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This presentation aims to highlight the evolving role of library and information professionals working in specialist libraries and the way in which the current political, economic and digital climate impacts upon the role. Using an anonomised case study of a specific specialist library, it highlights emerging opportunities in a changing landscape of information provision.
Characteristics of a special library: Has a unique collection of resources on specific subject Offers valued-added services to a clearly defined user group Serves the mission of the parent organisation, which defines the scope and extent of the service Employs specialist staff who usually have expertise in the subject area of the library
The ‘L’ word is often replaced by Information Professional – a wider concept that includes librarians, knowledge managers, chief information officers, web developers, information consultants and allied professions. As many jobs across government are standardised, you may find yourself in a job family that doesn’t clearly state what you do. This can lead to challenges in communicating the specialist skills of your role to colleagues. The mission of the specialist library focusses on supporting the corporate plan of its parent organisation – as the needs of the organisation change and adapt, so will the library that serves it.
Current challenges Geographical spread :: As a virtual library service, we serve all colleagues in English jurisdiction from Cornwall to Norfolk to Yorkshire. With no physical presence to promote, everything we do is online and promoted through online communication channels. We rely on local networks of knowledge about our services – Information Champions who help us to spread messages and keep us in contact with local needs. Diverse user base :: We provide a service for a workforce of 12k, including Personal Assistants, Research Scientists, Legal Officers, Civil Engineers, Facilities Assistants, Environment Officers, Laboratory Officers – all with very specific subject needs and different levels of information literacy skills. Some are not at all interested in technology or the systems we use – just want the information. Others have high level of interest in technology, are subject experts with demanding research needs. We’re also competing with external consultants who have mixed access to research and information but do offer a quick turnaround and specialist subject knowledge. Communication Channels :: With Government Digital Services and the agenda to move everything to GOV.UK, publishing to an intranet has been a challenge. Communication channels are closely monitored and regulated with specific channels targeting Managers and Team Leaders, other channels targeting regional staff or head office staff, some subject specific (or role specific) communication channels – but mass email is discouraged, meaning we need to be creative in how we reach our customers. We use Athens pannels to reach Athens users, an internal wiki, bitesize training and development sessions via online conferencing, Yammer, communities of practice and ‘lunch and learn’ style marketplaces, where we encourage customers to come and meet us. Budget :: We recently had our budget reduced by £25m, resulting in a loss of online resources and staff reduction. Space :: We have no defined physical library space. We do regularly invade other spaces in order to promote our team and skills, including ‘Knowledge Atrium’, ‘training rooms’ and regional meeting spaces where travel is permitted.
With a reduced budget and a drive from government to reduce the amount of duplication in services across government organisations, we work closely with other government departments to collaborate to purchase informaion resources. Tender processes dictate that should another government department already have a contract for a product that is 70% fit, then we should join that contract, rather than negotiate our own terms with another supplier.
From traditional library service – to knowledge management – to institutional repository. This follows a national pattern of severe budget cuts and changes in service delivery. See : https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/user/merinne Government Spending Review in 2010 had a direct impact on our organisation and our library and information service provision, both in terms of staff resources and financial resources. Focus in now on providing an electronic resource service with a high priority on our own organisations research – preserving the corporate memory, making data, information, knowledge and records findable. No longer specialists, but generalists, with a need to continually adapt, learn new skills to ensure we are up to date and leading the organisation in terms of data and information management.
What makes special libraries special v2
What makes special libraries
Photo credit. Flickr user: Dr. Keats
What makes special li
What is a special library?
• Longleat House Library &
• BBC Information & Archives
• Met Office Library & Archive
• Bristol Law Society Library
• Environment Agency
• Burges Salmon Knowledge &
• GCHQ Information &
At it’s most simplest, a special library is
defined as a library that is not academic,
public, school or national library.
It is a library that is usually found in the
workplace, serving a specialist
organisation that might include business,
industry or government, law libraries or
health-related information centres.
It’s often described as a peculiar breed of
libraries, where the most important
customer is the management of the
The special library facilitates the work of
the parent organisation, manages its
information and knowledge resources
and seeks to increase the competencies
of the staff.
This presentation focuses on the work of
What do special librarians
• Evidence Support Officer
• Rapid Evidence Reviews
• Knowledge Manager / Officer
• Records Manager
• Data & Information Process
• Technical Specialists
• Freedom of Information
• Metadata lead
• Research Support
If you want to work in government
library and information roles, prepare
to be flexible!
The sector has gone through huge
changes over the past few years with
spending reviews and changes in the
delivery of information having huge
impacts on the roles of library and
information professionals and the
shape of the service they work in.
Many government librarians started
off in traditional style libraries, but are
increasingly working in other
professional areas, including records
management, managing Government
Digital Services (GOV.UK), knowledge
management, FOI, legislation
information managers, information
security or evidence based roles in
research including rapid evidence
“I don’t recruit a records manager, or
legislation experts, or web content
managers, I recruit information
professionals. Understand that I am looking
for people who are flexible, and agile, and
prepared to use the skills common to all
Karen McFarlane, Head of Profession,
GCHQ, Cilip Update, October 2011.
• Efficiency Save staff time searching for information
by making sure it is organised and relevant
• Cost savings Save money by reducing un-necessary
storage and management costs, reducing spend on
external sources of information and contractors
• Integrity & reliability Understanding what
information we have. Preserving the corporate
• Legal compliance Help us avoid organisational
fines or reputational damage by ensuring that we
comply with legislation, including FOI
• Geographical spread
• Diverse user base
• Levels of information need
• Broad range of information literacy
• Communication channels
• Fast paced information environment
8 regional libraries
1 Head Office
1 centralised service.
online delivery of
research library +
Combined service of
management. Loss of
1.6 FTE staff
Part of much wider
team of data and
Case study adapted from the time line of a government library between 1994-
Week in the life...
“What’s the normal levels of polonium 2-
10 in the environment?”
“How successful has the implementation
of plastic bag tax been elsewhere,
particularly in EU?”
Writing guidance on
formatting citations for a
Demonstrate how to edit an
entry on internal wiki
Presenting training on
finding grey literature
“I want a free copy of a construction
“Looking for the original data that was
used to collate the research findings in x
report. Can we release it?”
“I need to find research on female snail
Uploading documents to
Propose a change to the Metadata
Scheme. Seek authorisation from
Metadata Working Group
• Cilip Government Information Group. Working in
• Network of Government Library and Information
• Government Knowledge and Information
• Special Libraries Association. http://www.sla.org/