Discussion topic: different types of libraries around the world

Cotsen Childrens Library Princeton by Andreas Praefcke. Used under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Cotsen Childrens Library Princeton by Andreas Praefcke. Used under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The library and information management profession offers an extraordinary variety of work environments. It’s so common for us to be asked about what it’s like to be able to read books all day – but what’s more revealing is the underlying assumption that, as a librarian, I must work in a particular type of library, one with lots of books housed in a building and offering a range of services to the public, like the public library or school library most people get to experience. But of course, we know that it isn’t really like this…

To help us all appreciate the variety in our profession, we’re going to spend our second discussion topic considering the different types of libraries and work environments that exist for library and information professionals around the world.

There are a few key kinds of libraries:

  • Public, community based libraries are what most people think of when they think of libraries. But even these vary widely, from huge national libraries housed in imposing buildings, to small community libraries held in temporary buildings, or even mobile libraries that travel to their patrons.
  • University, academic or college libraries vary in size and shape depending on the institution they serve. They may also have several branches across physical campuses, or may offer primarily digital services.
  • School libraries are similar to university libraries in that they serve a defined group of people for a particular period of their life. However of course as their communities are radically different, their spaces and services can be very different as well.
  • Special libraries are where expectations about ‘what is a library’ can really get turned around. This umbrella term usually refers to the wide range of libraries or information services seen in government, corporate, and not-for-profit environments. They can be rich historical collections or agile digital services; they can serve large or small populations; they can be well-funded or operated on shoestring budgets. They could even be the private libraries of those dedicated to knowledge. They can, at times, look amazing.

To help appreciate the variety in this space, some questions you might like to ask your partner are:

  • What kind of library do you work in now? What is the physical environment like, and who are your patrons?
  • Have you ever worked in any other kind of library?
  • What’s the most unusual library you’ve heard of – and what was unusual about it?
  • What kind of libraries do you think you’d like working in – do you prefer public or private, big or small, physical or digital?
  • What professional issues do you believe are shared across libraries?

To ensure you have lots of examples to discuss, over the next two weeks we will be showcasing different kinds of libraries from around the world on our blog. You can also join in the conversation online with the wider ILN community, by commenting on our blog, posting your thoughts to our Twitter feed (include the handle @InterLibNet) or our Facebook page. We look forward to learning more about the variety of libraries across the ILN community!

Alyson Dalby, ILN Director

Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2015A and tagged , , , , , , , .


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