EnglishLibrary Science

Public Library

The Public Library is a social institution based on the definition of democracy. It is for the people by the people and of the people. In the words of William Ewart, Public Library is founded by the people, and is established by law and maintained at public expenses out of local rates and sometimes by State taxes. It has been rightly described by Carlyle as Peoples University. No other social institution can perform such a wide range of service as a public library to the entire population of a given area. The Public library is regarded as a center of community service, information bureau, continuation school and a training school for democracy and renders invaluable services in moulding the life and ideals of a community. It provides essential information for the progress of individuals in every walk of life. Dr. S.R. Ranganathan defined it as a library owned and maintained by the public of its area for the socialization of its books and kindred materials for free service to the people of the area. Therefore a Public library is freely open to all, irrespective of age , profession, race, sex, color or creed and provides free access to any literature required.

Definition of Public Library:

The internationally accepted definition of a Public library Is that, it is a library.,

i) Which is financed for the most part out of Public funds,

ii) which charges no fees from readers and yet is open tor tull use by the public without distinction of caste, creed or sex,

iii) which is intended as an auxiliary educational institution providing means of self-education which is endless, and

iv) which houses learning materials giving reliable information freely and without partiality or prejudice on as wide a variety of subjects as will satisfy the interest of readers.

Librarian’s Glossary defines Public library as A library provided wholly or partly from public funds and the use of which is not restricted to any class of persons in the community but is freely available to all.

According to Dr. S.R.Ranganathan, the father of Library movement In India, m the Public Library is one which is open to any member of the public and annually free of any charge paid as so much service”.

Encyclopaedia of Library and Information Science defines that ‘/ Public Library is a Public Institution supported by taxation one that opens its collections* facilities and services, without distinction to all students.


The UNESCO Public Library Manifesto ( revised version of 1972 ) defines it as follows:

1. The Public library is a living force for education, culture and information. It is taken as the practical demonstration of democracy’s faith in universal education as a continuing and lifelong process in the appreciation of the achievement of humanity in knowledge and culture. The public library is the principal means whereby the record of man’s thoughts and ideas and the expression of his creative imagination, are made freely available to all. The Public library is concerned with the refreshment of man’s spirit by the provision of books for relaxation and pleasure, with assistance to the student and with provision of up-to-date technical, scientific and sociological information. In this way, it will help people to form their own opinions and develop their creative and critical, capacities and powers of appreciation. To fulfill it’s purpose the public library must be readily accessible, and its doors open for free and equal use by all members of the community regardless of race, colour, nationality, age, sexy religion, Language, status or educational attainment.

2. The public library should be established under the clear mandate of law so framed as to ensure nationwide provision of public library service. Organized co-operation between libraries is essential so that total national resources should be fully used and be at the service of the reader. It should be maintained wholly from public funds and no direct charge should be made to anyone for its services.


3. The book collection should be comprehensive in all local languages covering all subjects according to the needs constantly reviewed, kept up-to-date and attractively presented. Studies have revealed that resources and services of a public library are used for purposes of information, education, recreation, aesthetic appreciation (fine arts) and research. While planning the services the goals and priorities should be determined in such a way that the demand of material for all these purposes is met in its totality. As the public library is concerned with the communication of information and ideas it should stock the material, whatever be its form in which these may be expressed including AV aids. Since the printed word has been for centuries the accepted medium for the communication of knowledge of ideas and information, books, periodicals and newspapers remain the most important resources of public libraries.


4. The public library building should be centrally situated, accessible to the physically handicapped, and open at times convenient to the user. The building and its furnishings should be attractive, informal and welcoming and direct access by readers to the shelves is essential. The public library should be active and positive in its outlook, demonstrating the value of its services and encouraging their use by providing reference service and lending of books for home reading. The public library is a natural cultural centre for the community, bringing together as it does people of similar interests. Space and equipment are therefore necessary for exhibitions, discussions, lectures, musical performances and film shows both for adults and children. Branch libraries and mobile libraries carrying adequate book stock with, a circulation desk for lending of books should be provided in rural and suburban areas. Trained and competent staff in adequate number are vital to select and organize resources and assist users. Special training will be required for many activities such as work with children and the handicapped, audio visual materials, and the organization of cultural activities.

Services to Children’s:

5. It is in early life that a taste for books and the habit of using libraries and their resources are most easily acquired. The public libraries has therefore a particular duty to provide opportunity for the informal and individual choice of books and other material by children. Special collections and separate areas should be provided for them in the central Library and its branches. The children’s library can then become a lively, stimulating place, in which activities of various kinds will be a source of cultural inspiration.

Services to Students:

6. Students of all ages must be able to rely on the public library to supplement the facilities provided by their academic institutions. Those pursuing individual studies may be entirely dependent on the public library to meet their needs for books and information.

Services to the Handicapped:

7. There is an increasing concern for the welfare of the elderly and all handicapped people. problems on loneliness, and mental and physical handicaps of all kind, can be alleviated in many ways by the public library. Improved means of access, provision of mechanical reading aids, books in large prints and recorded on tape, service in hospitals and institutions and personal service to the home are some of the ways in which the public library can extend its services to those who need them most. Special attention should be paid to the needs of the blind with the provision of Braille books.If such books are not produced commercially in the country the public library should have equipment to produce theme.

