Special Library : Characteristics and Functions1. IntroductionSpecial libraries often come to existence in order to meet an unsatisfied needs for information in anorganization. They are responses to the information needs of geometrically expanding science andtechnology in the 20th century just as public and educational institutional libraries arose to serve the“universal education” concepts in that century. One of the earliest surveys of Special Libraries in the US(Schick and Howard, 1968) outlined the following criteria for identifying special libraries :(i)(ii)(iii)(iv)The library must stress the handling of informational materials rather than recreational oreducational materials;Generally, the library is part of a larger organization which has non-library objectives;The services of the library are limited to furthering the objectives of the sponsor and thecollection of the library is delimited by the subject areas of particular interest of the sponsor.The librarian and his staff are the principal primary users of the library. It is their function tointerpret the body of literature in the collection for the clientele.Describing the early history of special libraries in the United States where the movement began, Jesse H.Shera (1967) said, “ Shortly after the turn of present century, John Cotton Dana (Director, New York PublicLibrary during 1902-29 and First president of Special Libraries Association, 1909-11) arrived at theconclusion that the public library was overlooking an important segment of its potential service by failing torespond to the growing information needs of commerce and industry, and established the Business Branchof the Newark, New Jersy, Public Library where he inaugurated a form of librarianship the future promise ofwhich probably even he did not then realize. Because no one knew what to call this new bibliographicbreed, its members acquired the name of “special” librarian. The term was much less felicitous than theidea it represented for it is lacking in specificity and descriptive meaning, but it has persisted for more thanhalf a century despite repeated attempts to define it satisfactorily”.The line of demarcation so separated the special librarians from the others that in 1909 a group underDana’s leadership seceded from the ALA to form their own professional association, by name, SpecialLibrary Association (SLA). This was an important milestone and was the beginning of intense professionalactivities in special librarianship.2. Definition of Special librarySince the special library movement began at the beginning of the last century, many different definitionshave been put forth. Every author writing about special libraries, it seems, must begin with a definition. Inthe early days, definitions often focused on providing information to businesspeople. In the contemporaryliterature, one way to define special libraries is by what they are not, i.e., any library that doesn’t fall intothe academic, public or school categories. Another definition includes any library with a specializedcollection, and some definitions also include subject departments within academic and public libraries,which are not separate libraries but operate with some degree of autonomy.
The constitution of Special Libraries Association drafted in 1910 defined Special Libraries as “Commercial,industrial, technical, civic, municipal and legislative reference libraries, the special departments of publiclibraries, universities, welfare associations and business organizations”. Further, the definition given in thefirst issue of the journal, Special Libraries was, “ all small special libraries throughout the country; financial,commercial, scientific, industrial; and special departments of state, college and general libraries; and in fact,all libraries devoted to special purposes and serving a limited clientage (Source : Murray, 2013).Writing 40 years later in the same journal, Ruth S. Leonard provided a narrower definition, stating that aspecial library is not a separate entity, but exists as an integral part of highly specialized kind of organizationwhether it be an industrial organization, research, or service institution, a trade association, a governmentagency or a museum. (Leonard, 1950).Echelman (1976) suggested a definition which synthesizes the previous thoughts in this area. She identifiedfour characteristics of special libraries :(i)(ii)(iii)(iv)Organized under the sponsorship of a parent enterprise or organization which provides thefunds for its support and continuance.Assigned the mission of acquiring, organizing and providing access to information andknowledge so as to further the goals of its parent enterprise or organization (where the parentorganization may not have direct library objectives).Assembling a physical collection of information, knowledge, and/or opinion limited to a singlesubject or group of subjects or to a single format or group of formats.Administered by a librarian or a specialist in the subject(s) covered or format(s) included.British Librarian, Wilfred Ashworth defines a special library as, ‘ one which is established to obtain andexploit specialized information for the private advantage of the organization which provides its financialsupport’ (Ashworth, 1979).Ellis Mount, in 1983, defined special libraries more generally as “those which are sponsored by business andindustrial firms, not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, and professional associations”. Mountalso included in the definition, “subject-oriented units and departments of public and academic libraries”.(Mount, 1983).Ferguson and Mobley(1984) define the special library as follows : A special library is characteristically a unitor department of an organization primarily devoted to other than library or educational purposes. A speciallibrarian is first an employee, a staff member of the parent organization, and second, a librarian. ‘Special’really means library service specialized or geared to the interests of the organization and to the informationneeds of its personnel. The definition emphasizes three aspects. Firstly, the initiative for estab lishingspecial libraries comes not from the library world or from the members of general public, but fromorganizations which notice a need to provide information service for its employees.3. Types of special librariesToday special libraries are found in a wide range of organizations, such as, Government Departments,Hospitals, Religious institutions, Businesses and industries, Research organizations, Legal establishments,Factories, Museums, Defense establishments, etc.
