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The three main types of library


Libraries the whole world over are under threat, mainly because the people who fund them are under the mistaken impression that they are no longer needed in the age of the Internet. I used to be a full-time librarian, but I lost my job in 2002 for that very reason. The company that employed me took the view that because it was "all on the Internet" there was no reason why they should employ somebody to do what everybody could do for themselves from their desktop.

Not surprisingly, we librarians have a different take on the matter. We believe that libraries and librarians are hugely important and will continue to be so. Indeed, the ironic thing is that the availability of information via the World Wide Web makes us even more important and vital!

We want to dispel a few misconceptions and make more converts to the cause, not just because we want to keep our jobs, but because we don't want people to miss out on the benefits that libraries can bring.

First of all, what do you understand by the word Library? Do you appreciate just how wide-ranging libraries are? For starters, there are three main types of library, which I shall outline in the rest of this hub.

1. Public Libraries

For many people, this is what a library is - a publicly funded institution that provides books for loan and is used mainly by the very old and the very young. It is probably divided into Lending and Reference, and the Lending stock is split between fiction and non-fiction. The threat to the public library comes partly from the fact that fewer people now read for pleasure, and those who do are more likely to buy their books from Borders or Waterstones than borrow them from the library, and, on the non-fiction and reference sides, information is easily and quickly obtainable from the WWW, without the need to make a trip to the library.

However, public libraries provide much more than that, such as materials for entertainment and information in a wide range of media. You will also find a lot of information about local services across the spectrum, tailored to the needs of the community served by the library. Above all, you will find professional librarians who are trained to help you find exactly what you are looking for. This includes help with searching the Internet, which you can do from most public libraries these days.

2. Academic libraries

These cover the spectrum from libraries in schools of all sizes, through to those of major universities and research institutions. They have something of a captive audience, in that the institutions they serve are dedicated to teaching and learning, and the libraries' role is to provide access to the sources of information from which that teaching and learning can develop.

However, they are still under threat, because they cost money to stock and to run, and a school or university has to make a decision as to the proportion of its funds to devote to its library. Academic libraries are therefore benidng over backwards to add increasingly more value to the services they provide.

For example, the university library in which I work part-time is now open 24 hours a day, during term time, so that students can always get access to learning materials. We also offer a wide range of courses in study skills, and 1-on-1 sessions so that students are helped in all sorts of ways. Follow this link for the library's home page, and have a look at the full range of services on offer.

Just as with the public library sector, it is the people who run and staff academic libraries who make them what they are. It has been known for institutions to try to run their libraries without professional librarians, but this is a highly misguided attitude, because the expertise of a professional librarian is essential in the process of translating a vaguely worded enquiry into the true needs of the enquirer and then into the solution that will best satisfy those needs.

3. Special libraries

Personally, I don't like this term, because it sounds as though these libraries see themselves as being superior to those of other types, but that is what we are stuck with!

If you think of "special" having the meaning of "specialist", you will get closer to the mark. These are libraries that serve a particular instituion that has a specific role to play, and they will therefore tend to be "one subject" libraries. For example, they could serve a hospital, or a law practice, or an industrial company. They also vary in size, depending in part on the size of the institution they serve, but many of these libraries are run by "solos", that is, librarians working alone or maybe with only clerical assistance.

Special librarians have become adept at "reading the runes" of the environment in which their business operates, and scan information sources to find material that they know will be of interest to the people working in their company (etc). They also need to be on top of all the information technology that is available to them, and at ways of collecting and presenting information that will save the time of busy people. They may also organise the institution's own information resources in ways that best suit local needs, maybe through a company intranet. The title "librarian" has been questioned in some quarters, and many people in this sector prefer to be known as "information scientists".

The threats to this sector of librarianship are obvious, especially where company bottom lines take priority over virtually everything else. It is not easy to gauge the true value of a library to a business, and, to many accountants, anything that cannot be valued in purely monetary terms has no value. I was myself the victim of this sort of thinking, as I had to watch the library system (of four libraries) that I managed for a major UK industrial company being dismantled bit by bit, and eventually disappearing altogether, taking me with it.

Libraries versus the Internet?

