Friday, August 23, 2013

Comp B: Environments

Describe and compare the organizational settings in which library and information professionals practice.


When I was ten years old, my mother went back to nursing school to get her degree. To pay for it, she worked evenings in a hospital medical library. Sometimes I would have to go there after school until she was done with work. It was funny to me that there was a library in a hospital, and it didn’t have any books that I wanted to read! My mother explained that it was just for people who worked there, so they didn’t need any “fun” books. I would help my mother by retrieving journals and making copies of journal articles requested by the doctors and nurses. It was fascinating to me, as a curious child, to see what kinds of information the medical staff needed. It didn’t make me want to pursue a medical degree, but it did make me more interested in libraries. At a young age, I got to experience a special library setting first-hand, a type of library many people probably have no idea even exits.

Special libraries are just one of many places a librarian or information specialist might work. Of course, there are public libraries and school libraries, academic libraries, and many other non-traditional settings. Nearly all libraries have a similar predominant mission: “to provide information to patrons,” according to Kane (as cited in Haycock, 2008, p. 43). She adds that the differences tend to lie in the types of information provided and the types of patrons seeking that information.

  •    Public

The public library is open to the public within a community. This type of library has the widest range of patrons of all. It is generally open to anyone in the community where it is located, with very few restrictions on who can check out materials. The collections include fiction, non-fiction, and children’s materials. There is usually a variety of media available: DVDs, CDs, magazines, newspapers, computers for Internet use, and more. These libraries also tend to have free space available for community programs, exhibits, and special events. Librarians could work in any number of areas, depending on the size of the library, including circulation, reference, children’s, young adult, and more.

  •  Academic

The academic library is affiliated with a college or university. It generally serves only the students, faculty, and staff of the institution where it is located, although sometimes community members can access the library for a small fee. The focus here is more on research and study, so the materials will include scholarly journals, access to databases, and specialized texts. Many librarians that work at academic libraries have special knowledge of a particular subject, and can help students and faculty find resources for that topic.

  •  School

The school library is housed within a K-12 educational institution. The available materials are focused on the age groups of the students at the school, and there are materials for the teachers as well. The information in a school library is a mix of fiction and non-fiction materials for the students to use for entertainment or classwork. The school library often houses the audio-visual technology and computers also. In many places, the librarians in school libraries must not only be LIS professionals, but also have teaching credentials.

  •  Special

A special library is any library devoted to specialized subject matter. The demographics of the clientele really depend on the organization supporting the library. Law libraries, medical libraries, and corporate libraries are usually associated with an institution (like a law firm, hospital, or large corporation). These are for employees of the institution. There are some special libraries - like the American Kennel Club Library, specializing in materials related to purebred dogs - that are open to anyone, but are for research only. In another example, the Sonoma County Library has a wine library in its Healdsburg branch. This is open to the public, and materials are available for anyone with a regular library card to check out.

The nature of the information is highly dependent on the subject matter the library specializes in and usually very narrowly focused. At the wine library, besides the books, there are large soil maps, archives of corks and labels, and more. In the small medical library I mentioned in the introduction, the collections seemed to consist mainly of a very large number and variety of medical journals. Librarians tend to be subject matter specialists in these libraries, and may hold additional degrees related to the topic.

  •  Other  

LIS professionals could work in museums, digital libraries, or a variety of jobs in non-traditional settings. My professor for LIBR 244, for instance, owns her own research firm, consulting for various companies as they need information. An acquaintance who has an LIS degree runs the information center for a large bank, and another collects data for the federal government. LIS professionals have skills that can translate to many different settings.


