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How do I Learn about Careers in Library Science?: Special Libraries

Learning About Special Librarians

‘Special Libraries’ is a broad category which is used to describe every library not identified as School (K-12), Academic, or Public. Special librarians are often times referred to Information Professionals, as these positions tend to be more geared towards information managment and organization.

Where are Libraries found – everywhere

  •  Businesses and Corporations
  •  Non-Profit Organizations
  •  Professional Associations
  •  Educational Institutions
  •  Governmental Agencies

Characteristics of Special Libraries

  • Narrow focus – discipline, industry, geographic region
  • Limited audience and access – membership, use requirements
  • Generally exist within an organization to support the aims of that organization
  • Collection -More likely to be not traditionally published materials
  • Specialist materials – manuals, reports
  • Primary source materials – operational documents, ephemera
  • Gray literature – newsletters, industry reports
  • Captured knowledge – oral histories, internal reports
  • Special formats – electronic, braille, etc.
  • Idiosyncratic organization – determined by use (usually not DDC or LCSH)


  Search for librarian jobs in public libraries currently open at the SLA Career Center and check out the job's responsibilities or desired/preferred qualifications to get an idea of what types of roles are out there. Also explore this blog post from the iSchool (School of Information Studies) at Syracuse University about non-librarian careers for LIS grads.

Some common responsibilities for special librarians are:

  • Preparing research reports in response to staff requests for specific information
  • Gathering competitive intelligence
  • Identifying research done at other organizations to avoid unnecessary duplication
  • Verifying facts for external and internal reports and publications
  • Creating databases for organizations to access their internal information
  • Searching patents and trademarks
  • Evaluating and comparing information software and sources of data prior to purchase
  • Training other staff to efficiently and cost-effectively use online databases

Special library careers work out well for those with ALA-accredited masters degrees who also have experience or education in non-library fields. Additional professional degrees are required for some special library positions; for example, most legal librarians have law degrees.

Membership in the specific industry and function-specific associations will be beneficial to librarians supporting the organization's mission.

Awareness of issues, emerging trends, practices, and technology developments helps the librarian prepare for information requests.

In short, research the industry that you are interested in working in to determine what knowledge base is important. Internships and volunteer work within an industry will also help you get a feel for what the duties and responsibilities are.

Special Collections & Archives

Special Collections and Archives fall into the category of Special Libraries because they contain separate collections of materials and enforce distinctive policies within larger libraries.  Access is restricted and specific procedures are in place to protect the materials.  


The term Special Collections has the connotation of rare, valuable, or fragile books but may cover collections of larger scope.  Materials are shelved in closed stacks (must be requested and are retrieved by library personnel) and their use is monitored in the Special Collections reading room.


The term Archives refers to both the physical facility housing the collection(s) and the materials themselves.  Archives hold historical materials - materials that are no longer in use that compose the historical record of an individual, organization, or agency.  This may include collections of personal papers (manuscript collections) or official documents.  A finding aid is created to describe the collection of unique items. 

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