Co-operation with other Institutions:

The public library should link itself with other educational, social and cultural institutions, including schools & literacy and adult education programmes, leisure activity groups and with these concerned with the promotion of the arts. Special programmes should be developed for further education of the neo-literates and school dropouts in co-operation with adult education agencies.

By summarizing the above explanatory note of Public library, it may however be understood that a Public library is an institution, established and administered under state law by a local uovernment or an adhoc autonomous library authority or a Government Department maintained wholly out of Public funds, open to all without distinction and free of charge.

Functions and Objectives of Public Library:

The primary objectives of establishing the public libraries or running Public library services in the country are to achieve the following purposes,

1) Fostering and promoting the spread of knowledge, education and culture,

2) Strengthening the forces of socialism, secularism, democracy and rule of law,

3) Equal opportunity of free access to the users of rural as well as urban areas regardless of race, colour, aged, sex, nationality, language, status or level of educational attainment.

Libraries of all categories ( academic, special and public ) are used collectively for five purposes. wiles are Education, Information, Recreation, Aesthetic Appreciation and Research. School and College libraries are primarily used for Education, University libraries for Education and Research and special libraries for Information and Research. But Public libraries are used for all the five purposes, depending upon the size of their collection.

The State Libraries, Divisional/ Regional libraries, District libraries shall function only as research and reference libraries. The services in such libraries shall include reference, bibliographic, documentation, reprography and on-line information searching using national and International data bases.

Generally other Public libraries like City/ Town libraries, Municipal libraries, Block libraries,Village libraries shall concentrate on lending of material for home reading and organizing cultural activities for all age groups, children ( below 12 years ), young adults ( 12-18 years ) and adults.

The objectives and functions of Public library as enumerated by Ranganathan are as follows :

i) Help the life-long self education of one and all,

ii) Furnish up-to-date facts and information on all subjects to one and all,

iii) Distribute in an unbiased and balanced way all sources of recorded reviews and thoughts to one and all and serve as a help in the discharge of their political responsibilities in respect of local, national and & international affairs,

iv) Contribute to productive drive by information to management of the latest trends in diverse enterprises by ploughing back in the minds of researchers, designers and technologists, every piece of relevant new thought promptly,

v) Preserve the literary remains of humanity for posterity as vehicles of culture and source materials for antiquarian research,

vi) Provide to one and all worthy and elevating use of leisure,

vii) And in general work for continued social well being as the agency incharge of all socialized thought.


American Library Association, in its publication entitled Public Library services, A Guide to Evaluation, with minimum Standards, points out the functions of a Public library as follows….

i) To facilitate informal education of all people in the community,

ii) To enrich and further develop the subjects on which individuals are taking formal education,

iii) To meet the information need of all,

iv) To support the educational, civic, and cultural activities of groups and organizations; and

v) To encourage whole some recreation and constructive use of leisure time,

Public Library Inquiry Committee ( U.K.) opines the following three functions likes…

i) To gather resources in order to promote an enlightened citizenship and enrich personal life;

ii) To provida reliable information to the community and;

iii) To provide opportunities for self education to children, young people, men and women.


The Robert committee, Ministry of Education, G.B. ( 1959 ) enumerates the functions of the Public Library as follows:

i) The essential functions of a public library is to supply to any readers or group of readers, the books and related materials for which they may ask”.

ii) It is the function of the public library not only to satisfy, but to promote the desire for books.

iii) The public library is also an obviously suitable centre for exhibition, lectures, adult education classes and discussion groups.

iv) A library depends for its success on an efficient and enthusiastic library, supported by a properly qualified staff working in suitable premises. Finally, public library should be free libraries…..

In nutshell the functions of the public library envisaged in the above mentioned statements enables to summaries them in four concrete points:

1. Educations: To foster and provide means for self-development of the individual/ group at whatever stage of education, closing the gap between the individual and recorded knowledge. As an educational centre, the public library has to support and promote all types of education, formal, non-formal, adult and life-long by keeping adequate stock of books and other reading materials and making them available to all sections of the community.

2. Information: To bring to the individual/group accurate information quickly and in depth, particularly on topics of current concern. The scope of information service of a public library is no longer confined to the provision of traditional reference service to the users. It is extended to include information on other socio-economic needs of the society. A public library has to serve as an information centre or referral contact point for specialized sources of information. In the context of a rural public library employment opportunities, public utility services, facilities provided by social welfare agencies programmes undertaken by the development departments are considered to be the essential areas of information which may be collected and stored for dissemination to the general public.

3. Culture: To be one of the principal centers of cultural life and promote a keener participation, enjoyment and appreciation of all the arts. Promotion of culture has two aspects. First, reading and thinking, develop faculties for aesthetic appreciation, widens mental horizon and develops creative capacities of the individuals Secondly the public library has to contrite to the cultural enrichment of the society by organizing extension activities like lectures, seminars, symposium, book exhibitions and cultural gatherings,

4. Leisure/ Recreations: To play a part in encouraging the positive use of leisure and providing material/ for change and relaxation provision of scope for healthy or positive use of leisure is an important function of a public library. Books of fiction, magazines and newspapers etc. facilitate recreational reading. Audio-visual materials such as films, television, radios cassettes and gramophone records increase the utility of a public library. Various forms of performing arts may also be organized in the library to make them real community centers.

