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Should "library" be capitalized?
December 1, 2011 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Should "library" be capitalized?

I know we've got our fair share of information professionals and educators here, so please, I implore you, your opinion!

My boss corrects everything so Library is capitalized. This does not just include "Welcome to Smithington College Library!" but also:

Some Library resources you may find useful are...

Call us or stop in to the Library and ask about...

We do not consider this a quiet Library...

etc.

It seems old-fashioned (as an aside, I am also not allowed to use contractions in any instructional materials!) if not plain incorrect. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (31 answers total)
 
You're right. This is incorrect. The only circumstance outside of the title of the institution (which you mention above) would be, instances where you are using "Library" as a shortened version of the title of the institution. For instance:

- Click here for a calendar of all Library events
- E-mail us to ask about being a Library patron
- For a list of Trustees of the Library...

Even these aren't absolutely must-capitalize situations. But "We do not consider this a quiet Library" is just silly.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:31 AM on December 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


~btw, "Library patron" above, on reflection I didn't mean "library patron," I meant more like, donor or supporter. "E-mail us to ask about being a Library supporter."
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:33 AM on December 1, 2011


Are you talking about a specific library? If so, I would capitalize it. If you're talking about libraries as a collective entity, I would not capitalize it.

In your examples, I would axe the capital on "we do not consider this a quiet library," but leave the rest.

It might help to mentally fill in the entire name of the library when deciding to capitalize. For instance:

Some (Smithington College) Library resources you may find useful are... (yes!)
Call us or stop in to the (Smithington College) Library and ask about... (yes!)
We do not consider this a quiet (Smithington College) Library... (nooooo!)
posted by phunniemee at 8:33 AM on December 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


I've seen people do this. I think it's odd but I think the idea is to make sure you're differentiating Our Library from the generic idea of any old library. You could make the argument that when you say library in these circumstances you're just abbreviating Smithington College Library to just Library. As I'm sure you know, people who hypercorrect to this level--and yeah I've been places where the contraction thing was a no-no--are unlikely people who are going to be swayed by descriptive assessments about language as it actually is. So yes, you are correct that it is old fashioned. However it's not so old fashioned that you're not likely to see it other places. A quick Google for some basic phrases like you've outlined seems to indicate that non-capitalized beats out capitalized by about 15 to 1.
posted by jessamyn at 8:34 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your boss is silly. German capitalizes all nouns; English does not. The only reason to capitalize a noun in English is if it's a proper noun (which Library can sometimes be, in certain contexts, as others have explained), if it begins a sentence, or in rare exceptional cases which are usually connected to religion.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:35 AM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some Library resources you may find useful are...

That isn't necessarily incorrect if "Library" is being used as a shorthand for "Smithington College Library." For instance, the New York Times Magazine refers to itself as "the Magazine" for short. That's fine, just like it's fine to write about "the Stones," meaning the Rolling Stones. But this is probably too nuanced for people to pick up on, and saying "This is a quiet Library" can't possibly be correct. So, basically, you're right even though it's theoretically possible to use the capitalized "Library" correctly.
posted by John Cohen at 8:36 AM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


What they said--while I would only capitalize Library when referring to the specific one, there are quite a few situations where that's (excuse me, 'that is') exactly what you're (excuse me, 'you are') doing.
posted by box at 8:36 AM on December 1, 2011


Look in any American English reference book, and I expect you'll find little or no support for what your boss is doing.
posted by maurreen at 8:40 AM on December 1, 2011


Ugh, I share your frustration. I had the same problem, only my boss was capitalizing every instance of "airport". Yes, it is old-fashioned and definitely out-dated. Only capitalize it if it's part of a specific name. I agree with John Cohen's point about it not being necessarily incorrect if it's a shortened reference of a specific library's name; however, in my experience, the common noun was used so much, it's better to keep it lowercase and capitalize it (I repeat) only if it is part of a specific library's name.
posted by Eicats at 8:42 AM on December 1, 2011


while I would only capitalize Library when referring to the specific one, there are quite a few situations where that's (excuse me, 'that is') exactly what you're (excuse me, 'you are') doing.

