6.8 The Library as Contributor

For all that it offers in the information gathering process, the most essential resource for information from all types of contributors is the library. Libraries can be affiliated with a particular contributor type or they can be totally independent entities that contain information from different kinds of contributors.

Libraries are storehouses of recorded knowledge in print, digital, and other formats. But with all of the digitally stored and accessible information available from any computer with access to the Internet, it may not be easy to see why you would need to use the resources of a library at all.

The main reason why libraries continue to be major contributors to the communicator’s information process is that library material has been organized, indexed, and coherently arranged for ease of use. Despite the best attempts of the creators of some of the best digital services, most still lack even the more rudimentary organization schemes and retrieval systems that have been in use in libraries for centuries.

Quality control is an even worse problem for some digital services. Libraries continue to be among the few information repositories that clearly organize their collections and allow for evaluation of the relative quality and usefulness of almost everything retrieved.

Libraries are set up to preserve, collect, and make accessible recorded intellectual products. Most libraries have

  • a catalog that lists the contents of their collections

  • both book collections and periodical / magazine collections

  • the tools (indexes, abstracts, bibliographies) to help searchers find what they need in the collections

  • access to the Internet

  • access to electronic databases of information

  • the most important resource of all – the librarian or archivist – the person who knows the most about the collection and about how best to use it

It is especially important when you are working under a deadline and need accurate, appropriate, and verifiable information to understand how libraries differ from one another and how those differences affect the information strategy. Especially for freelance communicators and for those working in organizations without an in-house library, it is useful to know about the kinds of libraries that may be available in the community. There are five types of libraries that are important for communicators: public libraries, academic libraries, special libraries, archives, and media-organization libraries.