Not necessarily so. As you will have gathered from the above, librarians are skilled at discovering and handling information, from whatever source it may come, and the Internet, particularly the World Wide Web, can be regarded as a giant library, containing vast amounts of information. But it is also highly unwieldly, not at all easy to navigate, and full of traps for the unwary.

The Web's advantages are also its disadvantages, and Hubpages is a good example of this. There are in excess of 80,000 articles available to you here, but how many of them can you trust? Anyone can write anything they like, but how do you know that the information they are giving you is correct? Having found something good, how do you know that there is not something better?

Hubpages is relatively well organised in these respects, and it has mechanisms that ensure some degree of quality control, but that cannot be said of the whole of the Web by any means. Information professionals can help you to solve problems of these kinds, by pointing you in the right directions, giving you guidance as to the best ways to search, advising you on the correct ways of using the information you find, and a whole lot more.

I once had somebody come running into my company library about 20 minutes before closing time, in a real panic. He had been searching all day for a particular piece of information without success, and said that he had come to me as his last resort. I found what he wanted there and then, and still got home on time. If he had come to me as his first resort, rather than his last, his day would have been a whole lot more productive. The same could apply to you, too!


Luis G Asuncion from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines on November 22, 2019:

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Thanks for sharing it. Actually, I am a Library Science College Instructor in our place and what I am teaching to them is there are 4-types of libraries: Public, Academic, Special (all of them were mentioned in your article), however you forgot to mention the School Library. Although, there are some misconception that Academic and School Libraries are the same. However, we do believe that they are different because, Academic Library reserves for the Tertiary or College Libraries while the School Library is exclusively for Elementary and High School.

Dike Precious on December 03, 2018:

I thought we have four types of library only

Finn from Barstow on August 19, 2018:

Interesting summary . i remember back in library school when I was studying the various types and had always supported the public. Academic was of course, prestigious to me - back then....and I ended up in a special one.


timothy ghumpi on May 26, 2017:

thanks you am get same thing about this matter.

Timnan Stephen Takbam on March 16, 2017:

I love this library style.Keep up!!!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on January 26, 2017:

Ever since I was a child, the library was my shelter, and my second home. I have been to a lot of libraries all over the world because I grew up traveling as the daughter of a diplomat. My biggest thrill was to go to the Library of Congress. In the Philippines I used to visit the libraries of the different embassies -- Goethe, US library, UK library. At the time they were filled with books. Now, they have only a few books and a couple of computers. Sad...

Abdulrahman muhammad on January 02, 2016:

Libraries improve man!

mhar sullano on November 24, 2015:

its very nice

Joseph Ekpo, Nigeria on May 07, 2015:

I'm a Librarian in the making, I love it and its good for all

Tallin on January 04, 2015:

I really apietcpare free, succinct, reliable data like this.

esther namibia on February 18, 2014:

libaries are the best places in the world, as it has knowledge systematically organised. would love to be a LIBRARIAN...

cristals danials on January 27, 2014:

Nice site

Ranjodh Singh on November 11, 2013:

A best place in old person for gain the it knoweldge.

girl omg on October 07, 2012:

this is the best time of my life

Abubakar Musa Wudil on July 04, 2012:

A library is a nice place





ISRAEL.S on May 14, 2012:

Is very interesting to read an understand thank

sabiha bano on May 05, 2012:

this library is very important place of society

Abdulrahman Muktar on April 19, 2012:

It never occur to me that some means of getting information can beat the libraries, even the internet. Infact, a library is like the head of an elderly man; full of wisdom and information

Joy Ekerendu on April 14, 2012:

That hub, was written by a very skilled and intelligent person. Not only has It aid in my assignment on the use of library, it was written with such words that, I can't forget! While libraries are very essential, lots of people find it so difficult to go to a library for information, that is supposedly on the Internet... So sad. Sorry you lost your job, but have you considered writing?

obi ikechukwu on April 04, 2012:

a graduate with a library is very dangerous

mon mon on March 21, 2012:


Assumpat Madu on March 18, 2012:

Library dose a great job in human life, it helps to impact more wisdom in human life. Evey human created by God needs to with library. Thanx

Sarah Anderson on February 05, 2012:

Excellent article.

