ASSOCIATES (vol. 4, no. 2, November 1997) -

Table of Contents

                        *SPECIAL CLIENTS = SPECIAL LIBRARIES*
                                   Linda J. Owen
                                 Library Assistant


                                 Cynthia Rollerson
                                 Library Assistant
                                 Head of Processing
                                   Rivera Library
                        University of California at Riverside

Special libraries and collections exist to serve the specific needs of
their clients.  The libraries are as varied as those needs.  However, the
libraries do have common elements in the service they provide, their
focused collections, and their knowledgeable staff who are able to adapt
to the changing needs of their client base.  In this paper we will look
at a sampling of special libraries and their clients, examine the types
of services the libraries provide, and learn how they cope with some of
the challenges they face.
The phrase "special libraries" is a misnomer according to Michael Gorman,
Dean of Libraries at Fresno State University in California, because all
libraries are special and have commonalities in their functions. This
statement does not "dispute that some libraries have special concerns -
be they of their clientele, their collections, or their purpose" (Gorman
in Special Libraries, 1984, p. 10).  A standard definition of a special
library would be one that exists to serve the limited needs of a specific
entity - a business, industry, government agency, nonprofit group or
professional organization.  Also, included are subject-oriented units of
a public or academic library.
The collections of special libraries are smaller and more focused in
comparison to a public or academic library (Mount, 1983, p. 6).  Special
libraries also have the tools and people necessary to make their
information available to the client because it is not enough to just
collect and house the information it must be accessible.  "A special
library is, in short, a particularized information service which
correlates, interprets, and utilizes the material at hand for the
constant use and benefit of the organization it serves" (Lefebvre, 1996,
p. 286).
3      HISTORY
It could be argued that special libraries have existed since early times,
as the very first libraries often evolved around the specific needs of
one scholar.  However, the origin of the modern special library in the
United States is placed in the mid- to late nineteenth century.  The
earliest special libraries were the New York Chamber of Commerce Library
founded prior to the 1850's and the library of the Silk Association of
America which was established in 1872.
By 1889 there were a dozen special libraries and by the early 1900s there
were enough to coalesce into associations, the first being the Medical
Library Association in 1898 and the American Association of Law Libraries
in 1906 (Mount, 1983. p. 6).   These early special libraries were created
to serve businesses and organizations whose research requirements were
not being met by existing public and academic libraries.  These libraries
with their limited, yet focused collections could meet the needs of their
special clients.  Today there are more than 12,000 special libraries in
the United States (Lynch in Eberhart, 1995, p. 2).
The facilities that house special libraries vary.  The space may be in a
building as ornate as that of the Supreme Court of the United States or
as unimposing as an outbuilding at the San Diego Zoo.  The size and
focus of the collections and the number of staff members also vary
considerably.  All are influenced by the client base served by the
A brief review of a sampling of special libraries in the United States
will underline their differences and introduce their special clients.
The libraries are those of the National Air and Space Museum of the
Smithsonian Institution, the Supreme Court of the United States, the
American Association of Retired Persons, ACT (American College Testing),
the Transportation program at Northwestern University, the United States
Naval Command, Control and Ocean Surveillance Center, Research,
Development, Test and Evaluation Division (NRaD), the San Diego
Zoological Park, the Sacramento County Court (California),  and the
Washington State University Cooperative Extension Energy Program.
4:1    Washington, D.C.
Three libraries to be visited are located in Washington, D.C.  As the
seat of the federal government, Washington, D.C. is home to numerous
national, private and foreign agencies, all with their own special
libraries  Within the metropolitan area there are 965 libraries
(District of Columbia Library Association, 1996).  This number
includes all public library branches and all Embassy libraries.
The Research Information Center of the American Association of Retired
Persons (AARP) is housed in the association's headquarters building
located in an area known as the Judicial Triangle.  Law offices and
courts surround it.  Nearby is the memorial to fallen peace officers.
AARP is a member-supported nonprofit association.  The focus of the
Research and Information Center's collection is gerontology and its
related fields.  Pamphlets, journals, and legal documents make up a
large part of the collection because that is often where the most
current information can be located. The Research Information Center
supports the research needs of the association and information needs
of its members.  There are 22 staff members in the Research
Information Center.  Eight are librarians and five are library
technicians.  The remaining nine are administrative or database
specialists (D. Welsh, personal correspondence,August 6, 1997).
