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The three main types of library

Updated on March 19, 2008

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. Follow this link for the library's home page, 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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    • profile image

      Dike Precious 

      7 months ago

      I thought we have four types of library only

    • wpcooper profile image

      Liam Cooper 

      11 months ago from Los Angeles

      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.


    • profile image

      timothy ghumpi 

      2 years ago

      thanks you am get same thing about this matter.

    • profile image

      Timnan Stephen Takbam 

      2 years ago

      I love this library style.Keep up!!!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      2 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...

    • profile image

      Abdulrahman muhammad 

      3 years ago

      Libraries improve man!

    • profile image

      mhar sullano 

      3 years ago

      its very nice

    • profile image

      Joseph Ekpo, Nigeria 

      4 years ago

      I'm a Librarian in the making, I love it and its good for all

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I really apietcpare free, succinct, reliable data like this.

    • profile image

      esther namibia 

      5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      cristals danials 

      5 years ago

      Nice site

    • profile image

      Ranjodh Singh 

      5 years ago

      A best place in old person for gain the it knoweldge.

    • profile image

      girl omg 

      6 years ago

      this is the best time of my life

    • profile image

      Abubakar Musa Wudil 

      7 years ago

      A library is a nice place

    • profile image


      7 years ago




    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Is very interesting to read an understand thank

    • profile image

      sabiha bano 

      7 years ago

      this library is very important place of society

    • profile image

      Abdulrahman Muktar 

      7 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

    • profile image

      Joy Ekerendu 

      7 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?

    • profile image

      obi ikechukwu 

      7 years ago

      a graduate with a library is very dangerous

    • profile image

      mon mon 

      7 years ago


    • profile image

      Assumpat Madu 

      7 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 profile image

      Sarah Anderson 

      7 years ago from Wallingford, CT

      Excellent article.

    • profile image

      Nwafor Emeka Gideon aka Egnwafor. 

      7 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.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

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

    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      cool thing to know about

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      library is source of all knowledge all over the world.

    • The Indexer profile imageAUTHOR

      John Welford 

      7 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 profile image

      Maria Cecilia 

      7 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.

    • profile image

      aubrei moore 

      7 years ago

      i think this is a good resource for finding libraries it help you out a lot

    • The Indexer profile imageAUTHOR

      John Welford 

      8 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.

    • profile image

      muguta philipo 

      8 years ago

      where do we categorise these we call here government library

    • profile image

      Searcher of knowledge 

      8 years ago

      We shouldn't be dependent only on manual library,we should also be dependent on digital library.

    • profile image


      8 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 profile image

      Wendy S. Wilmoth 

      8 years ago from Kansas

      Very good defense of our profession! Thanks!

    • The Indexer profile imageAUTHOR

      John Welford 

      8 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!

    • profile image

      Rakhi Suneja 

      8 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.

    • profile image

      this is phantastic 

      8 years ago

      this is fantastic...... absolutely, i agree with you.

    • dalean108 profile image


      8 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.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i live antigua , and dis is not wat we have in antigua we have public , school, law, archives and museum tanx

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Dear Mr. Indexer,

      I'm sorry you lost your job, I'm sure you made one terrific librarian. I came across your hub because of a recent hub about libraries that I wrote. When I linked into other hubs I chose this one to connect with.

      Thank you for the useful information. My sister is currently getting her masters degree in Lib. Science-following in our mother's footsteps.

      It is a shame that people do not utilize or support libraries more.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very informative!

    • The Indexer profile imageAUTHOR

      John Welford 

      9 years ago from UK

      No, the school library is included among academic libraries because it serves a specific closed community with learning as its prime purpose. Agreed, the spectrum is a wide one, because schools themselves offer a wide spectrum - there is not much difference in nature between a library in a large school and one in a small college, for example.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      there are 4 types of library the missing one is the school library

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for word.l like using special library,it makes me learn easily

    • J  Rosewater profile image

      J Rosewater 

      9 years ago from Australia

      I like this well written hub. Comprehensive and informative. Might I say that the button still survived after the advent of the zip, so libraries are here to stay because books will never fade away.

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 

      9 years ago from Iowa

      If I could have any job in the world, I'd be a children's librarian, and I don't even own a cat!

      From the comments I've read I surmise that you're in the UK. I love the wonderful British Library and my hubby is constantly ordering medieval materials from it.

      My comment is that public libraries level the playing field for lower-income people who can't afford the technological tools kids need to master so they can thrive in the internet-centric age. When you're struggling to put food on the table, buying a computer for your kids seems awfully important, but people will always fill their bellies first.

      Children's librarians are often among a child's first adult role models, and again, story time can offer an educational experience to working-class kids who can't attend preschool.

      More than ever, libraries make internet access free to everyone.

    • The Indexer profile imageAUTHOR

      John Welford 

      10 years ago from UK

      To the two most recent commenters, thanks for your support!

      Although I would never make the claim that "if it's in print it must be trustworthy", at least the text in a book produced by a reputable publisher has been through many checking processes before it reaches the library shelves. The same cannot be said about Wikipedia!

      Where the Internet wins is that it can offer information that is more up-to-date, given that many published books are out-of-date as soon as they are printed. We clearly need both, but we also need the skills to discriminate between good and bad information, whatever medium we use to find it.

    • J D Murrah profile image

      J D Murrah 

      10 years ago from Refugee from Shoreacres, Texas

      I have found libraries much more beneficial than the internet. Granted, doing research in a library takes time. Although the internet has many sources of information, it is no substitute for a library in finding information and taking it in.

    • LondonGirl profile image


      10 years ago from London

      I use specialist libraries quite a lot - mostly those at Middle Temple and Gray's Inn. And if the librarian can't find it, it can't be found (-:

    • profile image

      Titania White 

      10 years ago

      this is very intresting. nice job

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 

      11 years ago from NSW, Australia

      Great hub, Indexxer.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      11 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Excellent hub.

      One could say almost the same things about professional writers as you have said about libraries and librarians. For example, once desktop publishing became popular, writers "were no longer needed", because after all, the software did the writing. And, since everybody took at least one English course in high school, there is "no reason why they should employ somebody to do what everybody could do for themselves..." And that was just from your first paragraph! You gave me a real minefield to explore! Regards, S.

    • The Indexer profile imageAUTHOR

      John Welford 

      11 years ago from UK

      I think the answer to your first question is probably yes, but there are all sorts of questions contained within it, such as do you mean titles as opposed to copies, and which sectors are seeing declines and by how much? I don't have the statistics ready to hand on this one, though.

      Yes, Library PR is certainly lacking, and my purpose in writing this hub, and others on a similar theme, is to make a move towards improving this situation. I am shortly due to write an article in a professional journal that will point directly at Hubpages and similar sites as vehicle for librarians to use to make their case. We have certainly been backwards at coming forwards in the past!

      I think my "last resort" customer was one of those people who prefer to get lost first and then ask the way, rather than asking the way first thing! It was a case of adjusting his mindset, and he didn't make that mistake again!

    • About-The-Home profile image


      11 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?


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