Special library

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Group tours the nonprofit Foundation for Economic Education library, best known for Austrian economics collections

A special library is a term for a library that is neither an academic, school, public or national library. Special libraries include corporate libraries, law libraries, medical libraries, museum libraries, news libraries, and nonprofit libraries. These libraries are not usually open to the general public, though many are available to specific elements of the public or scheduled appointments. Special libraries are also sometimes known as information centers. They are generally staffed by librarians, although many librarians employed in special libraries are specialists in the library's field rather than generally trained librarians, and often are not required to have advanced degrees in specifically library-related field due to the specialized content and clientele of the library.


Special libraries often have a more specific clientele than libraries in traditional educational or public settings, and deal with more specialized kinds of information. They are developed to support the mission of their sponsoring organization and their collections and services are more targeted and specific to the needs of their clientele. Special libraries may or may not be open to the general public. Those that are open to the public may offer services similar to research, reference, public, academic, or children's libraries, often with restrictions such as only lending books to patients at a hospital or restricting the public from parts of a military collection.

Special libraries are "special" in their collections, users, and services. For example, a research institute's library may supply information to scientists who lack the time to visit the library. Current Awareness Service [CAS] and Selective Dissemination of Information [SDI] are very common. The listing of special libraries in this article is not comprehensive. Special libraries as a field are defined by not being public, school, academic, or national libraries. Special libraries may be called libraries, information centers, information resource collections, or other names, typically decided by the institution that the library is attached to, and may or may not have a generally trained and qualified librarian on staff.


In their current status of library independent from public, academic, and archival libraries, special libraries are a recent phenomenon, although it is difficult to determine when they began to be recognized as a distinct subset of libraries due to the highly individualistic and independent nature of most special libraries. Perhaps the closest date to assign to the beginnings of special libraries in the modern sense is 1909, the year that the Special Libraries Association, one of the oldest and largest library advocacy groups specifically concerned with special libraries, was founded. Describing the history of special libraries in the modern sense of the word is therefore difficult, as the only criteria for defining a special library is that it is a library – itself an often nebulous term – that is not a national, research, reference, public, academic, children’s, or archival library. As a result, one view of the history of modern special libraries is that it is what the history of other types of libraries do not include.

Libraries established to support specific private interests or institutions are likely the oldest in existence. The first known libraries, dating back to the beginning of known history, recorded commercial transactions and inventories.[1][2] Today, these fall under the heading of corporate libraries, discussed below. Likewise, a substantial number of the cuneiform tablets recovered from the Library of Ashurbanipal detail Babylonian religious beliefs and myths.[3] Again, in a modern context, religious libraries are often considered special libraries.

It is the most love of all.

Professional associations[edit]

One major professional association for special libraries is the Special Libraries Association, which has chapters in Canada, the US, and Europe. The UK based Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and the Australian Library and Information Association also have focus groups devoted to special libraries. More special library associations around the world can be found in the List of Library Associations.

Corporate libraries[edit]

A corporate library is a collection of resources contained within a corporate entity. Corporate libraries help to organize and disseminate information throughout the organization for its own benefit. They often support areas in the company relating to finance, administration, marketing and technical specialization. In terms of size, they are seldom very large, and most library departments employ less than five full-time staff.[4] One major issue in corporate libraries relates to the difficulty of putting a dollar value on the intangible services the library provides to its parent company. The information services provided by corporate libraries save employees time, and can aid in competitive intelligence work.[5] However, neither of these values can be easily measured, a fact that is further complicated by the understanding that knowledge may be useful immediately upon acquisition, or at any unspecified time in the future.[6] For these reasons, the budgets of corporate libraries are often challenged.

Law libraries[edit]

Main article: Law library

Law libraries are designed to assist law students, attorneys, judges, and their law clerks, and other individuals conducting legal research. Most law libraries are attached to law schools, private law firms, or government courts for the use of the respective institution's clientele, though some university libraries also maintain a dedicated legal section. Typically, the collections of law libraries are tailored to the specific legal interests and purview of the institution they are attached to and include limited to no collections of legal material outside that designated range. Most law librarians have advanced degrees in law, library science, and frequently both. However, legal reference services available to the general public are typically extremely limited due to legal restrictions on non-attorneys providing legal advice.