Law libraries are designed to assist law students, attorneys, judges, and their law clerks, and otherindividuals conducting legal research including members of the general public. Most law libraries areattached to law schools, private law firms, or government courts for the use of the respective institution'sclientele, though some university libraries also maintain a dedicated legal section. Collections of lawlibraries are tailored to the specific legal interests of the institution they are affiliated and may not haveextensive collection beyond that scope.News libraries are found in offices of newspapers, magazines and media. They basically contain archives ofnewspapers, magazines and TV programs brought out by the media house. The purpose i s to servereference material for the news people and editorial staff. They hold standard reference books besides thearchives of newspapers, magazines and TV programs brought out by the house. Examples of newspaperlibraries are : Hindustan Times (Delhi), Eenadu (Hyderabad), Times of India (Mumbai), Deccan Herald(Bangalore), Hindu (Chennai), Dainik Bhaskar (Jaipur), Indian Express (Delhi), Eenadu (Hyderabad).Medical libraries, also known as hospital libraries or health libraries, are designed to support the needs ofphysicians, health professionals, medical researchers, medical students, patients, and consumers interestedin 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 researchfacilities, medical schools, and similar institutions.Manuscript libraries preserve manuscripts. They are found in the following cities : Jammu (Sri RambhirResearch Institute), Kolkata (Asiastic Society Library and Government Science College Library), Varanasi(Saraswati Bhavan Library, Bharat Kala Bhavan Library and BHU Library), Allahabad (UP State ManuscriptLibrary), Patan (Hemachandra Jain Gyan Mandir), Baroda (Oriental Institute), Lucknow (Akhila BharatSanskrit Parishad), Pune (Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute), Satara (Prajna Pathashala Mandala),Mysore (Oriental Research Institute, University of Mysore), Chennai (Adyar Library and Research Center),Thanjavur (Saraswati Mahal Library) and Thiruvananthapuram (Oriental Research Institute, KeralaUniversity) and Delhi (Indira Gandhi National Center for Arts). Some other libraries too, such as NationalLibrary, Kolkata and Connemara Public Library, Chennai have good collection of manuscripts.Military libraries are designed to support the needs of members of a nation's armed forces and otherpersonnel attached to the unit or base that the library is a part of. Often military libraries providecollections and services for families of personnel assigned to the base and also may maintain informationon the history of the base, units and notable personnel. Primary responsibilities of the military libraries areassisting military personnel with access to resources for professional development, personal education, andleisure. Other military libraries are tasked with directly supporting military operations by providingpertinent resources or organizing and disseminating information directly related to military units ororganization’s activities.Transportation libraries are found at government departments, as well as at universities, and researchinstitutes. They have users which include engineers, city planners, contractors, academic researchers, andthe general public. They provide resources related to policy, regulations, operations, and other aspects oftransportation.Museum libraries are found in museums. Museum libraries, unlike traditional libraries, are more privateand hidden from the public eye due to their main purpose as a research library for museum staff and
professional researchers. Examples are Salar Jung Museum Library, Hyderabad and National MuseumLibrary, Delhi. Museum libraries are usually focused on one subject or field of study, rather than covering allsubject areas.Theological libraries are found in churches, temples, seminaries, universities, colleges. They assist students,faculty, staff and researchers to advance their knowledge of religion and theology and to better understandits impact on the world. However, most of them are available for use not only for the students, faculty andstaff of an institution but also are open for use by researchers and the public in general, though permissionfrom the concerned authorities will have to be obtained. Examples : TTD Temple library,Secretariat libraries are found in government secretariats and they contain documents and archives whichare meant for the officials of the secretariat. Examples include Central Secretariat Library, Delhi, KarnatakaSecretariat Library, Bangalore, Kerala Legislature Library, Thiruvananthapuram, Bihar Secretariat Library,Patna, West Bengal Secretariat Library, Kolkata, Legislature Library, Lucknow, Punjab Secretariat Library,Chandigarh, Haryana Civil Secretariat Library, Chandigarh, Secretariat Library, Bhopal, State SecretariatLibrary, Bhubaneshwar, HP Secretariat Library, Shimla, etc.A corporate library offers its services to all members of the corporate office of a company. In many places,they are called by other names as Documentation Centers, Information Centers, Technical InformationCenters or Resource Centers, and nowadays as Knowledge Resource Centers. Corporate libraries of TCS,Infosys, Mahindra Satyam are examples of corporate libraries. Corporate libraries organize anddisseminate information throughout the organization for their own benefit. They often support areasrelating to finance, administration, marketing and technical specialization. Information services provided bycorporate libraries save employees time, and can aid in competitive intelligence work.Prison libraries are found in prisons providing reading materials to jail inmates with the purpose offacilitating education, recreation and rehabilitation