Libraries of libraries
The Suffolk County Library System oversees all Suffolk libraries

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Libraries of libraries

Story By: PETER WARD
12/31/2015


What could a library of libraries possibly be? A library where libraries go to find books or answers to questions? Yes—that is one thing. Or, maybe also, a collection of libraries themselves; a place where whole buildings are neatly arranged on gigantic shelves?  The term might be explored etymologically: we see it must be related to that famous epithet, holy of holies. So, the library of libraries may be understood as the highest of all libraries; an ideal, removed, remote; perhaps even the creator of other libraries. Probably you would need special permission to use it.

Yet even if such libraries of libraries are possible, it does not mean that they necessarily exist. It may be, though, that we can find something similar in the real-world fitting one or more of these impossible definitions. 

One such library can be found easily and quickly by the library user: the library catalog itself. The library catalog, which you have used to search for books available at your library, also allows you to search most Suffolk County libraries. If a book is not at your own library, it might be at one of the others. It can then be quickly sent to you via interlibrary loan. Through the online catalog, all of these libraries serve as one immense library. 

The Suffolk County Library System is the name of the organization overseeing all Suffolk libraries. Rather than being a building where members of the public come to check out books and read, the SCLS offices in Bellport are open to librarians. Instead of books, materials, and resources directed at the public, SCLS provides materials, information, and services for libraries and librarians. 

You may have seen SCLS via some of the services they offer through local libraries. The 3-D printers being demonstrated at local libraries the past year, for instance, were brought from SCLS. Most notable is the Live-brary website. Live-brary has thousands of databases and resources available to any Suffolk County library cardholder. 

For many years SCLS was housed in the Patchogue-Medford Library. Although no longer home to SCLS, the Patchogue-Medford Library remains Suffolk County’s Central Library, providing reference services on a number of subjects including local history and genealogy. 

LILRC, the Long Island Library Resource Council, supports sharing of resources among Long Island libraries. One of the most notable projects facilitated through LILRC has been Long Island Memories, a digitization project of the history of local community history. The LILRC website links to the project on the front page; once there you can look for digitized items from your town, including postcards, books and photographs. 

The Library of Congress is a national library, the world’s largest; as a library of libraries it provides the Library of Congress Subject Headings. When a library is deciding what subject a book should be organized under, they turn to the list of subjects published by the Library of Congress. 

Digitally, there are two interesting American examples: the Digital Library of America and the World Digital Library. The Digital Library of America (dp.la) is meant to be a comprehensive American digital library; the material and information on the site are contributed and used by libraries across the nation. Europeana (http://www.europeana.eu/), the European equivalent, similarly allows any user to search for art and literature from across European history. One form the information on the Digital Library of America takes is that of “exhibits”—currently they are showing an interesting one on the history of public libraries themselves. 

The World Digital Library (http://www.wdl.org/), a project of the Library of Congress in conjunction with the United Nations, aims to foster international understanding. Looking at a picture, book, or map on the World Digital Library, you are provided with links to other items related by geography, subject and time period. Both, though, have a number of unique ways of searching collections and data they provide.