The Supreme Court of the United States also lies within the Judicial
Triangle.  The Court's library is as richly appointed as the building
itself, with hand carved oak paneling.  It occupies the third floor
of the Court with a separate reading room for the Justices on the
second floor.  A step outside of the library doors is a five-story
elliptical staircase and down the hall is the exercise room for the
staff and justices.
Meeting the research needs of the Justices of the Supreme Court is the
primary function of this library, though other legal professionals may
use the materials, which number 450,000 volumes (The Supreme Court of
the United States).  The staff is composed of eight paraprofessionals
and ten librarians (K. Tolbert, personal correspondence, August 8,
Across the wide grassy mall, which extends between the Capitol building
and the Washington Memorial, are the galleries and museums of the
Smithsonian Institution with their eighteen branch libraries, one of
which is that of the National Air and Space Museum.  The library shares
space with the museum's archival department.    The National Air and
Space Museum Branch Library houses more than 29,000 books, 11,000 bound
serials, and a microform collection.
The scope of the collection covers aeronautics and astronautics, the
history of aviation and space flight, astronomy, and earth and
planetary sciences (National Air & Space Museum Branch Guide, 1996).
A special collection section houses first editions about the history
of aviation and some works by early science fiction authors.  The
library supports the curators who develop the museum's exhibits and
a small number of outside researchers.  There are five permanent
positions in the library -- one librarian and four paraprofessionals.
The library staff is supplemented by the researchers and technicians
of the museum archives and by volunteers (P. Edwards, interview,
February 18, 1997).
4:2    Midwest
In the Midwest are found the Transportation Library at Northwestern
University and the library of the American College Testing, Inc (ACT).
Northwestern University is located in Evanston, Illinois, north of
Chicago on the banks of Lake Michigan. The Transportation Library is
a special collection within the University Library.  The collection
of 218,000 volumes, 119,000 microforms and 1,900 serials is the
largest transportation collection in the United States.  The
collection also contains law enforcement materials and environmental
impact statements.  There is a permanent staff of five librarians
and three paraprofessionals (Transportation Library at Northwestern
The ACT Library is located in the "bread basket" of America in Iowa
City, Iowa. Known primarily for its first testing instrument from
which it derives its name, American College Testing (ACT) is an
independent nonprofit organization "specializing in measurement and
research primarily in support of individuals making educational and
career transitions" (Working at ACT, 1996).
ACTS develops a broad range of programs and services in the areas of
college admissions and advising, career and education planning, student
aid, continuing education, and professional certification and licensure
(About ACT, 1997). The more than one thousand people working at the
Iowa City complex and at its ten field offices throughout the country
are the primary clients of the library.  Though the library shares space
with other ACT departments, the campus is truly people-oriented with a
balance of open parks and intimate plazas.  A staff of two
paraprofessionals and one librarian manages the collection of 25,000
books and 600 journals (ACT Library).
4:3    The West
The West Coast is the site of the last four special libraries.  Two are
in San Diego, California. The Ernst Schwarz Library of the San Diego
Zoological Park is located in an unimposing building on the zoo's
perimeter, where it shares space with the Food Services Department.
There are also peripheral sites serving specific needs.  The library
contains 25,000 titles including 600 periodicals.  It also houses
historical artifacts and photographs of early animal collecting
The primary clients of the library are the staff of the zoo, the San
Diego Wild Animal Park and the Center for the Reproduction of Endangered
Species (CRES).  The staff includes one librarian and two part time
paraprofessionals (Life in the zoo's book jungle, 1996. L. Coats,
interview, May 14, 1997).
Across San Diego Bay, Point Loma juts out into the Pacific Ocean.  It is
the site of the library of the U. S. Naval Command, Control and Ocean
Surveillance Center (NCCOSC) and its Research, Development, Test and
Evaluation Division (NRaD).   The library has its own building within
the secured Navy base.  The collection includes 50,000 monographs,
70,000 technical reports and manuals, 814 current periodical
subscriptions and numerous materials in other formats.  The staff of five
librarians, seven library technicians and one student aide provide
reference support to the engineers and researchers involved in
developing undersea research, survey, work, and reconnaissance systems
(About NRaD, 1997. K. Wright, interview, May 14, 1997).
In Northern California, the Sacramento County Law Library is located in
the state capital of Sacramento.  The staff of six librarians and eight
paraprofessionals serves the county court judges, local attorneys and
approved government staff and legal paraprofessionals.  The collection
contains 66,000 volumes of county national and state legal codes and
statutes augmented by CD-ROMS, videos and online resources (W. Owen,
personal correspondence, June 12, 1997).
