The Meaning of Special Libraries and Functions

Meaning of Special Libraries and Functions: A special library is a term for a library that is neither an academic, school, public or national library. Special libraries include corporate libraries, law libraries, medical libraries, museum libraries, news libraries and non-profit libraries. These libraries are not usually open to the general public, though many are available to specific elements of the public or scheduled appointments.

Special libraries are also sometimes known as information centres. They are generally staffed by librarians, although many librarians employed in special libraries are specialists in the library’s field rather than generally trained librarians, and often are not required to have advanced degrees in specifically library-related field due to the specialized content and clientele of the library.

Functions of Special Libraries 

Special library is under a body, institution, institution or organization of business, industry, scientific, government, and education such as universities, companies, departments, professional associations, government agencies and so forth. Special libraries usually also have special characteristics when viewed from functions, subjects handled, collections managed, users served, and their position. So from this it will be clearly seen the difference with the library in general.

Special libraries and public libraries when viewed at a glance there are actually not much differences. In fact, not a few occur “overlap” between special libraries and public libraries.

Functions of special libraries is to support the vision and mission of special institutions and function as special information centers especially related to research and development.

Special libraries  serve as information service. Information service is the ability to understand the needs and desires of users and understand the types of library users. Information services also make marketing strategies in the form of relationship marketing, which is a strategy in which the exchange of officers and library users transactions continues, in the sense that it does not end after the transaction is done.  Special libraries performs the following functions primarily:

  • It selects and procures documents and other sources of relevant information;
  • It processes the procured information or documents with the help of classification, cataloguing, shelf arrangements, etc., to make them readily available for the users;
  • It subscribes to a good number of journals related to its area;
  • It provides indexing and abstracting services to the users to save them time;
  • It provides reference services to the users by telephone, by post, or by email;
  • It gives current awareness service (CAS) regarding new arrivals and the latest services to the users;
  • It provides Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) services to the users as per their subject interests and requirement;
  • It also gives document delivery service to its user;
  • It brings out library bulletins weekly/ fortnightly/ monthly to keep the users up to date with the latest information;
  • It gives translation services to provide the desired information to the users in their convenient language;
  • It also provides internet as well as internet facility to the users in order to access the library collection and catalogue on their desktop;
  • It responds to the reference queries and makes the retrospective search of literature as per users’ demand;
  • It compiles bibliographies, union catalogues, documentation lists, newspaper clippings, accession lists, etc., to save the time of its users; and
  • It provides an interlibrary loan facility to the users.

The Beginnings of Special Libraries

In their current status of library independent from public, academic, and archival libraries, special libraries are a recent phenomenon, although it is difficult to determine when they began to be recognised as a distinct subset of libraries due to the highly individualistic and independent nature of most special libraries. Perhaps, the closest date to assign to the beginnings of special libraries in the modern sense is 1909, the year that the Special Libraries Association, one of the oldest and largest library advocacy groups specifically concerned with special libraries, was founded. It was led by John Cotton Dana, who served as its first president from 1909 to 1911.

Describing the history of special libraries in the modern sense of the word is therefore difficult, as the only criteria for defining a special library is that it is a library itself an often nebulous term  that is not a national, research, reference, public, academic, children’s, or archival library.

As a result, one’s view of the history of modern special libraries is that it is what the history of other types of libraries does not include. However, finding the history of these types of groups before the modern definition of special libraries reveals that the concept of special libraries as libraries existing to support specific private interests or institutions in their goal is likely the oldest in existence. The first known libraries, dating back to the beginning of known history, recorded commercial transactions and inventories.

Today, these fall under the heading of corporate libraries, discussed below. Likewise, a substantial number of the cuneiform tablets recovered from the Library of Ashurbanipal detail Babylonian religious beliefs and myths.

Again, in a modern context, religious libraries are often considered special libraries. Of course, early libraries are generally not considered to be special libraries in most contexts, but it is nevertheless clear that libraries today grouped under the label of special libraries long predate that label.

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