Library science

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Library science is the study of issues related to libraries and the information fields. This includes academic studies regarding how library resources are used and how people interact with library systems. These studies tend to be specific to certain libraries at certain times. The organization of knowledge for efficient retrieval of relevant information is also a major research goal of library science. Basic topics in this field include the acquisition, cataloging, classification, and preservation of library materials. In a more present-day view, a major outgrowth of library science is information architecture.

There is no generally agreed distinction between library science, library and information science, and librarianship. To a certain extent they can be considered equivalent terms, perhaps adopted to increase the "science" aspect, or improve the popular image of librarians.

The term library and information science (LIS) is sometimes used; most librarians consider it as only a terminological variation, intended to emphasize the scientific and technical foundations of the subject, and its relationship with information science. LIS should not be confused with information theory, the mathematical study of the concept of information, or information science, a field related to computer science and cognitive science.

One operational view, implied by some of the textbooks, is that "librarianship" means the professional aspects of work as a librarian, such as certification, in-service training, and issues of gender equality.


Library and information science, it may be argued, began with the first effort to organize a collection of information and provide access to that information.

Early history

For more information, see: Great libraries of the ancient world.

At Ugarit in Syria excavations have revealed a palace library, temple library, and two private libraries which date back to around 1200 BCE, containing diplomatic texts as well as poetry and other literary forms. In the 7th century, King Ashurbanipal of Assyria assembled what is considered "the first systematically collected library" at Nineveh; previous collections functioned more as passive archives. The legendary Library of Alexandria is perhaps the best known example of an early library, flourishing in the 3rd century BCE and possibly inspired by Demetrius Phalereus.

Ancient information retrieval

One of the curators of the imperial library in the Han Dynasty is believed to have been the first to establish a library classification system and the first book notation system. At this time the library catalog was written on scrolls of fine silk and stored in silk bags.

Jefferson's method

Thomas Jefferson, whose library at Monticello consisted of thousands of books, devised a classification system inspired by the Baconian method which grouped books more or less by subject rather than alphabetically, as it was previously done.

20th century

The term "library science" first appeared in the early 1930's, in the title of S. R. Ranganathan's The Five Laws of Library Science, published in 1931, and in the title of Lee Pierce Butler's 1933 book, An introduction to library science (University of Chicago Press). Butler's new approach advocated research using quantitative methods and ideas in the social sciences with the aim of using librarianship to address society's information needs. This research agenda went against the more procedure-based approach of "library economy," which was mostly confined to practical problems in the administration of libraries. While Ranganathan's approach was philosophical it was tied more to the day-to-day business of running a library.

In more recent years, with the growth of digital technology, the field has been greatly influenced by information science concepts. Although a basic understanding is critical to both library research and practical work, the area of information science has remained largely distinct both in training and in research interests.

Education in librarianship

Most professional library jobs require a professional post-baccalaureate degree in library science, or one of its equivalent terms, library and information science as a basic credential. In the United States, the certification usually comes from a Master's degree granted by an ALA (American Library Association) -accredited graduate school, so even non-scholarly librarians have an originally academic background. In the United Kingdom, however, there have been moves to broaden the entry requirements to professional library posts, such that qualifications in, or experience of, a number of other disciplines have become more acceptable.

For the main discussion of this topic, see Education in librarianship.


Subdisciplines of library and information science include the study of:

  • Human Information Behaviors (Information seeking, search strategies, and use)
  • Knowledge Organization (which includes Bibliography, Cataloging, Classification, Indexing & Abstracting, Metadata, Semantic & Syntactic Analysis (Controlled Vocabularies, etc.))
  • Digital libraries
  • Collection development
  • Public references and other services
  • Scholarly communication (includes Bibliometrics, Informetrics, Scientometrics, Webmetrics)

Types of Library Science Professionals

Librarians in different types of libraries


The study of librarianship for public libraries covers issues such as cataloging, collection development for a diverse community, information literacy, community standards, public services-focused librarianship, serving a diverse community of adults, children, and teens, Intellectual freedom, Censorship and legal and budgeting issues.


The study of school librarianship covers library services for children in schools up until (but not including) university. In some regions, the local government may have stricter standards for the education and certification of school librarians (who are often considered a special case of teacher), than for other librarians, and the educational program will include those local standards. School librarianship may also include issues of intellectual freedom; pedagogy; and how to build a cooperative curriculum with the teaching staff.


The study of academic librarianship covers library services for colleges and universities. Issues of special importance to the field may include copyright; technology, digital libraries, and digital repositories; academic freedom; open access to scholarly works; as well as specialized knowledge of subject areas important to the institution and the relevant reference works.

Some academic librarians are considered faculty, and hold similar academic ranks as professors, while others are not. In either case, the minimal qualification is a Master's degree in Library Studies or Library Science, and, in some cases, a Master's degree in another field.


The study of archives covers the training of archivists, librarians specially trained to maintain and build archives of records intended for historical preservation. Special issues include physical preservation of materials and mass deacidification; specialist catalogs; solo work; access; and appraisal. Many archivists are also trained historians specializing in the period covered by the archive.


Special librarians include almost any other form of librarianship, including those who serve in medical libraries (and hospitals or medical schools), corporations, news agency libraries, or other special collections. The issues at these libraries will be specific to the industries they inhabit, but may include solo work; corporate financing; specialized collection development; and extensive self-promotion to potential patrons.


Art librarians work primarily in academia, museums, or in large public libraries. In colleges or universities, art librarians support fine art, art history, architecture, design, and related programs. In museums, art librarians serve the needs of curators. Art librarians usually have a Master's degree in Library and Information Science along with a degree in art history or some other art background. Art librarians are often charged with maintaining sizable image collections alongside their books.

Current issues in LIS