of inmates. Prison libraries exist in several placesincluding Surat, Thiruvananthapuram, Tihar, Dasna, Viyyur, Madurai, Delhi, etc. The library in CentralPrison of Thiruvananthapuram has a collection of 15000 books and it subscribes to several newspapers. Thelibrary organizes activities to develop reading habit among the prisoners. At least 80 prisoners use thelibrary daily (Hindu, 2012).Performing Arts Libraries specialize in collecting items relating to any faction of the performing arts,including music, theatre, dance, film, and recorded sound. Because of the fragility and rarity of theresources, the items are not issued and the usage of the resources are also allowed on special permission.The library of National Centre for Performing Arts (Mumbai) has sound and video recordings in the form ofgramophone records, cassettes, CDs, etc. in addition to the books. Membership is open to the generalpublic too.Braille Libraries contain books in braille and audio materials meant for the people who are unable to useregular printed material because of visual impairment. National Braille Library at Dehra Dun has got bothBraille books and Talking Books with over 91000 volumes which can be used by visually impaired people.The Institute has launched an online library too.
4. Characteristics and features of a Special Library(i)Purpose : Special libraries are highly specific in purpose and this arises from the integral rolewhich special libraries play in serving the diverse goals of the non-library organization of whichthey are a part. Advocating the need for special libraries to closely align with policies andobjectives of the parent organization, American Librarian John H Richter said, “ Special librariesmust develop and maintain the closest possible correlation with the policies and aims of theinstitution they serve in order to retain their ability to respond most closely to therequirements of the staff” (Richter, 1971).(ii)Clientele : Special libraries primarily serve the employees/members of the parent organization.The public does not ordinarily walk into these libraries without appointment. Though somespecial libraries may also serve the public directly (such as Archival Collection department of aPublic Library), a large majority of them serve the public indirectly thanks to the widespreadcooperation among all types of libraries which make their rich resources available to the public.For instance, resources of ISRO Library, Bangalore, are not available to the public directly, butthe public can avail them through inter-library loan scheme of other libraries. Besides, theclientele of special libraries are more specific in demands than the clientele of other types oflibraries. Many days might not witness any footfalls to the library at all and the only personusing the resources might be the Librarian.Most of the special librarians, primarily serve a well defined clientele, such as employees of acompany, or researchers of their organizations, though they may also allow access to otherinstitutions. Because of this, special librarians are typically more familiar with their clients thanother libraries and provide a high level of service.Secondly, special libraries serve the specialists belonging to a particular organization, such as a researchcenter, defense establishment, business company, hospital, a factory, government department, etc.,unlike the school libraries which serve elementary and high school students, the college and universitylibraries serve college students and faculty members, and public libraries serve people of all kinds at allstages of life. Examples of specialists who use the special library are : scientists, scholars. companyexecutives, government officials, legal experts, military experts, visually impaired people, etc.(iii)Origin of special library in an organization: Special libraries appear in order to support themission of their sponsoring organization. Mode of genesis of a special library is the same nowas it was in the earliest days – an organization feels the need for help with the informationproblems of its staff and decides to enlist library skills to help solve them. A number of basicrealities may enter into an organization’s decision to establish a library. People in many jobsneed on-the-job information. Or the organization has probably already invested sizeable sumsin books, periodicals and services as required by individuals and departments. This material isprobably not well managed or easily available and there are many duplications. Informationmay be considered as a commodity to be provided like tools and laboratory facilities. In manycases the impetus for establishing a library is the result of the efforts of one individual or one
(iv)(v)(vi)(vii)(viii)department. This initiative on the part of the organization is a distinguishing characteristic ofspecial libraries.Employed by the same employer as with the clientele : User and the special librarian areemployees of the same employer. Responsibility to the same employer puts the librarian oncommon ground with his clientele. This makes information service based on mutualunderstanding possible, and this is real, distinctive feature of special library work.Size : Barring a few exceptions such as NAL, Bangalore, ISRO, Bangalore, IARI Delhi, Desidoc,Delhi, etc., the special libraries tend to be small – in terms of space, staff and collections.In most of the special libraries, the staff is very small, often it is reduced to one or two persons.The librarian has to perform a wide range of tasks including technical, public service andadministrative, clerical and often library security such as custody of reading materials. In otherwords, the special librarians need to be subject specialists on the one hand, and librarygeneralist on the other. Even in larger special libraries, few special librarians can