A question I read a lot in blogs, articles and social media posts about librarianship is that librarians need to determine what they are in the business of, exactly. And I find that question odd and funny. I'll do my best to try to deconstruct it (and I don't mean using Derridean tactics!).
The argument goes that if librarians and libraries could market themselves better, then they would spend less time explaining their worth to outside parties. And, of course, every library argues their business differently (I will address the problem around the word business soon). An academic library will argue that their business is to support research; a public library will argue that their business is providing access to resources (among other things); a special library will argue that their business is to support, say, legal research in a law library, or organize and access government documents or whatever it is that special libraries do, exactly (that one I'd like an answer to but it's too varied for a general response). Each division in a library is going to offer something different. As a former instruction librarian, I would argue that my division was to instruct users on how to find and evaluate information efficiently, which is bland, a catch-all and ultimately another way to say support academic research.
So, the argument goes, if people knew this information, they would stop refusing to fund libraries and libraries would attract more users. What I think this argument is a reductionist argument and it is increasingly prevalent. Reduce what you need to say to 140 characters or less to be attractive to people out there. If you can't make it fast and snappy, you will lose people's interest and lose the ability to convince people that what you offer is needed and important. All this need ignores the fact that what libraries do are complicated and difficult and varies based upon the user. A library is a different entity to each person who uses it and how do you package that? It's not like toilet paper or a TV show. It's not a single idea or a single salable idea.
Which gets me to the business part. If business means occupation or trade, then it is entirely appropriate to ask what libraries' business is. But business, in our use, always refers to a for-profit activity or a place where activity goes on that involves the exchanging of currency, for the profit of one financially and the profit of another in terms of goods (I go to Target. I give Target my money. Target makes profit and I have the ability to clean my clothes now.)
As a librarian, I was not in the business of making money. (Well, to be fair, the university library I was at was obsessed with making money and we were told to spend less time on teaching and more time on activities to make the library money) I was in the job of providing access to resources and helping people navigate those resources, whether they be a topic for a paper, a scholarly article or a DVD for a long weekend. Other than late fines to teach a user that an item isn't their property, libraries don't make profit (and really, late fines just cover what they can't get other things to cover).
I work for a small accounting firm. While I use many of the same skills as I did as a librarian, I am very much in the business of profit. Unlike the library which is either an extension of a business, a university or a government, we need to money to pay the rent, keep the lights on and pay me.
The problem with calling a library a business or asking what is it's business is that it implies that a transaction needs to take place and often for the profit of one or another. That reduces the potential that a library has in every moment, to every user. Rather than asking a terrible question like what are libraries in the business of, we should be asking, what possibilities can a library fulfill?