The Three Main Types Of Library

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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. [ ] 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!

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sendingLuis G Asuncion 
7 months ago from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines
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 
19 months ago
I thought we have four types of library only

23 months ago from Barstow
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 
3 years ago
thanks you am get same thing about this matter.

Timnan Stephen Takbam 
3 years ago
I love this library style.Keep up!!!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 
3 years ago from Philippines
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 
4 years ago
Libraries improve man!

mhar sullano 
4 years ago
its very nice

Joseph Ekpo, Nigeria 
5 years ago
I'm a Librarian in the making, I love it and its good for all

5 years ago
I really apietcpare free, succinct, reliable data like this.

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

cristals danials 
6 years ago
Nice site

Ranjodh Singh 
6 years ago
A best place in old person for gain the it knoweldge.

girl omg 
7 years ago
this is the best time of my life

Abubakar Musa Wudil 
8 years ago
A library is a nice place

8 years ago

8 years ago
Is very interesting to read an understand thank

sabiha bano 
8 years ago
this library is very important place of society

Abdulrahman Muktar 
8 years ago
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 
8 years ago
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 
8 years ago
a graduate with a library is very dangerous

mon mon 
8 years ago

Assumpat Madu 
8 years ago
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 
8 years ago
Excellent article.

Nwafor Emeka Gideon aka Egnwafor. 
8 years ago
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.

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

8 years ago

8 years ago
cool thing to know about

8 years ago
library is source of all knowledge all over the world.

AUTHORJohn Welford 
8 years ago from UK
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 
8 years ago from Philippines
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 
8 years ago
i think this is a good resource for finding libraries it help you out a lot

AUTHORJohn Welford 
9 years ago from UK
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 
9 years ago
where do we categorise these we call here government library

Searcher of knowledge 
9 years ago
We shouldn't be dependent only on manual library,we should also be dependent on digital library.

9 years ago
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 
9 years ago from Kansas
Very good defense of our profession! Thanks!

AUTHORJohn Welford 
9 years ago from UK
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 
9 years ago
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 
9 years ago
this is fantastic...... absolutely, i agree with you.

9 years ago
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.
[ ][ ]About-The-Home 
12 years ago
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?