devotethemselves to one task, such as cataloguing, the way his counterparts in larger libraries might.Setting : Most of the special libraries are part of the larger organization, such as corporation,industry, newspaper office, bank, museum, government department, etc. The special librarycan also be a part of a larger library system, such as Archival Collection of a University Library,or Science Library of Delhi University Library System. Each setting is unique; each parentorganization has its own mission and goals and its own information requirements and locatesits library in the organization’s structure to suit itself.Away from public view : Since the special libraries exist primarily for the benefit of theorganization’s staff, they are housed in a wide variety of organizational settings, usually awayfrom the public view. They are located in high rise buildings, in industrial complexes, or inresearch centers, in industrial complexes, or in research centers, industrial organizations suchas banks, insurance companies, advertising agencies, public utilities, newspaper offices,chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers, petroleum producers, engineering firms, and theaerospace and automotive industries, to name a few. These libraries are units of largerorganizations whose purposes are usually other than the provision of education or libraryservice. They are housed in organization’s offices, laboratories or even in factories. . The publicdoes not ordinarily walk into these libraries without appointment. Therefore, special librariesdo not enjoy the privilege of being housed in independent, impressive buildings like universityand public libraries which are located in strategic points and beautiful landscape.Funding : Sources of fiscal support for special libraries are various and less clear-cut andpredictable than those provided for other kinds of libraries. For example, taxes are theprincipal revenue sources for public libraries. School and academic libraries are largely fundedfrom the budgets of the schools, colleges or universities they serve and these libraries usuallyhave may independent budget as required by accrediting bodies. On the other hand, speciallibraries may not be independent departments and they are put under larger departmentssuch as Administration, Training, Knowledge Management, R & D, HR, etc. Therefore, thebudget for special libraries often forms a part of the larger department. Funding position mayshift as the activity within the organization changes. A cut in administration or R & D budgetmight impact the library spending quickly. In instances of extreme entrepreneurship, in order toget funding support, the library may have to show increasing revenue by charging fees to theusers of its services.
(ix)(x)(xi)(xii)(xiii)Collections : Collections of special libraries are usually narrow with a specific subject focusthough many libraries of business and industrial companies have built a good collection in thesubject or discipline on which the organization is based. However, mostly the special librariesdepend largely on databases and online resources and they have very few books. While anacademic library might subscribe to a large number of databases, the special library will confineto a few ones which are directly related to its subject specialty. Special libraries often embraceparticular materials and media formats such as reports, films, internally generated documents,reports, etc.Besides, special libraries, especially those serving businesses and industries, build a goodcollection of grey literature in the form of press clippings, pamphlets, brochures which containlatest information relating to government, regulatory bodies, legal bodies, financing agencies,etc.Librarian supervised by non-librarian : As the the special libraries are small units, they areattached to bigger departments such as Administration, R & D, Training, etc. Therefore, theSpecial Librarian is supervised by non-librarian in the parent institution. The supervisor maynot have a clear idea of what libraries are supposed to do.Nomenclature : Whether seeking to be up-to-date or trying to escape a perceived negativeconnotation of ‘library’, the parent institution often will designate the library by other terms,such as, Information Center, Archives, Documentation Service, and so forth. The speciallibrarian is also designated as Documentation Officer or Information Officer.Services are more utilitarian :The very reason the library exists is to save time and efforts on thepart of busy people who need precise information for their work and often need it urgently.While the major objectives of other types of libraries may encompass use for education,recreation, aesthetic appreciation, or scholarly purposes, and while some special libraries dohave these objectives, the major objective of the special library is a single-ended one : toprovide information for immediate and utilitarian purposes in support of the goals of its parentorganization. The information function of the special library has been aptly described asproviding “ . Answers for the inquirer more rapidly than he could (find them) himself. To this itmight be added that it can also provide answers which the inquirer needs but has not thoughtto request (White, 1973). In other words, these libraries are devoted to utilitarian informationservice rather than to scholarly or educational needs. “While it is true that a special libraryhas to cope with the normal library functions i.e., collecting, organizing, retrieving anddisseminating materials and information, what takes precedence is ‘provision of information insupport of the objectives of its parent organization more efficiently and economically than itcould be provided by alternate methods” (Ferguson & Mobley, p. 7).Information work is more intensive : Special librarians are expected to not just connect peoplewith information resources, but to provide specific pieces of information in a readily usableformat. Information services in special libraries are often tailor made, and is dependent on theneeds of the parent organization. For instance, while a research library sends a weekly list oflatest research articles to a scientist of the research center, a business librarian on the otherhand, might find it more useful to bring out and make available compilation of industry trends