Further north in the Washington State city of Olympia is found the
Washington State University Cooperative Extension Energy Program Library.
The library originated as a part of the Washington State Energy Office.
When the office was closed, the library was reincarnated under the
university's extension program.  The library shares the space in a
four-story office building housing a variety of state agencies. The focus
of the collection is "anything" related to energy.  Some specific
examples are renewable and alternative energy resources, residential,
commercial, and industrial energy efficiency and conservation, energy
efficient building technology and energy policy.  There are three staff
members -- one paraprofessional and two librarians (Energy Program
Library, 1997., M. Parsons, personal correspondence, August 7, 1997).
These libraries are typical of the many special libraries across the
United States.  We will visit them again as we discuss the services
special libraries provide, and some of the challenges they face.
During earlier times a scholar could be expected to know about all of
the important sources of information in his area of interest.  That began
to change during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and by the
mid-twentieth century, the growth of information became explosive.  In
the mid-1950s more than 60 million pages of technical literature were
being printed every year (Vagtborg, 1955).
Added to that are the new electronic sources of information
proliferating today, information that may not be as reliable in its
provenance as printed material.  Today, the researcher or scholar needs
assistance in navigating through the morass of available information.  To
provide this assistance, special libraries serve their clients in three
ways.  They preserve and maintain the archives of the sponsoring agency,
support current research needs, and anticipate and prepare for the
The archival aspect of special library service is fundamental.  Often
the library is the only place where a complete history of an organization
can be found.  This history may also be important to those outside the
organization; because of the narrow focus of a special library's
collection it may contain the only primary documentation or artifacts for
important discoveries or events.  Where the library is not the only
source of a particular piece of information, it may still be the only
place where a concentration of the information exists.
For instance, the Transportation Library holds 80% of the Environmental
Impact Statements prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act of
1969, and the AARP Research Information Center is the primary resource on
all aspects of aging.  Maintaining the historical integrity of the
collection requires knowledge of the sponsor's accomplishments and the
people involved as well as knowledge of the techniques necessary to
ensure the collection's preservation.  It also requires educating the
sponsor as to what materials should be sent to the library to be added to
the collection.
The immediate needs of the client drive the collection development policy
of a special library.    In today's competitive environment "the ability
to learn faster than the competition may be a company's only sustainable
competitive advantage" (DiMattia, 1992).  Very few of the sponsoring
agencies are static organisms.  Corporations search for new products
and ways to be more productive, museums develop exhibits or begin new
collections, legal libraries strive to remain current with changes in the
law, and so forth.
7:1    San Diego Zoo
The Ernst Schwartz Library of the San Diego Zoological Park provides an
example of how a library's collection focus is constantly changing to
reflect what is going on in the sponsoring agency, in this case the San
Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park and Center for Reproduction of Endangered
Species (CRES).  Early in the zoo's history, while the zoo trapped and
collected animals for its exhibits, the library collected books about
the expeditions and animal behavior in the wild.  Today the emphasis
is on breeding and conservation.
As the Zoo and Wild Animal Park continually develop new and more natural
animal habitats, while expanding and updating the old, the library
develops, updates and expands its collection.  For instance, in
preparation for the recent addition of the Giant Pandas Bai Yun
and Shi Shi, the library acquired all it could on the animal's chief
dietary ingredient -- bamboo.  Prior to that the focus was on the Polar
Bear Plunge which necessitated the acquisition of materials on the Arctic
environment.  Now the library is assisting in the effort to find ways to
stimulate the bears and decrease the time they spend pacing in their
enclosure.  As the library makes changes to the collection, it also keeps
its older works because of their historical importance and because many
early studies of animal behavior have never been repeated (L. Coats,
interview, May 14, 1997).
7:2    Client Base
The make-up of the client base also affects the service provided by a
special library.  AARP is a member-sponsored organization that supports
research on and lobbies for the interests of its constituency. Though
the primary clients are the staff of the association, the Research
Information Center fields numerous questions each day from members on
topics about aging, services for retired persons, health, housing and
more.  Since many of the questions from members are repeated, the staff
has developed comprehensive bibliographies and information sheets on
commonly requested topics (D. Welsh, interview, February 19, 1997).
7:4    Non-Book Materials
Collection development for the special library includes not just books
and periodicals.  It also includes electronic resources both in-house
and via the Internet.   The Sacramento County Law Library provides
access to QuickCourt, a self-contained video menu with "a talking head"
to walk the user through the information needed to complete legal forms
and print out a completed document (W. Owen, personal correspondence,
June, 12, 1997).
