Classifying Libraries

June 29, 2010

@nomesd was quizzing us today on twitter for a list of library sectors. This is the list she came up with:

Is this a full list? Academic Corporate Government Health Law National/State OPAL Parliamentary Private Public School Special TAFE Vendor

It differs from mine. I tend to roll in Corporate/Government/Health/Law/Parliamentary into Specials. Although there can be Academic law and health libraries. But I am aware that definitions differ. @Nomesd later found “ALA just says academic/public/school/special/other”. When I talk to US librarians they include a Law Library working for an Academic institution as a “Special”. Their definition is by theĀ  range of the collection.

What is your definition of a Special Library?

Maybe this is a faceted classification:

  1. You can classify the sectors on the patrons or clients the library serves. So if your library exist to serveĀ  clients who are the “staff” of your parent organization you work in a Special. If your library exists to serve students K-12 you work in a school library. If they are tertiary students you are an Academic library. OK- I agree that this is an obvious simplification. Academic libraries serve researchers/faculty/staff as well. But what is their principle purpose? Public libraries serve their local public. States and Nationals serve the larger populations. Or does this resolve to who is paying the bills?
  2. You can also classify on the core subjects of the library or rather the core subject interests of the clients so as to get the Health/Law/Parliamentary type breakdown.
  3. You can classify by the sector of the parent organization ie Education/Government/Corporate/Nonprofit/NGO.
  4. OPAL libraries are classified by how many people work in them. But even this is loose. I daily work as an OPAL but part of a larger organisation.

Let’s test this. According to my classification I work in a Special/Geology/Research/OPAL . I know those that work in Academic/Geology/ and Special/Geology/Corporate and Special/Geology/Government and Academic/ and Public/.

It needs work.

Is it important to know what a library is classified as? Well it’s important to know who your key clients are and what your core purpose is when is comes to knowing who and how to justify the library’s existence. And that’s important in deciding your core services.

But other than that do our classifications just serve to help decide which e-lists to join and which conferences to go to? And what boxes to tick on forms that ask?

Maybe our classifications are dividing us?

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3 Responses to “Classifying Libraries”

  1. Penny Says:

    classification is useful for some things but can actually be detrimental if you want cross-sector fertilization :)

  2. Sue Says:

    Agreed- and you have generated a section for my paper with Kathryn. Thanks.


  3. […] Suelibrarian defined special libraries, whilst in a surprising parallel (which has happened a lot in these 30 days), Sally Sets Forth defined public service. Check them out and see if you agree. […]


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