GeneralLibrary Science

Special Library

Special Library

The special library is distinctly different from the national library and public library. But the special library and the academic library are so similar in a nature that some times it becomes difficult to draw a line of demarcation between the two. For example, an academic institution may be a special type of institution, e.g. engineering college, medical college, etc. Then its library may appear to be a special library. Likewise a special library may have collection on some specific academic area of study. Then this library may appear to be an academic library. It is therefore, necessary to define the special library in order to differentiate it from other types of libraries.

Definitions of Special Library:

There is yet no generally accepted definition, although several national and international professional organizations and library experts have given, from time to time, baffling varieties of definitions. Following are some examples:

Harrod defines ‘special library is a collection of books and other printed, graphic or recorded material dealing with a limited field of knowledge and provided by a learned society, research organization, industrial or commercial undertaking, government department or even an educational institution. It may also be a special branch of a public library serving certain interests or occupational groups such as a technical library or a special subject library, meeting the needs of all enquirers on that given subject such as a music library.’

Wright defines the term almost in the same way as ‘a library which is concerned almost exclusively, with the literature of a particular subject or a group of subjects. He further includes in this category those libraries which are collections of particular form of materials’ .

According to Ranganathan the special library as ‘some libraries are organized to serve the needs of specialist readers of different kinds. Such a library called special library. In a special library, the readers are restricted in quality and number. The reading materials too are restricted in subject covered, standard and number. The mode of service is also specialized in its nature.

Ranganathan, however, considered specialization in a subject to be characteristics that makes a library a special library.

UNESCO has stated the corporate form of a special library as follows : “These libraries may be attached to various bodies such as Parliament, Government Department, Scientific and other research institutions, Learned society, Professional association, museum, Industrial association, Chamber of commerce, etc. They are primarily designed to serve a limited number of experts, scientists, research workers, and so on and not coming within any categories of national, university and school libraries”.

There are, however, innumerable definitions. Special library, thus, is an organized collection of library materials assembled to meet the needs of a particular group of clientele. Special libraries built up to supply detailed information respecting some limited subject field. It is a library that covers a single definite subject, or a definite group or related subjects to meet the information requirement of its users.

On the basis of foregoing discussion, the special library is different from the other libraries in respect to material, clientele, and service.

– Material: One of the important resources of a library is its stock of reading and other audio-visual materials. A distinguishing characteristic of a special library is small, compact, comprehensive and up to date collection. It should have a collection which is smaller in extension and greater in intention based on greater selectivity!’

– Clientele: A special library has specialist clientele with common interest, i.e., all the clientele’s interest and requirements revolve round achieving the objective and goals set by the organization under clearly spelt policy statements. The clientele normally have no individuals interest or requirements.

– Service: The special library provides two types of information service. The first is that provides in response to request for information and encompasses reference and research services. The second is information service in anticipation of need and encompasses services designed to keep the library’s clientele up-to-date of new and current information usually described as current awareness services.

Types of Special Libraries:

Special libraries may be classified according to the nature of founding organization : government departmental libraries, libraries of government undertakings, libraries of autonomous research organizations, libraries of private learned societies and research institutions. Special libraries may also classify according to their broad subject specialization and these may again be subdivided into specific subject fields. These are:

– Libraries of scientific and technical research institution;

– Medical research libraries;

– Agricultural research libraries;

– Libraries of social science research organization;

– Libraries of institutions for research in humanities.

These may again be subdivided into specif subject fields.

Objectives of Special Library:

The main objectives of the special libraries are:

– to supply their special clientele with up-to-date specialized sources of knowledge in the field served by the library;

– to compile an exhaustive bibliography of literature pertaining to the field;

– to help research scholars in the work of translation, abstraction, documentation and photographic reproduction;

– to meet the growing demand for specialized literature by the system of inter-library loans;

– to keep contact and co-operate with the corresponding special libraries of other countries so that literature on the latest developments all over the world are made available to their own readers.

Function and Services of Special Library:

In General : The functions of a special library are based on the objectives set-forth by the organization with which it is attached. Of course, the main function of acquisition, organization, and dissemination of materials and information remain the same in special libraries as in other libraries. But there is difference in approach, performance and techniques as well as materials collected. The special library as nucleus of intellectual gravitation of its parent body performs the following functions – collects, maintains, stores and retrieves information and data keeping in view the evolving needs of its parent organization; analyses, synthesizes and evaluates information and data;

a. provides critical reviews, monographs, reports, and/or collections; provides critical compilations; – provides state-to-the-art reports; – provides replies of queries;

b. provides reprints, bibliographies and references;

c. performs literature searches and translation services;

d. provides abstracts, indexes and extracts;

e. prepare accession lists, bulletins, newsletters, summaries, hand-books or manuals; disseminates current information, and SDI (Selective Dissemination of Information) and thus stimulates research;

f. uses inter library loan to provide additional needed materials;

g. maintains organization’s archives through its staff;

h. encourages the use of its materials through displays, list of latest additions and liberal loan polices, and developing programmes to retrieve information through the use of computers.

