PROVENANCE: Volume 1, Number 1 - Oct. 31, 1995

Survey Results: "Does the Special Library Community Need Another Journal?"

- by Sandy Powell

The following article was originally written in April 1995 and is published for the first time in The Provenance.


  1. Introduction
  2. Survey
  3. Response
  4. Library Specialties
  5. Affiliations and Associations
  6. Sources of Information
  7. Interest in Special Library Publications
  8. Interest in Contributing to a Special Journal
  10. Conclusions
    In Canada, journals for librarians working in special libraries are limited to those published by the Special Libraries Association, an American association with chapters in Canada. These publications appear to be more appropriate for individuals with a Masters degree in Library Science, rather than the many individuals, including volunteers, who work in special libraries, but do not have the benefit of an advanced degree in library studies.

    Given this apparent gap between the needs of the professionals in special libraries in British Columbia and the publications available, this survey was done to determine the possible interest in a new special library publication, and what areas such a publication might address.

    A survey was mailed to 115 (one hundred and fifteen) special libraries. The survey focused on the following key areas:
    • type of library specialty
    • affiliations and associations
    • sources of information
    • interest in a special library publication
    • interest in contributing to such a publication
    • comments
    Responses to the 115 questionnaires mailed out were received from 65 (sixty-five) libraries, a response rate of 56.5%.

    Five envelopes were returned unopened (owing to an incorrect address or because the libraries had moved).

    A response rate of 56.5% (or 59.1% if the 5 unopened are excluded) is very high and the results of the survey are likely to be a good indication of views of the special library community in British Columbia.

    The respondents work in a wide variety of special libraries:
    -Special interest (17)       -Legal (4)
    -Business (9)                -Art / Museums (4)
    -Health sciences (9)         -Communications / Media (2)
    -Education / Technical (7)   -Science (2)
    -Government (6)              -Accounting 1)
    -Engineering/mining (4)

    In response to a question about what made their library special, the respondents generally referred to either their clients (e.g. doctors, lawyers, etc.) or their subject matter (e.g. engineering, accounting, etc.).

    In addition, respondents commented on the extensive nature of the information on a narrowly based subject and the more timely and intense nature of the research they are required to support.

    Of the sixty-five respondents:
    • twenty-two belonged to no library association,
    • seven belong to the Special Libraries Association (SLA) only,
    • and the remaining thirty-six belong to two or more associations.

    Of this latter group, the B.C. special librarian usually belongs to at least one general library association and least one library association dealing with their specialty. It would appear that there is a library association dealing with every specialty.... The following is a list of key associations identified:

    • 7 - Vancouver on-line Users Group (VOLUG)
    • 8 - Hospital Libraries Association of B.C. (HLABC)
    • 6 - Vancouver Association of Law Libraries (VALL)
    • 4 - Canadian Health Libraries Association (CHLA)
    • 4 - Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL)
    • 2 - Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS)
    • 2 - International Association of Aquatic and Marine Science Libraries & Information Centres (IAAM)
    • 2 - B. C. Library Association (BCLA)
    • 1 - American Zoo and Aquarium Association Librarians Special Interest Group
    • 1 - American Association of Law Libraries (AALL)
    • 1 - Accounting Firm Librarians
    • 1 - Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA)
    • 1 - Central Vancouver Librarians Group (CVLG)
    • 1 - Council of Horticulture and Botanical Libraries
    • 1 - Council for Exception Children
    • 1 - Native Library Interest Group
    • 1 - Association of Jewish Synagogues
    • 1 - University of British Columbia
    • 1 - American Theological Library Association
    • 1 - Eloquent Systems (Special Library Software Users Group)
    • 1 - Canadian Association of Music Libraries (CAML)
    • 1 - International Association of Music Information Centres
    • 1 - Infire (USA & Canadian)
    • 1 - Council of Federal Librarians
    • 1 - Library Association (United Kingdom)
    • 1 - In-Magic local (software) support group
    Many of the librarians cited the SLA publications, Library Journal, CLA Feliciter, BCLA Reporter and Chapter 8. Others mentioned were Internet World, Information Highways, and Quill and Quire. Many received newsletters from the organizations they belonged to. Other sources of information were vendor announcements, new product literature and good old-fashioned interpersonal communications.

    Many searched on-line databases for current information. It appears that a growing number of special librarians receive significant amounts of information via their computers. This method of sharing information is faster than waiting for a printed publication, but it may be less than accurate compared with the researched articles of a journal or newsletter. (Besides, short, concise and informative articles make great bedroom reading--a computer, being slightly less portable, is not so accommodating.)

    Thirty-three (33) of the respondents think there is a need for such a periodical (however, it must be noted that some of the librarians qualified their answer by stating that there are SLA publications).

    Twenty-eight (28)of the respondents think there is no need for a periodical devoted to special libraries. (many of these librarians stated that the SLA publications were enough).

    One respondent said "perhaps" (the criteria for a positive response were if the publication were Canadian and "local").

    While not conclusive, it does appear that existing "special library" publications have some difficulty in meeting the needs of their client base in British Columbia.

    The nature of special libraries may make it difficult for a publication to focus on the very broad requirements of libraries that have few clients and subject matter in common.

    Of the respondents who said "yes" to the need for a periodical devoted to special libraries, eighteen would be willing to contribute articles to such a publication. One librarian mentioned having made contributions in the past and would do so again.

    The benefit of contributions from librarians working in special libraries is supported by the large number of respondents who indicated that information about new developments in their library specialty came from contacts with others, i.e. word of mouth.

    Special librarians in British Columbia have a great deal of knowledge and expertise to share. Given the number of individuals willing to contribute to a periodical dealing exclusively with special libraries, there should be enough material to make a significant contribution to a monthly publication, and make it interesting for all who read it.

    The potential success of any new special library publication would be enhanced if the publisher could reach the untapped wealth of information in the special library community.


    Some of the most insightful information from the survey may come from some of the unsolicited comments listed below:

    On what makes their library "special"
    • Special librarians are usually paid less and more over-worked than other types.
    • I find that 99% of what I see in existing publications doesn't really apply to my situation, I want practical, cutting edge info.
    • Making up rules and standards 'on the fly'. Not hierarchical like large libraries in public or academic [settings].
    On what articles provide useful information:
    • Occasionally, articles on one-person libraries, also coverage of current subject-specific sources of information.
    On whether or not they would subscribe:
    • But who would have time to read it??


    A broad definition of a special library is: a small library, where the focus is on a very narrow subject matter covered in more considerable depth than a traditional library, with demanding clients who want a fast response; the funding often coming from the private or corporate sector.

    Most special librarians belong to a library association which focuses on their specialty and a benefit of that membership is a publication or newsletter that focuses on their specialty. The information in these publications is usually related to the specialty rather than the libraries themselves.

    Most of these libraries are relatively small and specialized, with time in short supply. More and more of the librarians are relying on information obtained via their computers.

    It would seem that a new publication should focus on issues such as how and where to find information on the computer network, special library management (especially for the one person, solo-librarian), new technology, problem solving and perhaps the "lighter side" of special librarianship.

    Sandy Powell, April 1995.

| Provenance Home Page | Net Sites Sampler | Top Of Current Page |

Internet Gateway Corporation - Corporate Sponsor
Copyright © 1995 + 1996 NetPac Communications Ltd.