of far more information and the search of indexes and catalogs far more quickly than ever before, and computer networks that provide instant access to materials in libraries throughout the world and to the Internet and its increasingly rich resources. Books, newspapers, photographs, recordings, and other materials may also be digitized to make them available on computers and over the Internet. Digitization is especially useful in the case of older and rarer materials, which can be made more readily accessible to a wide range of scholars and the public through high quality copies.

Major university libraries in the United States must work to meet an enormous demand for research materials and spend nearly $5 million a year for books and related supplies such as binding materials. Preservation of pulp-based paper, which becomes brittle after a few decades, has become a major drain on library resources; many libraries will no longer acquire books that are not printed on acid-free paper. Such libraries typically have private endowments as well as receive federal and state support. Other libraries throughout the world operate on far smaller budgets, frequently with severe financial handicaps.

The architectural design of modern public libraries in the United States has placed the highest priority on functionalism. Outstanding examples of library construction include the central housing for collections in New York City (1911), Los Angeles (1926; major renovation 1993), Baltimore (1932), and San Francisco (1996) and university buildings at Columbia (1896; no longer a library) and Harvard (1915). Modern buildings tend toward modular construction and smaller, separate housing for special collections.

See also library school.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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