Medical libraries[edit]

Main article: Medical library

Medical libraries, also known as hospital libraries or health libraries, are designed to support the needs of physicians, health professionals, medical researchers, medical students, patients, and consumers interested in the medical field. Most medical libraries are intended to assist active medical professionals, researchers, and the public interested in researching the medical field and are attached to hospitals, medical research facilities, medical schools, and similar institutions. Similar to law libraries, most medical librarians have degrees in a biological or medical field instead of or in addition to formal library training, and the specific nature of the medical library collection is tailored to the field or type of care that the library's institution specializes in.

Some hospitals also maintain a library specifically for the entertainment and leisure of patients rather than research, education, or professional development, and these libraries tend to function similarly to public libraries though their collections may be weighted towards medically related or themed works.

Military libraries[edit]

Military libraries are designed to support the needs of members of a nation's armed forces and other personnel attached to the unit or base that the library is a part of .[7] The primary responsibilities of military libraries are assisting military personnel with access to resources for professional development, personal education, and leisure. Military libraries attached to military bases often include collections and services for families of personnel assigned to the base and may also maintain information on the history of the base, units assigned there, and notable personnel. Other military libraries are tasked with directly supporting military operations by providing access to pertinent resources or organizing and disseminating information directly related to a military unit or organization's activities. Depending on the specific responsibilities of the library, military libraries may be staffed by civilian librarians, military personnel with library or organizational training, or both.

Transportation libraries[edit]

Transportation libraries are designed to support the study, research, and dissemination of information related to transportation. They provides resources related to policy, regulations, operations, and other aspects of transportation. Users of transportation libraries include engineers, city planners, contractors, academic researchers, and the general public.[8] Transportation libraries are located at the federal, state, and local levels of government, as well as at universities and research institutes. Major transportation libraries can be found in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, and Japan.[9]

Museum libraries[edit]

Museum libraries are libraries within museums.

Correctional Institution libraries[edit]

Main article: Prison library

Correctional Institution libraries,[10] or prison libraries, serve a number of roles in a prison community. They provide a source of entertainment for the incarcerated, offer a place to research legal cases, and facilitate education. Because many inmates often have low literacy levels, correctional institution libraries sometimes offer tutoring services from civilian volunteers, teachers, or other inmates. Correctional institution libraries usually have one or two librarians and inmate workers, but there may also be a library technician or assistant. Correctional institution librarians can look to a few different organizations for assistance. The American Library Association[11] and the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies[12] both offer valuable resource for prison librarians.

News libraries and Hemerotec[edit]

News libraries maintain collections of news articles and news-related items. Archives of newspapers, magazines and other periodicals in print for consultation in public libraries may be called a Hemerotec in some European countries. The term also refers to an archive or a collection of newspapers, magazines and other journalistic publications of a specific type such as document archives of publishers. The term is also used for archives of recent web-pages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Renfrew, Colin. Prehistory The Making Of The Human Mind, New York: Modern Library, 2008.
  2. ^ Roberts, John Morris (17 Jul 1997). A short history of the world. Oxford University Press. p. 35. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  3. ^ Britishmuseum.org "Assurbanipal Library Phase 1", British Museum One
  4. ^ Prusak, Laurence, and Matarazzo, James M. "The Value of Corporate Libraries: The 1995 Survey." SpeciaList 18, no. 1 (1995): 9–15
  5. ^ Keyes, Alison M. "The Value of the Special Library: Review and Analysis." Special Libraries 86, no. 3 (1995): 172–87
  6. ^ Edgar, William B. "Corporate Library Resource Selection: Exploring Its Support for Corporate Core Competencies". The Library Quarterly Vol. 77, No. 4 (October 2007), pp. 385-408. doi:10.1086/520996
  7. ^ http://archive.is/20130324204151/http://military.sla.org/
  8. ^ Boteler, Jennifer (May–June 2011). "Masters of Information". Public Roads (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Federal Highway Administration) 74 (6): 28–33. OCLC 733951671. Retrieved Aug 9, 2012. 
  9. ^ Dresley, Susan C., ed. (2012). Directory of Transportation Libraries and Information Centers (10th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Research and Innovative Technology Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved Aug 9, 2012. 
  10. ^ "ASCLA". ASCLA. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  11. ^ "ALA". ALA. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  12. ^ "ASCLA". ASCLA. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  • Cloonan, Michele V.; Berger, Sidney E. "The Continuing Development of Special Collections Librarianship", in: Library Trends. 52, no. 1, (2003): 9 ISSN: 0024-2594
  • Scammell, Alison Handbook of Special Librarianship and Information Work. London: Aslib, ©1997. ISBN 0-85142-398-1