CD-ROM products have also been added to most collections.  They are
useful because of their compact size and lower cost compared to print
versions of the same information.  Law libraries have found CD-ROMs
particularly useful.  The standard collection of statutes takes
up huge amounts of shelf space while the same collection on CD-ROM can
be held in one hand.  The CD-ROM version is also often quicker to use
due to cross-referenced indexing (Churchill, 1996).
Many organizations are finding their library to be the ideal creator
of their World Wide Web window to the public.  The library staff is
familiar with the organization's history, understands how information
is organized and can provide a balanced view of the organization. The
library is a repository of the resources needed to develop the web page
and its content.  The web pages of the San Diego Zoo, AARP, the
Washington State Energy Library and NRaD were all entirely created or
greatly contributed to by library staff.  The libraries also develop
Internet guides for their clients.  The AARP Research Information
Center staff produced a publication entitled "The AARP Guide to
Internet Resources Related to Aging" (D. Welsh, personal correspondence,
August 7, 1997).
A successful special library continually plans for the future by
evaluating current services and needs, and setting goals for the future.
To plan for the future needs of the client, those who work in special
libraries must know what current programs entail and where they fit into
the industry as a whole.  It has been suggested that, more and more, the
special librarians (and by extension the library staff) are viewed as
members of the sponsoring organization's research team, and builders of
pathways to remote information resources (Information revolution, 1996,
p. 76).  The mission statement of the NRaD Library states that in order
for the library to successfully perform its mission it must "coordinate
the Library's objectives with the Center's technical program to insure
the Library is a full participant in the R&D process" (Wright, 1996).
Adapting to new technology drives many libraries' plans for the future.
The transient nature of some electronic resources requires special care
in their management, as universal access to the Internet's World Wide
Web may beguile the unwary user who is unaware of its lack of
organization and reliability.  Bill Gates, head of Microsoft, said in
a speech to the Special Library Association in 1997, "We don't want to
turn everyone into a searcher, because the expertise is in the library
to evaluate information and put up links" (DiMattia & St. Lifer, 1997,
p. 40-41).
The staffs of special libraries are kept busy building resource networks,
search engines, and web pages that make the Internet more useable to the
client.  The NRaD Library offers classes in bibliographic database
management.  Prior to the classes the databases which were being
developed by contractors and employees for local needs were being created
with no knowledge of the basics of how collections are organized, the
databases structured, or how data is entered (Wright, 1992).   The NRaD
Library goals for the future revolve around the challenges of adapting to
change.  The goals include improving access to resources; acquiring
better automated systems; changing the types of assistance offered to
users; preparing to serve new populations; reallocating resources; and
accelerating the focus from a hard copy collection to a distributed
virtual library (Wright, 1996).
8:1    Staff Education
Special libraries are able to meet the needs of their clients and plan
for the future because their staff is equal to the task.  Often the
librarians and paraprofessionals have degrees and/or experience in the
field of the client.  This background is important because "the
function of a special library is to secure, assemble, and present
information published or unpublished, in a specific field" (Lefebvre,
1996, p. 288).
The librarians at ACT have degrees in Education (Staff profiles: ACT
Library, 1996).  Linda Coats, the librarian at the San Diego Zoo, holds a
B. S. in Zoology, as do both paraprofessionals, one of whom also works
part time as a CRES researcher.   Coats notes that a reference search in
her library requires knowledge of not only the jargon of the field,
but knowledge of the way the field is organized, since there is often a
geographical component to it (L. Coats, interview, 1997).
Kathy Wright at the NRaD Library has a degree  in chemistry and six years
experience as a chemist.  All of the paraprofessionals at the NRaD
Library have two-year technician degrees.  Some had the degrees when they
were hired and the rest were encouraged to earn theirs (K. Wright,
interview, May 14, 1997).  Many of the paraprofessional staff in special
libraries have undergraduate degrees.  Additionally, law libraries may
require their paraprofessionals to also be paralegals.  In general, the
staff in special libraries are encouraged to participate in continuing
education and professional growth activities.
9:1    Access
As a rule, special libraries limit collection access to their specific
client pool.  This restricted access may be due to both the natures of
the facility and the collection.  A government or private research
facility may be totally inaccessible because its work and much of the
library's collection is classified.  This is true of the NRaD library
where visitors must stay with their escort and the collection is not
available through the organization's home page.
