"The Special Collection in Librarianship": Researching the History of Library Science Libraries

By Searing, Susan E. | Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview
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"The Special Collection in Librarianship": Researching the History of Library Science Libraries

Searing, Susan E., Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Once all ALA-accredited schools had special libraries. Only a few exist today. This preliminary study traces the rise and fall of the library science library and presents data on collections, staffing, budgets, services, and organizational structures. Based on primary sources, including school catalogs, surveys, and directories, as well as an analysis of the scant literature on the topic, a set of questions are developed for further research.

Keywords: Library science libraries, academic branch libraries, historical research


For sixty-six years, starting in 1943, a separate, full-service Library & Information Science Library existed within the Main Library building at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Before that time, a study room in the library school's quarters housed an ever-growing collection of professional literature as well as a "demonstration collection" for student use (Stenstrom, 1992). By 2009 the LIS Library held some 30,000 volumes, including a sizeable reference section and course reserves. Cataloging manuals, exemplary subject thesauri, and library-related fiction were shelved in designated areas. Nearly twenty drawers of vertical files contained newsletters, pamphlets, brochures, preprints, bulletins from other schools, and more. The LIS Library subscribed to hundreds of current journals and newsletters in print and housed small collections of other formats, including microforms, CD-ROMs, audiocassettes, DVDs, and blueprints. The library also licensed a rapidly growing collection of electronic journals, e-books, and reference databases. A full-time librarian and two full-time staff members kept it running, along with student hourly employees and a quarter-time graduate assistant. In short, it was a substantial and well supported collection, oriented toward current teaching and practice and supplemented by the deeper historical collection in the nearby central book stacks.

A photograph from the 1940s shows a large, sunlit room rimmed with shelves full of bound volumes. Students crowd around tables and desks, reading, writing, and fingering card files (University of Illinois Library School, 1944). Another photo from the 1950s shows a student browsing the new books display, while other students relax in easy chairs and peruse magazines ("A corner in the Library School Library," 1950-51). Despite the presence of computers and copiers, the LIS Library in the first years of the 2 1 st century was not much different either in purpose or appearance than it had been fifty years earlier. However, the crowds of students had vanished. Many hours of the day and evening, the study tables and the comfortable armchairs sat empty. In a very real sense, the library was a victim of its own success. Its staff had aggressively acquired electronic resources and developed web-based services for LEEP, the distance education option that began in 1996. Unsurprisingly, even local users preferred to search and find information online, from the comfort of their home or office, so on-site library usage dwindled. When the University Library launched its New Service Models Program in late 2007 - an initiative that would eventually close or merge several departmental libraries - the LIS Library was among the first service points to be reviewed (University Library, 2012).

In May 2009, the LIS Library closed its doors forever. It was replaced by a service configuration that includes a virtual library, librarians embedded part-time at the GSLIS building, and an increased reliance on general reference and centralized collection services. The print collection was distributed among the central book stacks, other departmental libraries, and the library's storage facility. The materials budget was not cut - indeed, supplemental funding was allocated during the transition - and newly purchased books continue to be placed in the most relevant library location. Staff levels were reduced, but the library personnel dedicated to LIS still includes a full-time faculty member and an almost-full-time staff member, both of whom hold MLIS degrees.

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"The Special Collection in Librarianship": Researching the History of Library Science Libraries


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