Monday, January 23, 2012

A diversity of library types

Week 3 – The PPT podcasts – seem to cover the topic thoroughly. That said, I don’t feel that there’s a real reason for me to review these programs.  What I’d like to address is how the different libraries differ in terms of Mission Statements and Collection Development Policies. These comments are generic. Before I begin this, let me define Mission Statements and Collection Development Policies, the two key documents for any library and every library collection. Any decision you make should be supported by these two policies.

Mission Statements describe the overarching reason the library exists and the audience it serves. This policy is usually very broad and often ideal.
Collection Development Policies define the types of materials collected to serve a variety of users. The institution many have many collection development policies; one for each department or division.

Academic Institutions support the research needs of graduate students, faculty, undergraduates and administrators/ staff and support the curriculum. They collect to support the various departments and programs, and the research needs of their students, faculty, and staff. The collections are broad and deep.

Public libraries serve the community. They acquire materials to support ERI (which we’ve discussed already) to their community. We should not forget that public libraries also support school curricula in the area. They purchase materials to entertain, educate, and inform in a wide variety of formats. They provide training and educate patrons as needed. The collections are usually broad and not deep, unless they are also a research library.

School libraries serve their teachers and students.  They collect materials to support the curriculum, the needs of teachers in the classroom and background materials for teachers. They also collect materials for students, both educational and recreational.

Special libraries (corporate & organizational) serve their organization and their members. They acquire materials about their field. The collections are very narrow and usually very deep. They serve their employees and members.

Special Collections, Archives, Museums, and Historical Societies all have their own missions and collection development policies. They usually collect more narrowly and deeply than academic libraries.

What do I think? There are many types of libraries. They have different flavors and serve diverse user groups. I think they are all exciting places to work in. Some are busy, some slower. The busier libraries are exciting because there is never a dull moment. The slower libraries provide opportunities to get to know your patrons and their individual needs.

 Having worked in all types of libraries as a librarian and as a researcher, they are all interesting and different. I loved working in the public library because it was always busy, always a challenge. At New York Public Library, I was always on the reference desk and always answering questions.  It was quite a challenge. After I worked in a public library, I went to an academic library at the University of South Dakota. Wow, was that a different experience. The reference desk was slower, except at night and before final papers were due. I spent less time on the reference desk but worked closely with faculty. I went into the classroom and taught about our subject specific resources. I had to know about the specialized resources in all the disciplines. It was the first time I worked in an LC library. Before that all libraries I used were Dewey Libraries, except for the research libraries of New York Public Library. At the University of South Dakota, I taught faculty and graduate students about online searching, and ran all their searches myself. Those were the days when librarians and highly trained specialists searched very expensive databases. Eventually, I brought CD-ROM databases to the library to replace microfilm loops. (Ask me sometime and I’ll explain what that resource was). From there, I worked in a special library, at the State Library of Ohio. There I provided very specialized reference as a consultant, serving librarians throughout the state.

In each position, I needed to use my knowledge to help patrons find what they needed.  Listening was so important. If I didn’t listen carefully, I couldn’t determine which resources would help the patron answer their question. I had to know the types of resources in each library, and the types of questions they might ask, or the types of questions the resources could answer. In each case, I had to educate myself and learn all about their reference tools.

When I work as an independent librarian, that is as an researcher for others, I have to know what types of resources in each library or archive so my time is used effectively. It’s always fun to discover a new resource or figure out how a set of records works.

There’s always something to challenge the mind when working in different types of libraries and with different collections. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to libraries and their collections. They change and they evolve, and sometimes there are ‘hidden’ collections, forgotten collections, and highly specialized materials. Outstanding librarians know their collections and their users.


  1. I was wondering if you could expand on what an independent librarian is like and how it works. You said you just do researchers for others. How do you make yourself known? Are you recommended by people or organizations? Have an advertisement of some type? Affiliated with specific libraries or organizations? Is this a service that's used a lot and by whom? How do you end up in this kind of free lance type work? I thought it was interesting and yet not something you really hear much about.

  2. I'll address this question in my next blog posting