Nwafor Emeka Gideon aka Egnwafor. on February 02, 2012:

I am a type of person that believes in library. Once you have a good libarian who can handle the library, then that is all. Most times when i go via the net to seek answers in some topics, the answer that will be given from one person will be different from the other. After all said and done, i still believe that library is the BOSS! Well done dude.

tajmansosweet on January 14, 2012:

i think its very nice that the information is not too good on society and on people that's all

DEEPANKURJAJS on January 02, 2012:


evonique on December 08, 2011:

cool thing to know about

tilaye on November 22, 2011:

library is source of all knowledge all over the world.

John Welford (author) from UK on September 16, 2011:

People will visit a library if it provides answers to their needs, and the person in charge of the library must take the trouble to find out what those needs are. The librarian (if you want to use that word) must also become expert in understanding how information works, how it is organised, and how best to relate it to the users' needs. The librarian then becomes the most important asset in the library, even if the library contain very little paper-based material.

In today's context, the expertise of somebody who knows how to get best value from the vast amounts of information available on the Web - i.e. the right amount of trustworthy information that answers a particular need - is absolutely invaluable to any company or institution. Those skills are easily transferable from traditional book-based libraries to electronic ones.

Imagine a traditional library in which all the books had been torn apart and the pages dumped in a huge pile on the floor. The information is there, but how can you find it? That is a bit like the WWW - not a perfectly fair analogy, I will admit! It is easy to find some information via Google, etc, but the average user can easily be deceived into thinking that they have solved their problem when they have not. The expert user can filter the information and make judgments on whether this is the best information or if there is something more reliable, or in a more useful form, that can be offered instead. That is the job of the librarian in the modern world, just as it was in the traditional one, and a vital job it is too.

Maria Cecilia from Philippines on September 15, 2011:

Hi I am not yet through reading your stuff here, but I decided to comment of maybe ask for your help. We are a new unit in our office and one of our responsibilities is our Library... I was told to research on how to make people visit our library, and what you said in the first paragraph, is what was bothering me when I was given this assignment, but you gave me light... Anyway anything you can suggest in improving a library? I am talking about our company library.. thanks I'll continue reading after posting this.

aubrei moore on August 23, 2011:

i think this is a good resource for finding libraries it help you out a lot

John Welford (author) from UK on May 20, 2011:

I suppose that national libraries, such as the British Library and the Library of Congress, should be classed as a fourth type, but you only get one per country!

Libraries that serve government departments (etc) would fall under the "special" category.

muguta philipo on May 20, 2011:

where do we categorise these we call here government library

Searcher of knowledge on May 17, 2011:

We shouldn't be dependent only on manual library,we should also be dependent on digital library.

Jeff_McRitchie on May 02, 2011:

It's such a shame that libraries are being threated by budget cuts. The world should have as much access to knowledge as possible -- both in print and online.

Wendy S. Wilmoth from Kansas on March 21, 2011:

Very good defense of our profession! Thanks!

John Welford (author) from UK on March 14, 2011:

Rakhi, I completely agree with you, especially as the skills possessed by librarians are very important in helping students to make best use of the Internet. Unfortunately, decisions about whether librarians are employed are not usually made by librarians!

Rakhi Suneja on March 14, 2011:

It all rubbish that for the internet library somebody has to loose his job. I am the medical college librarian practically i have noticed both digita library and manual library both are required for research.

this is phantastic on December 12, 2010:

this is fantastic...... absolutely, i agree with you.

dalean108 on September 21, 2010:

I like a Library because it has a very unique atmosphere but we have to have the most up to date information now. So the internet on our mobile devices is surely the way forward. The problem has now become information overload. How do we now know what to trust.

I work in the IT world and recently opened a new website called SharePoint Village. The ideas was to bring together all the latest SharePoint information in one place. I actually called the place for the information 'The Library'. Maybe that was a mistake.

pricess on September 08, 2010:

i live antigua , and dis is not wat we have in antigua we have public , school, law, archives and museum tanx

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on September 02, 2010:

Dear Mr. Indexer,

I'm sorry you lost your job, I'm sure you made one terrific librarian. I came across your hub because of a recent hub about libraries that I wrote. When I linked into other hubs I chose this one to connect with.