Actually, it should probably lowercase all the time, whether or not you're referring to that specific library (unless, of course, you're writing the full name of the library or it's at the beginning of the sentence).
posted by John Cohen at 8:43 AM on December 1, 2011


If it's like other institutions that put out a lot of written materials, Smithington College probably has an in-house style guide that specifies all the common nouns they capitalize because someone in department x wanted to feel important and nobody with any sense wanted to tell him "no." Happens all the time.

Your last example doesn't fit the mold though --- usually it's only the library at the institution itself that's capitalized, so that it will stand out from lowercased generic libraries.
posted by headnsouth at 8:43 AM on December 1, 2011


It may be wrong, but I think I like it. I vote for Library, with a BIG L, even if it ain't gooder english. I think it puts focus on The Library as an Important Place.
posted by Blake at 8:44 AM on December 1, 2011


This is just a matter of institutional style when referring to itself, but clearly wrong when referring to other entities. I worked for years in communications at an entity--let's call it The MetaFilter Center for Snark--that, as a matter of policy required references be to " The MetaFilter Center for Snark," "MetaFilter," or "The Center."

It's not a question of what your AP Style Guide says, it's how the entity is branding itself.

That's said, "a quiet library" is over correction, as John Cohen notes.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:44 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


He may be referring to the Platonic ideal, in which case 'Library' is correct. Otherwise, you've found a short in his brain.
posted by Nahum Tate at 8:48 AM on December 1, 2011


I'm going to differ from others here and say that while there are circumstances where you would capitalize "library," all of your examples just make your library look like it's being run by a deranged baboon or perhaps a retired grocer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:48 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd vote for your boss. It's a shorthand way of referring to the entity by its official, institutional title. I see this sort of thing all the time.

For example, when a lawyer is writing a brief, the term "court" is capitalized in two situations (other than the beginning of a sentence): when the court in question is a court of last resort (SCOTUS or the state supreme court, usually) or it's the court you're actually in front of.

So when discussing a ruling by SCOTUS, you might say "In that case, the Court held..." but if you're talking about an appellate or other trial court's ruling, you'd say "There, the court noted that..." If just speaking of general judicial practice, one could say "State courts have habitually ruled in favor of..." But if you're addressing the court for which you're writing the document, you'd say "As this Court has previously ordered..."

Something similar seems to be going on here. It's a matter of institutional style, and thus sort of independent of the rules of grammar.
posted by valkyryn at 8:51 AM on December 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


... make your library look like it's being run by a deranged baboon ...

He is an orangutan, thank you very much.
posted by RobotHero at 9:06 AM on December 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


Former newspaper reporter, magazine writer and editor here. In addition to my day job in web content development, I work occasionally as a freelance editor, and I've done some work in university settings. I recently copyedited a large document that used inconsistent capitalization throughout for the word department. I decided for them (because they wanted my opinion) that the word should be capitalized when referring to the particular university department whose document I was editing, but not to departments in general.

I agree with phunniemee.
posted by emelenjr at 9:13 AM on December 1, 2011


Even when referring to a specific library, the word only needs to be capitalized in the full name, according to the Chicago Manual of style:

8.67 Institutions and companies—capitalization

The full names of institutions, groups, and companies and the names of their departments, and often the shortened forms of such names (e.g., the Art Institute), are capitalized. . . . Such generic terms as company and university are usually lowercased when used alone (though they are routinely capitalized in promotional materials, business documents, and the like). . . .

the Library of Congress; the library
the Manuscripts Division of the library
the Museum of Modern Art; MOMA; the museum
----------------------
They do, as you see, note that these terms are often capitalized, but if you want to use this for arguing with your boss, you could gloss over that bit!

Personally, I find it easier to read as lowercase.
posted by bwonder2 at 9:26 AM on December 1, 2011


'We do not consider this a quiet Library" is plain wrong but the others just look pompous. Imagine something called the Willeewaw Stadium; sure they could go around writing "access to Stadium facilities blah blah blah" or "please do not throw trash at Stadium employees" and claim that Stadium is shorthand for Willeewaw Stadium but that's just silly; there's little risk of someone reading the sign and assuming the rules are for some other stadium, just as you can be assured that the people at your library will assume you are referring to the library they're standing in and not all libraries everywhere.

Excessive and random capitalization is also a marker of the less than literate, so I'd be worried about the impression you're giving off.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:34 AM on December 1, 2011


> It may be wrong, but I think I like it. I vote for Library, with a BIG L, even if it ain't gooder english. I think it puts focus on The Library as an Important Place.