Further, the facts relevant to the concrete points stated above may be listed as under:


Educational Informational
Book Reviews/ Book Talks concerts ( Live or recorded) craft demonstrations cultural exhibits yield trips Film showings. Advice on use of materials, Answer to complex questions, Answer to simple questions Bibliographies on specific subjects.
Formal courses, Lectures Literacy Tutorials Reading Improvement Classes Story Hours. Community calendar, Current Awareness Services, SDI, Database Searcher.
Training of Volunteers Information on Programme Resources. References to community sources of Information
Planning Translations
Recreational  Cultural
Concerts ( Live or Recorded )

Craft Demonstrations

Cultural Exhibits

Field Trips, Story Hours

Film Showings

Book Reviews / Book Talks

Concerts ( Live or Recorded)

Cultural Exhibitions

Film showings


It is evident from the above discussions that, the very objective of public library service is to render free service without discriminating any factor to cater the needs of the public at large. All the above mentioned functions are service oriented in nature. As a result of which public could access freely to get their particular information. Moreover the socioeconomic, cultural, educational development of a society depend largely in the expansion of free public library service.

Role of Public Library in the Socio-Economic Development of the Country:

To cater to the needs of the people of the country, library services are absolutely essential to achieve the developmental goals, improve the quality of life and preserve and make known the country’s as well as the State’s cultural heritage in its multiple forms. The public library service acts as an intellectual catalyst for socio-economic development by providing facilities for the purposes of acquiring education and information as well as recreations aesthetic appreciation and research. Generally, it is believed that where formal education ends, informal education begins and a life-long learning process is continued with the support of free public library service.

Libraries in general and public libraries in particular have a very important role to play in the future development of the country in the fields of political awareness, socio-economic growth, cultural and educational enlightenment. Library service to all classes of people is a social necessity for the steady development of the social being.

Public libraries of to-day are essentially regarded as the people’s Universities without having any distinction of caste, colour, creed, age and sex. If National and University libraries are the barometer of a country’s erudition. Public libraries are the barometer of its general culture. Education and culture are the two valuable sources of national national well-being. For that reason the education and training of the individual is considered in every development plan and every educational plan as being one of the essential means of stimulating economic and social development. To make the people erudite and civilized one of the things to be cultivated is an effective educational system. An effective educational system requires the systematic use of the published reading material. If they are to be at the disposal of the whole population, libraries are inevitable. Without libraries there can be no good primary school, no effective secondary school, no efficient university, nor can there be the ” life-long integrated education” of adults which needs to be encouraged. Therefore an integrated and well planned library system envisaged in the National Educational Planning can no doubt help the nation for its social and economic development.

The success of a democratic way of life depends upon the educated and enlightened citizens irrespective of their social status who have a free access to the Public library service. Its free service to the larger community truly makes it a social institution. Free access and free service rendered by Public libraries brings contacts between Books and the readers. Facilities for reading books keep everyone well informed and trained to judge what is right and wrong. It also opens the windows of the mind and enables the readers to his crucial problems in a reasonable manner. Public library acquires material on all subjects to cater to the needs of all types of readers. It tries to satisfy the criteria of different educational and cultural standards irrespective of whether the individual served is an unlettered child or a research scholar.

If a Public library situated in a village strives towards promotion of literacy, another of its kind situated in a city encourages accumulation of knowledge through recorded material and thus assists its clientele to become more informed, enlightened and cultured. Thus its contents help the people to form their opinions, to develop their creative and critical capacities and power of appreciation.

In a survey of the past, while turning the pages of history of public libraries of different communities and countries, it is seen that public libraries have contributed more than any other social institution in moulding the life of a nation. It is needless to say that the basic necessities of the individual and the society on the whole have been adequately looked after by the Government. These include schools, hospitals, police stations, gardens and public recreation centers, community halls. Public libraries are now a-days given priority as one of the developmental factors by the Government.

It may therefore be observed that, Public libraries encourage readers to get into communion with the best minds of the world, give them time to think and rethink and integrate the thoughts of the best of the greatest minds into their lives. The libraries provide the means to accomplish the last two of the four stages which the Upanishads mention for realizing oneself.

This is the way of the advancement of learning, the greater glory of God and the relief of mans estate. Not without reason, therefore, the philosophers look upon libraries as the builders of the nation’s soul.

Original Reference Article:

  • Rath, P. (1991). Public library finance an analytical study of Orissa public library system since independence.

Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.


  1. Aas Salamu Aleikum
    sir i m from Manipur,India i read your articles and I found it very useful in my Study.

    MM Yashir Ahamed
    BLI&Sc Student
    Aligarh Muslim University

  2. I can’t understand the difference between Digital library, virtual library and E. library….so any plz guide me or give me some important information…I will be very thankful of you

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