Thank you for the useful information. My sister is currently getting her masters degree in Lib. Science-following in our mother's footsteps.

It is a shame that people do not utilize or support libraries more.

ddiamond on August 10, 2010:

Very informative!

John Welford (author) from UK on June 24, 2010:

No, the school library is included among academic libraries because it serves a specific closed community with learning as its prime purpose. Agreed, the spectrum is a wide one, because schools themselves offer a wide spectrum - there is not much difference in nature between a library in a large school and one in a small college, for example.

loco on June 24, 2010:

there are 4 types of library the missing one is the school library

Favour on May 14, 2010:

Thanks for word.l like using special library,it makes me learn easily

J Rosewater from Australia on November 18, 2009:

I like this well written hub. Comprehensive and informative. Might I say that the button still survived after the advent of the zip, so libraries are here to stay because books will never fade away.

Carolyn Augustine from Iowa on August 17, 2009:

If I could have any job in the world, I'd be a children's librarian, and I don't even own a cat!

From the comments I've read I surmise that you're in the UK. I love the wonderful British Library and my hubby is constantly ordering medieval materials from it.

My comment is that public libraries level the playing field for lower-income people who can't afford the technological tools kids need to master so they can thrive in the internet-centric age. When you're struggling to put food on the table, buying a computer for your kids seems awfully important, but people will always fill their bellies first.

Children's librarians are often among a child's first adult role models, and again, story time can offer an educational experience to working-class kids who can't attend preschool.

More than ever, libraries make internet access free to everyone.

John Welford (author) from UK on May 18, 2009:

To the two most recent commenters, thanks for your support!

Although I would never make the claim that "if it's in print it must be trustworthy", at least the text in a book produced by a reputable publisher has been through many checking processes before it reaches the library shelves. The same cannot be said about Wikipedia!

Where the Internet wins is that it can offer information that is more up-to-date, given that many published books are out-of-date as soon as they are printed. We clearly need both, but we also need the skills to discriminate between good and bad information, whatever medium we use to find it.

J D Murrah from Refugee from Shoreacres, Texas on May 17, 2009:

I have found libraries much more beneficial than the internet. Granted, doing research in a library takes time. Although the internet has many sources of information, it is no substitute for a library in finding information and taking it in.

LondonGirl from London on May 17, 2009:

I use specialist libraries quite a lot - mostly those at Middle Temple and Gray's Inn. And if the librarian can't find it, it can't be found (-:

Titania White on December 05, 2008:

this is very intresting. nice job

MM Del Rosario from NSW, Australia on March 20, 2008:

Great hub, Indexxer.

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on March 19, 2008:

Excellent hub.

One could say almost the same things about professional writers as you have said about libraries and librarians. For example, once desktop publishing became popular, writers "were no longer needed", because after all, the software did the writing. And, since everybody took at least one English course in high school, there is "no reason why they should employ somebody to do what everybody could do for themselves..." And that was just from your first paragraph! You gave me a real minefield to explore! Regards, S.

John Welford (author) from UK on March 18, 2008:

I think the answer to your first question is probably yes, but there are all sorts of questions contained within it, such as do you mean titles as opposed to copies, and which sectors are seeing declines and by how much? I don't have the statistics ready to hand on this one, though.

Yes, Library PR is certainly lacking, and my purpose in writing this hub, and others on a similar theme, is to make a move towards improving this situation. I am shortly due to write an article in a professional journal that will point directly at Hubpages and similar sites as vehicle for librarians to use to make their case. We have certainly been backwards at coming forwards in the past!

I think my "last resort" customer was one of those people who prefer to get lost first and then ask the way, rather than asking the way first thing! It was a case of adjusting his mindset, and he didn't make that mistake again!

About-The-Home on March 18, 2008:

I think it's a sad reflection on life.

Do you think that fewer books are now being published?

Some of the problem may be caused by library PR (or lack of it)

Did the man who came to you know that you were so valuable as to be his first resort?

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