University and college libraries (also known as academic libraries) should be fairly familiar to many of our ILN participants – according to the applications we received, 42% of our participants are working in a university or college library. Does this mean we all know everything there is to know about this sector? Very unlikely!
University or college libraries are the libraries attached to higher education institutions. Like other types of libraries, they could be big (Harvard Library is actually 73 libraries with over 18 million volumes) or small (the UNIS University Centre in Svalbard, Norway is the northernmost university library, and has one printer and a hammock). The purpose of university libraries is usually twofold: to support teaching and learning for students, and to support research. In an ideal world, this means that they would hold lots of copies of undergraduate texts, and a wide material to be used by researchers; in reality, university libraries, like all libraries, have to make difficult choices driven by budgets.
Many of the world’s oldest and most beautiful libraries are those associated with universities, colleges, or other higher education institutions; this is often because the libraries were founded by bequest, or seen as a showcase for the wealth and prominence of the institutions to which they were attached. Like all libraries, they are vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters, as this article about what remains of the library of the Glasgow School of Art after fire ripped through in 2014 discusses.
Nowadays, university libraries are often leaders in digitisation and digital services. Higher education institutions produce a large research output, usually in the form of academic papers and books. In many countries, this research is publicly funded; in some countries this funding comes with a mandate to make the output of research available to the public through some form of digital repository. This responsibility has usually fallen to the library, experts in the organisation and dissemination of knowledge. This has given rise to new skills sets and career paths for those working in this area, and has helped position university libraries in a very modern context.
If you visit a university library during term time, you’re likely to find a busy place full of students using the library’s resources and spaces in a variety of ways. The library, as a student space, is often a meeting point for social activities, much to the chagrin of those who prefer their libraries quiet and peaceful.
Working in a university library offers many opportunities for specialisation, depending on the size of the institution. You might be a reference librarian, or focus on information literacy training for students, or specialise in cataloging or interlibrary loans. You may work with your clients face to face or, increasingly, by distance as more and more institutions offer some form of online learning.
- Do you work in a university library? If you studied at university, did you use the library when you were studying?
- Do you think university libraries should be noisy or quiet? Do you prefer working with your clients face to face, or remotely?