relevant to the parent company. Specialized service, anticipation of client needs, and quickresponse to such needs characterize the special library.Answering telephone or email enquiries forms a large part of the library’s activities, because it saves theenquirer from visiting the library for information, and minimizes the interruptions to his work.A reference interview query in a special library might take considerably more time than in other libraries,but special librarians usually know their clients and the clients’ projects well enough to allow them toanticipate information needs.Besides, the librarians of special libraries spend a lot of time daily in their back office in capacity building inorder to handle information enquiries. These include : Browsing information resources and websites,Organizing information materials, Updating collection, Updating IT skills, Building directories of informationresources, Training junior staff, Designing web interfaces, etc.(xiv)(xv)(xvi)Measuring the effectiveness : Output of a special library is not measurable by the generallibrary parameters such as : number of loans or enquiries dealt with, the number of abstractsprepared, number of photocopies distributed, etc. On the other hand, what really matters isthe resultant gain when the organization puts the information obtained by the library to use;this is the true measure of achievement of a special library.Un-predictability of work pressure : Although general libraries have peak periods – for example,lunch times and Saturdays - when larger than usual numbers of the public converge on them,special libraries are likely to be less prone to these occurrences. On the other hand, becauseinformation must be provided immediately, special library work will inevitably be subject tovarying tempo with occasional times of exceedingly rapid workpace, and high pressure, in amanner which is not always predictable. Such pressures arise with the importance of thedemand – sometimes even a single enquiry might set up pressures.Special libraries are differentiated by limitations in subject scope : Special libraries are orientedto a single subject, or more often, to several related subjects. This subject scope is determinedby the field of activity and interests of the library’s parent organization. Thus, special librariesare often described in terms of their subject orientation – advertising and marketing, business,finance, law, pharmaceutical, electronics, aerospace, real estate, chemistry, medical, or dentallibraries. Some are best described in terms of the form of material – patent libraries and filmlibraries are best examples. Still others are most aptly described in terms of the parentorganization – museum, hospital, or newspaper libraries. In every case, the commoncharacteristic is an orientation to materials and information that is specialized rather thangeneral in character.5. Functions of a Special Library :Special librarian’s functions can be categorized into three broad areas, namely,(i)Acquiring materials for the library :
Firstly, the Librarian must build up a balanced collection of material comprehensive in the maininterest the organization he/she serves and he should do a careful selection of referenceworks and textbooks to cover marginal, but important, interests. A significant proportion,perhaps as much as a fifth, will be in languages other than English which would create ademand for a translation service. Wide coverage in the main subjects will be achieved throughsecondary publications.(ii)Organizing materials in the library.Secondly, he must collect the relevant report material from his own and other organizationswith related interests. The cost of production of these reports (in terms of expensive researchefforts) is extremely high and it should justify their being indexed in the special library so thatthe information they contain may be fully exploited. The depth to which they are indexed willdepend on the intrinsic importance of the information they carry and also on the rapidity ofaccess required.(iii)Disseminating information and materials in the library.The time spent by user in the information search process is of direct concern to the librarian inspecial libraries. Since both librarian and the user are in the payrolls of the organization, nolibrarian would like to see the user wasting their time in the library wading through the maze ofinformation. Therefore, the spirit of the 4th Law of Library Science, ie ‘Save the time of the user’is absolutely vital in special libraries. There must be a realization that users and the library staffwork together in the information search work. In the interest of saving total time and achievingan overall minimum cost to the organization, the special librarian will take over from the user anumber of tasks which would be his in a more conventional library. Users will, for example, bekept informed of new developments in their own fields of interest. All materials coming to thelibrary , including secondary publications, will be scanned for inform
A corporate library offers its services to all members of the corporate office of a company. In many places, they are called by other names as Documentation Centers, Information Centers, Technical Information Centers or Resource Centers, and nowadays as Knowledge Resource Centers. Corporate libraries of TCS,