Besides, the special libraries issue the following products for the advancement of their organizational activities, research programmes, and keeping their clientele of specialists currently aware of the literature being published in their area of interests:

(a) Handbooks, (b) Bibliographies, (c) Current Awareness Bulletin, (d) Periodicals, (e) Abstracts, (t) Indexes, (g) Newsletters, (h) Directories, (i) Translations, (j) Thesaurus, (k) Accession Lists, (1) Library catalogue and union catalogues, (m) Local documentation lists, (n) Data-banks-information available indexed on cards.

Services of Special Libraries:

Special libraries serve their clientele with the help of various types of services, such activities and services performed by a special library for specialist readers in the form of information storage and retrieval, and documentation services.

The whole activities of the documentation are to be considered under two categories such as Active documentation and Passive Documentation. Active Documentation includes activities concerned with the analysis of literature, covering abstracting services, indexing services, compilation of subjects bibliographies, review preparation, digest services, state of art publications, translation, current awareness services, SDI services, union catalogue, etc. Passive. Documentation includes literature search and preparation of reading lists, location of document, document procurement, location of translation, preparation of copies documents (Reprographic services), etc.’

The trend for developing the libraries, documentation centres, have increased at present, primarily because information resources in any country are now recognised as important as other resources. The acquisition, organisation, dissemination these information resources provide an essential basis for the socio- economic development of a nation as a whole.

As special libraries play a significant role in the information system in broadest term it should provide the following services to its readers.

1. Abstracting Service: An abstract is a concise and accurate representation of the concept of a document, in a style similar to that of the original document. Abstracts are a vital aid in document selection and information gathering, and help to avoid duplication and delay in work in progress.

Since 19th century the abstracting services have become available and are accepted by information seekers in almost every discipline and specialization. An abstract may be used by two categories of readers: specialists in the subject, and others who have ‘fringe’ interest in the subject of the document. To satisfy both the categories of readers an abstract contains enough information which would help the subject specialist to decide whether he should read the paper its full.

2. Indexing Services: An index is a systematic list of documents• on a subject or by an author. It ensures systematic organization of information about documents for their easy and quick retrieval. An index is an orderly guide to the intellectual context and physical location of knowledge records. It is only a pointer and as such it does not generally supply the desired information itself, but instead it employs, a set of chosen descriptors, subheadings and their modification, or the word derived which earmark the source of information for which the user is searching. The user is directed by the index to the subjects and the ideas expressed by the authors in the knowledge records.

However, indexing and abstracting are of paramount importance in special library.

3. Bibliographical Services: Bibliographies are the most important source of information for the special and research libraries because they give information about what has been published on a particular subject, author, period, etc. These are very useful for research scholars in the search for material on a particular subject or field. They include any published material irrespective of the fact whether they are available in a particular library or not.26 Therefore, compilation of bibliographies of special libraries will be of immense us-f-t-o scholars and all other concerned with information on specified field.

4. Current Awareness Service (CAS): CAS is recent vocabulary. It is defined as ‘a system and often a publication for notifying current documents to users of libraries and information service.’ Not in the field of science and technology, but also in the field of art and

humanities, there is a need to provide latest information to the users of the library.

Special libraries have developed a wide range of activities to keep their clientele informed of new and current developments. Routing of current periodicals is one of the most common functions of the special library. The library periodically survey its clientele as to which periodicals they wish to see on a regular basis, then circulates them to readers as they arrive. Acquisition bulletins are another common service. The bulletin may be a simple list of new material received or may include annotations or abstracts. Subject-oriented abstract bulletin that pull together information from various sources-books, articles, pamphlets, reports and news, summaries and digests are other CAS used by special library. Some libraries prepare indexes to covers non-indexed periodicals which may be used within the library or may be published to serve as a combination bulletins and order forms for readers.

5. Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI): Service In the words of H. Peter Luhn who first gave us the concept of SDI as that service within an organization which concern itself with the channelings of new items of information, from whatever source, to those points within the organisation where the probability of usefulness, in connection with current work or interest, is high.

In this service profiles of individual scholars are matched against the new additions made in the information base of library and pertinent information communicated to the respective scholars.

