Special Library

Special Library: The libraries that are run by private businesses and public organizations, including hospitals, museums, research laboratories, law firms, and many government departments and agencies, fall into this category. Branches of a large academic or research libraries dealing with particular subjects are also usually called "special libraries": they are generally associated with one or more academic departments.

a) Definition: The special library is concerned with the literature of a particular subject or group of subjects. According to R. Astall, “special libraries serve a specialist clientele, located within a single establishment or group, and all engaged in working towards one common purpose”. The Association of Special Libraries and Information Bureau (ASLIB) defined special library as “a department/ faculty responsible for the acquisition, indexing, and distribution (dissemination) of recorded knowledge directly concerned with the work of a specialized organization or a special group of users”.

In simple, a special library exists as a service unit within an organization having non-library objectives. Special libraries may be designated in different ways such as scientific library, technical library, etc. It may also be designated by subject as agriculture library, medical library, etc in relation to its parent institution as research organization, government agency and similar others.

b) Objectives: The objectives of the special library in general are determined by those of the parent organizations which established it. Mainly it is “putting knowledge to work” and it exists to serve its parent organization. Therefore the aim of a special library is to further the interests of its parent body by means of the following-

i) Provides information service, which enable the members of the organization to keep track of the significant developments in their field of interest;

ii) The librarian searches literature exhaustively and brings it to the notice of the organization;

iii) Provides information pin pointedly, exhaustively and promptly, thereby saving time of the users;

iv) Provides inspiration and stimulation to users by means of balanced collections and fine services.

c) Collections: Collections of the special libraries are developed to support their information services, both current and retrospective. It contains collections of unique materials to support the needs of advanced and highly specialized scholarship including internally generated information and information available from sources outside the parent organization. These collections may include rare manuscripts, pamphlets and books, scientific documents, important printings of literary works, regional histories, original musical scores, journals, technical and research reports, translations, dissertations, patents, abstracts, directories, or other distinctive scholarly resources.

d) Services: As the collection of special libraries may contain many rare and valuable materials, their use is typically confined to the library buildings. It also may or may not be accessible to some identified part of the general public. Special libraries also often publish scholarly materials in their collections, sponsored lectures, colloquia, and arrange exhibitions of their most important holdings. Information service is an integral part of the special libraries. The nature and extent of information services offered by the individual special libraries varies according to the need of its primary users and according to its own resources in staff and collections. At the minimal level of information service it disseminates information and materials; answers reference questions, directs users to appropriate sources, and deals with such simple current awareness services as periodical routing. At the intermediate level, it offers literature searches, prepares bibliographies, selects and transmits research materials and provides current awareness services such as acquisition bulletins. At the maximums level it offers evaluative and comprehensive literature searches and more complex current awareness services such as Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) services.

Many institutions make a distinction between circulating libraries (where materials are expected and intended to be loaned to patrons, institutions, or other libraries) and collecting libraries (where the materials are selected on a basis of their nature or subject matter). Many modern libraries are a mixture of both, as they contain a general collection for circulation, and a reference collection which is often more specialized, as well as restricted to the library premises. In addition to providing materials, libraries also provide the services of librarians who are experts at finding and organizing information and at interpreting information needs.