For my first piece of evidence, I submit an essay from LIBR 204 about the official Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero (called Drewieske Good to Great). The paper is in the context of Ferriero as an excellent leader, but through his career choices I have learned about library leadership positions in many settings. He worked his way up from shelving books as an undergraduate to heading the Duke University library as vice-provost for library affairs. From there, he went on to direct the New York Public Library (NYPL) system. President Obama then chose Ferriero to head the National Archives and Records Administration. Ferriero’s most notable accomplishments in each setting are described in detail. For example, at Duke he acquired the American Newspaper Repository, and while at the NYPL he oversaw a huge renovation project, as well as the digitization of the collection.

In this essay, I show that I understand the different roles and responsibilities Ferriero has had at academic libraries, public libraries, and the National Archives. I argue that his experience and expertise in all these areas, and knowing the differences and similarities among the various environments, are part of what makes him a great leader. Throughout this essay, I show the diversity of environments in which an LIS professional can succeed. This paper was especially instructive to me on the topic of archive management, as I have not taken any official classes about archives.

The second piece of evidence is an instruction observation I performed in LIBR 287, called Drewieske Instruction Observation. I attended an information literacy class for college freshman at the local university, which was taught by an academic librarian (I have removed all identifying details). The librarian is an instruction coordinator, specializing in teaching these information literacy classes, as well as being an education and philosophy subject specialist. She tailors her presentation to fit each group of patrons. For example, this class has already chosen research paper topics, so they do not need instruction on that aspect. Many of the incoming students she teaches are very familiar with accessing general information online, so she focuses on showing them how to discern the good information and sources from the more questionable information. She introduces the students to the importance of looking for peer-reviewed articles, scholarly journals, and citations. As college freshmen, this may be the first time many of them have had to use any kind of scholarly literature in their writings.   

In the observation paper, I demonstrate familiarity with the student population and their needs in an academic library. The librarians in an academic library are an integral part of the university experience, showing students not just where to find information but how to properly analyze it themselves. I understand the uniqueness of the academic library setting, in that for many students, it is the core of their university experience.  

My final artifact is a discussion post for 200 about the history of the Rohnert Park-Cotati Public Library where I volunteer, called Drewieske Library History Discussion. In it, I describe the features, collections, clientele, and staff of my local public library. I have worked two hours a week for three years at the library, assisting the circulation, children’s, and reference librarians, as well as the branch manager, on special projects. I have done everything from daily tasks like shelving or preparing newspapers, to preparing materials for the monthly Library Advisory Board meetings, to special projects like cleaning and re-stickering all of the children’s picture books.

The Healdsburg Wine Library (mentioned above in the special library section) is also part of the public library system where I volunteer, so in July I took a tour with the head librarian. This was not for a class, just a special event offered through the Special Library Association. I wanted to find out more about this unusual library – a special library combined with a public library. The librarian showed us the collection and described his patrons, which consist mainly of owners and employees of local wineries. They appreciate that he can get some of the more uncommon journals and wine guides, as well as keeping a local history archive of the industry. There is excellent community support for this special library; the locals see it as a great resource. The librarian has very little space for his large collection, and is constantly working to keep his budget intact. The budget issues he faces are a little unusual – the Wine Library budget is just a line item on the regular Healdsburg Public Library budget, but he has free reign to spend the money as he sees fit. Because of budget cuts, his staff has been severely cut back and he must do everything himself, as well as regular hours at the Healdsburg Public Library reference desk.  

Through my volunteer work, tour, and this discussion post, I demonstrate that I understand the clientele and their information needs at a public library. The Wine Library tour was especially interesting to hear a first-hand account of not only the positive experience of working in a special library, but also the challenges. The large, well-equipped Rohnert Park-Cotati Public Library where I volunteer certainly offers a stark contrast to the overcrowded, understaffed Healdsburg Wine Library, even though they are both part of the Sonoma County Library System.


LIS professionals work in many types of environments, each with different clientele and information needs. Understanding these differences is key to serving the needs of the patrons well. My experience in a public library, as well as evidence proving my knowledge of other types of libraries, shows I understand the various settings and the over-arching mission to provide information to patrons.


Kane, L. (2008). Careers and environments. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 42-54). Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.

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