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Compare the environments and organizational settings in which library and information professionals practice

Competency B

With the advent of the Internet and the wide spread access to information, the role of the librarian has changed in the past two decades. Many of the environments in which librarians can work remain the same, but there are also new environments as well. It is important for information professionals to understand the nature of the various institutions in which they may work because each operates differently based on the group of users it serves and the purpose of the institution itself. The list below is certainly not a comprehensive list of the environments in which a library and information professional can work, but is a brief comparison of the main types of places where our services are needed.

Public Libraries
Public libraries aim to serve the needs of a community based on geographical area. Its user base can be very broad and can include anywhere from a few hundred of people to millions. These people have different information needs that the library must consider. They can speak different languages, have differing socio-economic backgrounds, and serve the complete range of ages. A public library therefore must have collections that reflect the multifaceted nature of the community. It can be very helpful for a public library to speak one of the alternate languages of the community. Because of the broad user base, the librarian must be able to provide reference services for a broad knowledge base. And public libraries almost always have children’s and young adult services departments to serve the younger part of the community. Therefore knowledge of children’s materials can be necessary, as well as being able to put together programs to engage these users, such as reading hours and outreach programs to get teens interested in the library. And the population can chance, so librarians in this setting must be able to evaluate these changes and adapt to them. Thus public librarians must have a broad set of skills and interests in order to serve a broad and ever-changing community.


But there is also a political aspect to this environment. The public library is part of the local government, getting its funding from tax dollars, and therefore there are some political considerations. Librarians have to work with local politicians and the changing political climate, and sometimes a locally elected library board when making decisions about the library. Rubin noted that “[b]alancing the various political interests is a complex and challenging task” (Rubin, p.309). Various special interest groups will always have opinions about what the library should and should not collect, and a librarian in this environment must be able to not only have a plan for how to deal with these groups, but also the political tact to navigate through these political challenges without becoming embroiled in them. Internally, librarians must work with a range of employees, from shelvers, who may be students taking an after school job, to full time paraprofessionals, to other librarians. It is important to be able to work with a wide variety of people in this environment.

Academic Libraries
Academic libraries have a very different user group and therefore the collections and the environment in which the librarian works can be quite different from those of a public library. Academic libraries serve the educational needs of students and faculty and often have a more research-oriented approach. A librarian may be asked to assist in research projects and provide more in depth reference services. The user needs are more focused, often with different branches addressing different areas of study, so the work of the librarian may be focused on a particular area of study. Often, librarians are required to have a second master’s degree in the field in which they work. They may be faculty themselves, being required to publish research and teach classes to students. The historical value of information is also more important for research purposes, and therefore preservation of materials can be important for ongoing research needs.

Librarians in the academic world must work closely with faculty in order to develop collections. Because the collection supports their curriculum and their research interests, faculty members have a vested interest in developing a quality collection. But the library is also part of the larger academic community, whether that is a junior college, college, or university, librarians must work with the administration and the bureaucracy that often comes with it. Employees of the library are students, full-time staff, and librarians, and some of these employees are members of unions, which can affect job descriptions and assignment of duties.

School Libraries/Media Centers
School libraries or media centers are libraries in primary and secondary schools. They also serve an educational purpose, but one for younger people at a more elementary level of education. The materials for these libraries are collected for use by students and teachers and are intended to support the teaching goals of the school. Librarians who work there often must also have their teaching credentials, and teach students how to use the library.

School librarians must also deal with political situations, as many people in the community have an interest in their local schools. Teachers and school principals will need to be worked with in order to develop a collection that supports the curriculum for the school, but there may also be input from the school board, who are often elected to the positions, and the local Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Librarians must be able to work with all these groups in order to make a successful collection. But they also must be careful regarding censorship. Perhaps even more than other types of libraries, school libraries must deal with issues of censorship. People have differing view about what is appropriate material for a school library, and one that can get very heated. Librarians in these environments must be aware that they may have to deal with censorship issues.

Special Libraries
Special libraries include libraries that serve private companies, specialized, independent research organizations, government agencies, law firms, non-profit organizations and associations. There is a wide variety in the types of special libraries that exist, but generally they serve a somewhat small and focused user group with a relatively small and focused collection of materials. Some examples of special libraries include a law office’s private library, medical libraries, genealogy centers, and museum libraries. The materials collected for each of these libraries would contain information pertinent only to that subject area.

Librarians in these organizations are often part of the staff and fit into a company’s organizational structure. The type of collection they develop and the funds that they receive to develop the collection are at the discretion of the company. Therefore, the librarian may be required to advocate for the library and sell its importance to the higher-ups, or to those who provide funds if it is a non-profit environment.

Non-library environments
Information Architecture and Web Development Firms
Librarians and information professionals have more opportunities available to them now more than ever. There are positions as database designers and web developers for many web-based companies that require the knowledge of people who can create complicated taxonomies and can organize and present a large amount of material for public consumption. The environment in these companies can be different because the goal is different than in a traditional library environment. While it is important that people be able to find what they want, it is ultimately important because it will lead to sales. Therefore, popular terms might be used instead of ones that will stand the test of time, and much marketing is involved in the process. In companies, many departments may have an interest in a web site, so a fine line must be walked in order to balance the wants of your fellow employees with what is best for the customer. Hopefully these two things are the same, but it is the job of the person creating the structure of a web site to keep this as the primary focus, because if users cannot find something, they will not be able to purchase it.

Integrated Library Software (ILS) Companies
I currently work at an ILS company, and here librarians can play many roles. Librarians are important in this field because they understand what librarians want and need, and have to create products that will be useful to their clients. Librarians can work as product managers, customer service representatives, and sales people. Their job is to understand the needs of the library and come up with solutions that will serve their needs. It is a focused industry, but ones that libraries have come to rely on for improving workflow, introducing new technologies, and making a wider variety of information available to its users.

The following coursework shows analysis of different types of libraries, specifically academic and public. It demonstrates an ability to evaluate the environments and organizational settings in which library and information professionals practice.



Reference Interview Analysis I: Face-to-Face, Public Library - LIBR 210 - Summer 2005
This assignment for my Reference and Information Services class with Scott Walter in Summer 2005, was part of a series of assignments in which the goal was to ask reference questions in different library environments and reflect on the different approaches to reference and information service. This first part examines the face-to-face reference services in a public library. It involved asking a question of a medical nature to the reference librarian. Due to lack of terminals at the reference desk, no electronic resources were provided, but general reference books with information were offered.

Reference Interview Analysis II: Digital Reference, Academic Library - LIBR 210 - Summer 2005
In this assignment, the second part of the reference comparison for Reference and Information Services, I looked at a digital reference service for an academic library. When asking the same question, the academic librarian tried to determine the nature of the query and if it was from a research or patient perspective. Because the reference interaction was via chat, a website was sent immediately that provided information for the subject requested.

Valuing the Information Professional: Public Librarians - LIBR 200 - Fall 2004
In this assignment for Ziming Liu’s LIBR 200 class in Fall 2004, my group was asked to examine the costs involved with providing services in a public library. We examined the financial issues public libraries face, where the funds that are allocated to the library go and how much the services of the information professional are worth. Part of my contribution to the project involved researching the salaries of informational professionals in the public library.


Rubin, R. (2000). Foundations of library and information science. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

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