It's horribly wrong. Libraries are important places as are homes, but library should always be lower case unless the specific proper name of the library is being used.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:50 AM on December 1, 2011


Let's see how some other people do it:

Library of Congress:
"The Library's mission is to support the Congress..."
"... to accomplish the Library's mission."
"... responsibility for the Library."

New York Public Library:
"Virtually all of the Library's many collections and services..."
"Today the Library’s online catalog..."
"The Library's collections..."

Claremont Colleges Libraries:
"The Library is partners with The Claremont Colleges..."
"The library's large collection of electronic resources..."
"The library offers Interlibrary Loan service..."

Harvard College Library:
"The library has grown from the 400 books ..."
"... the library has evolved into a vast information resource ..."
"... the Library's collection has grown into a vast resource ...."
"... given to the library by men and women ..."
"... to the Library preservation program."

Huh. So, there's that. I wish I had time to do a more extensive survey.
posted by mhum at 9:55 AM on December 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I do not think your boss is wrong if they are referring to a specific library, which is quite different from saying that you frequent the library (ANY library). If you were sending out an email to patrons of Xoxo Library, you could refer to it as the Library.
posted by 200burritos at 10:07 AM on December 1, 2011


This happens at my library as well. I think that official policy (insofar as one exists) is to use Library only when referring to a specific library, almost always ours. I think of it as a kind of...house style, I guess.

Thus:

Some [Smithington College] Library resources you may find useful are...

Maybe, depending on what the resources are. Probably not, though.

Call us or stop in to the [Smithington College] Library and ask about...

No problem.

We do not consider this a quiet [Smithington College] Library...

This only makes sense if you're differentiating the relative quietness of several libraries at Smithington College, and even that's stretching it. As mentioned above, an over-correction.
posted by pullayup at 11:21 AM on December 1, 2011


I'm not sure if this is the hill you want to die on, but it may be worth trying to get across that to some people, hypercorrection like this looks unprofessional. In the same way that I grimace at some place called "Cafe Latte" with an accent mark over the final e, I grimace at official notices with weird capitalization to make things seem important and other weirdly stiff grammatical formulations (such as pretending that contractions don't exist). On the other hand, as you can see from this thread, some people think we should be doing these sorts of things to make places seem important. Sooo... Personally, I'd just roll with it.
posted by kavasa at 11:33 AM on December 1, 2011


No, it's plain wrong. "Library" is not a proper noun. End of.
posted by Decani at 1:00 PM on December 1, 2011


Not capitalizing the word -- any word -- simply because it's not a proper noun, or we're not writing in German, is hypercorrection. There are very clear use cases where capitalizing library might be appropriate, depending on house style, etc.
posted by emelenjr at 1:40 PM on December 1, 2011


This is a "house style" issue, as many others have pointed out. If that's how your institution has chosen to treat the word in official publications, etc, that's how you treat it. Perhaps ask him to create a house style guide and see what he does with it...
posted by prior at 2:43 PM on December 1, 2011


Even if this is a "house style" issue, let's look at the specific examples and consider how much sense this makes.

Some Library resources you may find useful are...

Okay, "Library" could be shorthand for "Smithington College Library". I'll allow it.

Call us or stop in to the Library and ask about...

This looks worse, but it could still be the same shorthand scenario. Let's say "plausible".

We do not consider this a quiet Library...

What? No. Uh uh. Not even a little bit. In that sentence, "library" is referring to a generic library, not the specific one at Smithington College. Compare this recast form which uses a "house style" capitalized-L "Library": We do not consider this Library a quiet one...
posted by cardioid at 3:25 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since I edit our library's website, I frequently correct the case used by Library staff. (See what I did there?)

It's not a house style issue, it's not independent of the rules of grammar. The two forms, library and Library, mean different things. When 'Library' is standing in for a longer version of the name, it's capitalised. If it's not, it's not.

If you're not sure from the context, try swapping out 'library' with the full name of the institution - which makes more sense?

Looking at mhum's examples above, I'd just guess Claremont and Harvard don't copyedit very carefully.
posted by roobot at 7:19 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


We also use this style in my library. It looks strange, I agree, but it makes sense grammatically.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:38 PM on December 1, 2011


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