What is a Virtual Library?

S. Gonzales

A virtual library is a digital space that keeps and organizes virtual books and their associated documents. It also can refer to a space where the books can be read. These spaces can include computers, mobile devices and the Internet. Some virtual libraries can be accessed for free, and others require subscriptions.

A virtual library may refer to a space where books can be read, such as computers and the Internet.
A virtual library may refer to a space where books can be read, such as computers and the Internet.

An advantage of using a virtual library is that it is able to store many books in a small amount of space. Physical books can take up a lot of space. By using a digital library, readers can access their entire personal libraries in one location, on either a computer or a mobile device. The need for physical books diminishes by using a virtual library, so digital libraries also have the benefit of helping to conserve paper resources.

Mobile devices may be used as virtual libraries.
Mobile devices may be used as virtual libraries.

The term "virtual library" also can be used to refer to a collection of books that are readily available to be read on the Internet. These books often can be read for free and are available under public domain. Any users who find a book under one of these circumstances can read it and use it within the terms set forth by the organization providing the books. They must also follow any laws connected to reading the book.

In the same way, virtual libraries can exist within book subscription services. Some institutions, such as colleges and universities, can provide access to a virtual library. Libraries can have content licenses in place, so patrons might have to authenticate themselves through the use of accounts set up through the library before they can access these materials, however.

Although a virtual library can be, hypothetically, used without the need for the world wide web, the Internet is often tied to digital libraries. Certain websites offer users the ability to catalog and organize their digital libraries. They can also provide users with suggestions for new books to read, based on the content of their libraries, can give them the opportunity to connect with other users who share the same tastes. Some websites can implement community-based features, such as those that enable users to participate in virtual book clubs and read peer reviews of books.

Some mobile devices offer their owners the ability to purchase and download books directly onto their devices. These books can be organized by means of a virtual bookshelf, which can come bundled with the program used to purchase the book. When a user wants to read a book that has been purchased, he or she can simply access the program's interface and choose the book from a virtual bookshelf.

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Discussion Comments


One of the best uses for virtual libraries, of course, is that they can be used to archive materials. Virtual libraries can store massive amounts of documents and require very little space. Of course there is a problem -- hard drives and other media used to store documents in a digital format don't last forever.

Still, we've come a long way toward insuring that our documents aren't lost to history.

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