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From the info page for libtool:

In the past, if a source code package developer wanted to take advantage of the power of shared libraries, he needed to write custom support code for each platform on which his package ran. He also had to design a configuration interface so that the package installer could choose what sort of libraries were built.
GNU Libtool simplifies the developer's job by encapsulating both the platform-specific dependencies, and the user interface, in a single script. GNU Libtool is designed so that the complete functionality of each host type is available via a generic interface, but nasty quirks are hidden from the programmer.

In short, libtool is a standard way of supporting building libraries (static or shared), or using such libraries in your own programs, in a platform-independent way.

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