However, SDI as a more sophisticated CAS, is geared towards the individual readers. Each user receives a unique set of document notifications which is concide with his special field of interest.

6. Translation Services: Most of the abstracting, indexing, CAS, etc. are constantly bringing to the attention of scientists that there are many more relevant documents available but they are presented in large unfamiliar to one group or other. Information literature is being generated in the world at a very large scale. It is estimated that the volume of this literature doubles almost every decade. In order to provide comprehensive information on any topic from such a vast ocean of literature, it is necessary to access it into entirely. And translation is a process of transferring precisely the information content of the text in one language into another language. Therefore many special libraries finds this service an indispensable one to help their specialist readers to gain access to required information (irrespective of language) generated worldwide.

7. Reprographic Services: The provision for reprographic service in a library or information centre is very essential. Modern reprographic equipment’s and accessories should be procured and this unit may be fully developed in all respect for the benefit of all interested consultants and clientele. Apart from xerox or similar type of plain .paper copier machines, Gestetner Electrostenciling machines, microfilm and microfiche cameras and readers, printers, etc. quite useful for the reprographic unit.” Today, the reprographic services have become one of the pertinent activities of special libraries.

8. Press Clippings: Another special class of research material is newspaper clippings, consisting of items of news, editorial opinion, text of documents and contributed articles having intimate bearing on the events of the day. Thief press clippings are of great value in providing background to subjects in international relations and to matter of political, economic, and social policy?

As most inexpensive service, press clippings add an important place in special libraries.

9. Retrospective Literature Search: A key role that a special library can play is through its retrospective literature search service to enable users to identify information which has been published over a period of time. This might be done by searching catalogues and indexes prepared for a particular collection of printed publications.

10 Resource Sharing: Traditionally our libraries have been aiming at acquiring all the resources needed to meet the requirements of their clientele in any specific field or fields. However the total fast t growing inflationary trends and the ever-increasing literary output, coupled with adequate budgets, indicate the dire need to reassess and of self-sufficiently which has become quite unattainable. Sharing of resources have become an inescapable necessity and the only realistic means of providing a full-range of library and information services. Therefore, special libraries should embark on resource-sharing on a local basis and if possible, on a regional basis.

Special Libraries : Their Nature of Human Resources:

To undertake the above services, which a special library performs need the qualified staff. The staff of special library should be qualified and efficient to run the library smoothly. Its librarian should posses requisite qualification and a basic knowledge of subject. He should be conversant with the nature of its work and competent to render effective reference service. It must be fully equipped with competent staff and adequate materials necessary for rendering different kinds of documentation services. The effectiveness and efficiency of documentation service depends on the knowledge of the documentalist about the subject interest of the reader. So every special library must be trained in documentation and reprography.

Sufficient care, of course, will be taken selecting the librarian-a person who is eminently capable of performing the complex task of transforming the library into a dynamic agency for the dissemination of information, and has the potentialities of keeping the title ‘special librarian.


Role of Special Libraries in Cultural Context:

History of mankind is history of manes cultural development through the ages. The power of communication of ideas is the most significant achievement in human life. Acquisition, accumulation and sharing of ideas through experience and passing them to fellow beings distinguishes man from animals. Men differ in two respects, physical form and social heritage, also called culture. To be cultured, one has to cultivate characterstics of the society like a crop in the field and child in the family farm. Culture can, therefore, be learned as well as inherited. Culture is colsey related to social life. It is passed from generation to generation either through personal contacts or through recorded knowledge. Thus, the culture of the ages treasured and conserved in recorded documents, neither dies nor diminishes unless the recorded documents or their store-houses, libraries are destroyed.

In a cultural revolution communication is indispensable. Books and libraries are the most powerful means of communication. Libraries contain manuscripts, books, periodicals, etc. In the pages of books are recorded the achievements of life, experiences of the departed and the thoughts of saints and scholars, scientists, educationists, artists, poets and philosophers. Books are a part of life. These embodied thoughts carry pieces of poetry, drama, legends and epics, traditions, the history and philosophy, religion and mythology. These also carry discoveries, inventions, innovations, and expositions from the research centers. The society as a whole or a region of it or an era all are found embodied in the pages of documents. These valuable cultural kits are transmitted from one generation to another. Books are a means of maintaining wisdom through the ages. Libraries have rendered a magnificent service to human race by establishing contacts for the cultures. Libraries have been in existence since early times and these have served as a source of information from generation to generation. libraries worked as source of inspiration, education, learning and scholarship for the people engaged in developing the cultures.”

Original Reference Article:

  • Choudhury, A. K. (2002). Role of special libraries in the field of art and culture in India with special reference to national academies.

Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.

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