In other libraries circulation limits may be set to ensure the
collection is available to the primary client.  The WSU Energy Program
Library is open to the public, but loans directly to WSU staff and
state employees only.  All others are required to go through the
interlibrary loan process (M. Parsons, personal correspondence, August
7, 1997).  At the Supreme Court Library the restricted circulation
policy is for the self-preservation of the staff.  If a Justice
requires a book that has been lent out,  he who lent the book fetches
it back -- day or night (K. Tolbert, interview, February 19, 1997).
 In still others, physical access is discouraged due to the compact
space of the library.  The Sacramento County Law Library is located in
the basement of the county courthouse.  The space, according to
standards, is five times smaller than it should be. (W. Owen, personal
correspondence, June 12, 1997).
9:2    Budgets
When economic setbacks impact a library's sponsoring agency, the
library is included in cost-cutting campaigns.  Staff is reduced,
budgets slashed and services modified or curtailed.  Those libraries
hit hardest were often in agencies where there is no clear
understanding of why the library existed.  Where the library is seen
as simply a repository of books and artifacts or as a document
delivery service it is easy to downsize it right out of existence.
Many of our sample libraries reported changes in staffing and service
due to budget cuts.  Most have lost personnel either to layoffs or
through attrition.  Though sometimes the decrease is of only one or
two positions, when the total original staff numbers only five
people, the percentage of loss is high.  If the budget cuts are
throughout an organization, the library may find itself taking on
additional responsibilities.
At the National Air & Space Museum, government budget deficits led to
a temporary shutdown of a telephone information service for easy
reference questions.  This service which originated in the library,
had previously been switched to a separate department.  After the
budget cut it reverted to the library, thus increasing the library's
workload (P. Edwards, interview, February 18, 1997).
During the past three years the AARP Research Information Center's
budget has undergone serious cuts.  Equipment and supply purchases
have been deferred and position vacancies left unfilled.  Online
searching has also been curtailed and the facility is open to
outside users by appointment only.  As is true in many special
libraries, the staff at the AARP Research Information Center has
none the less been able to maintain quality of service to both
staff and members (D. Welsh, personal correspondence, August 8, 1997).
9:3    Volunteers
Some libraries depend on volunteers to guard against loss of service.
The AARP Research Information Center supplements their staff each
summer with youth from a city-sponsored training program.  The youth
perform a variety of tasks depending on their skills.  The tasks
include shelving, weeding, photocopying, labeling and filing (D.
Welsh, personal correspondence, August 8, 1997).
Sometimes the volunteers are professionals in their own right.  They
may be staff from nearby libraries or independent experts in
collection related fields.  The National Air & Space Museum Library
relies on volunteers to assist researchers.  These volunteers provide
a depth of knowledge in a narrow range of subjects.  Many have been
there for more than 20 years.  Most are ex-military or civilian
pilots, or aerospace industry workers.  They know the collection
intimately and are valued for their contribution to the library (P.
Edwards, interview, February 18, 1997).
The San Diego Zoo, which has had zero budget increases for the last
ten years, relies on volunteers who do basic library service,
including cataloging and adding journals to the online database, and
special projects like maintaining the zoo's stud books (L. Coats,
interview, May 14, 1997).  Maintaining quality service to the client
is the primary goal at all times.
In 1917, Matthew Brush, president of the Boston Elevated Railway Company,
exhorted the staff of special libraries to be "intimately acquainted"
with the work of their client and be able to answer "any old thing"
asked of them (Brush, 1996, p. 259).  Today the needs of the client are
still the focus of special libraries.  The client may be a zookeeper,
engineer or statistician.  Regardless, each has specific research needs
that cannot be met by the conventional public or academic library.
In 1997, Bill Gates noted, "Libraries are an absolutely critical
resource and will play a more central role than they ever have before"
(DiMattia & St. Lifer, 1997, p. 40).  Maintaining the flow of
information is both easier and more complicated than ever.  It is easier
because there is more information in a greater variety of formats.  That
is also why it is more complicated.  Special libraries use all
resources available to provide their clients with needed information in
a useable form.  They expand their collections in all formats, build
networks and educate their client users.  They anticipate change and
plan for the future.  Special libraries will continue to exist and
flourish as long as clients have specific information needs that can only
be met by educated, experienced information professionals prepared to
answer "any old thing."
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      [Editors' Note: This paper was delivered at the 9th National
      Library Technicians Conference held in Canberra Australia,
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