A research library is a
A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are accessible for use and not just for display purposes. A library provides physical (hard copies) or digital access (soft copies) materials, and may be a physical location or a vir ...
which contains an in-depth collection of material on one or several subjects.
[(Young, 1983; p. 188)]
A research library will generally include an in-depth selection of materials on a particular topic or set of topics and contain
In the study of history as an academic discipline, a primary source (also called an original source) is an Artifact (archaeology), artifact, document, diary, manuscript, autobiography, recording, or any other source of information that was cre ...
s as well as
s. Research libraries are established to meet research needs and as such are stocked with authentic materials with quality content. Research libraries are typically attached to academic or research institutions that specialize in that topic and serve members of that institution.
Large university libraries are considered research libraries, and often contain many specialized branch research libraries. The libraries provide research materials for students and staff of these organizations to use and can also publish and carry literature produced by these institutions and make them available to others. Research libraries could also be accessible to members of the public who wish to gain in-depth knowledge on that particular topic.
Research libraries face a unique challenge of making research materials accessible and available to patrons. They also need to ensure there are no copyright-related issues with their materials, ensure that as many materials as possible are open access and ensure all their materials are reliably sourced.
Some specialized research libraries could include those affiliated to governmental organizations which may hold documents of historical, legal or political import, or music libraries which will have books and journals on music, as well as films and recordings for musicians to access.
Research libraries will generally have materials which are typically non-fiction and scholarly. These traditionally included books, periodicals, journals, newspapers, manuscripts and cassette tapes. With the advent of technology, this has evolved to include CDs, DVDs, Ebooks, audiobooks and online research catalogues.
Research library collections are focused on one or more subjects or fields of study and the material available on those topics are typically more extensive and in-depth than that found in public lending libraries. Institutions such as universities may have multiple research libraries on campus, each dedicated to different faculties or subjects.
Research libraries may also publish their own scholarly research which is conducted by their librarians on their topics of choice.
Libraries first appeared in Southwest Asia more than 5,000 years ago as repositories to store written resources for retrieval, often written on materials like bamboo, clay, and later
Papyrus ( ) is a material similar to thick paper that was used in ancient times as a writing surface. It was made from the pith of the papyrus plant, ''Cyperus papyrus'', a wetland sedge. ''Papyrus'' (plural: ''papyri'') can also refer to a d ...
. The most durable of these materials was clay, and tablets made of clay are the most common artifacts retrieved from ancient library sites.
Many great civilizations built libraries which contained knowledge and information that were accumulated over years, sometimes centuries, and from across regions.
The oldest known library in the world was excavated in
Ebla ( Sumerian: ''eb₂-la'', ar, إبلا, modern: , Tell Mardikh) was one of the earliest kingdoms in Syria. Its remains constitute a tell located about southwest of Aleppo near the village of Mardikh. Ebla was an important center t ...
in northern Syria. Excavation of the site of the ancient city began in 1964 and archeologists have since uncovered more than 20,000 clay tablets that documented the economic and cultural life of the city's residents. Archives dating back to 3000 BC were also discovered in 1975. The library also contained scientific records and observations on topics such as
Zoology ()The pronunciation of zoology as is usually regarded as nonstandard, though it is not uncommon. is the branch of biology that studies the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and dis ...
Mineralogy is a subject of geology specializing in the scientific study of the chemistry, crystal structure, and physical (including optical) properties of minerals and mineralized artifacts. Specific studies within mineralogy include the proc ...
, and information on Ebla's business and tax issues.
One of the greatest ancient libraries in the world was the
Library of Ashurbanipal
The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, named after Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Assyrian Empire, is a collection of more than 30,000 clay tablets and fragments containing texts of all kinds from the 7th century BC, including texts in vari ...
, which was founded in the 7th century BC in Niveah, near present-day
Iraq,; ku, عێراق, translit=Êraq officially the Republic of Iraq, '; ku, کۆماری عێراق, translit=Komarî Êraq is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, the Persian Gulf and K ...
, by the Assyrian king
Ashurbanipal (Neo-Assyrian cuneiform: , meaning " Ashur is the creator of the heir") was the king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from 669 BCE to his death in 631. He is generally remembered as the last great king of Assyria. Inheriting the throne as ...
. The library contained around 30,000
Cuneiform is a logo-syllabic writing system, script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Near East, Ancient Middle East. The script was in active use from the early Bronze Age until the beginning of the Common Era. It is nam ...
tablets written in multiple languages pertaining to scholarly texts, archival documents and religious materials along with some works of ancient literature. The king sent his scribes to other libraries in the region to record their contents to create a register of contents.
Probably the most renowned library in the ancient world was the
Great Library of Alexandria
The Great Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The Library was part of a larger research institution called the Mouseion, which was dedicated to the Muses, t ...
Egypt ( ar, مصر , ), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a List of transcontinental countries, transcontinental country spanning the North Africa, northeast corner of Africa and Western Asia, southwest corner of Asia via a land bridg ...
. The library was part of the royal complex that included the research institution known as the Mouseion
, and is believed to have been established during the reigns of
Ptolemy I Soter
Ptolemy I Soter (; gr, Πτολεμαῖος Σωτήρ, ''Ptolemaîos Sōtḗr'' "Ptolemy the Savior"; c. 367 BC – January 282 BC) was a Macedonian Greek general, historian and companion of Alexander the Great from the Kingdom of Macedon ...
(367–283 BC) and his son
Ptolemy II Philadelphus
; egy, Userkanaenre Meryamun Clayton (2006) p. 208
, predecessor = Ptolemy I
, successor = Ptolemy III
, horus = ''ḥwnw-ḳni'Khunuqeni''The brave youth
, nebty = ''wr-pḥtj'Urpekhti''Great of strength
, golde ...
(285–246 BC). There are report that the library at its height had up to 400,000 scrolls, though there is uncertainty regarding the exact number and how many scrolls were original works, as some of these may have been copies. The works collected covered a wide range of topics including works by
Homer (; grc, Ὅμηρος , ''Hómēros'') (born ) was a Greek poet who is credited as the author of the '' Iliad'' and the '' Odyssey'', two epic poems that are foundational works of ancient Greek literature. Homer is considered one of ...
Herodotus ( ; grc, , }; BC) was an ancient Greek historian and geographer from the Greek city of Halicarnassus, part of the Persian Empire (now Bodrum, Turkey) and a later citizen of Thurii in modern Calabria ( Italy). He is known for ha ...
Plato ( ; grc-gre, wikt:Πλάτων, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a Greeks, Greek philosopher born in Athens during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece. He founded the Platonist school of thou ...
, and Aristotle
. The library drew scholars from across the world and led to Alexandria being known as a hub for knowledge and learning.
The US Library of Congress
is one of the largest and most well-known research libraries in the world. It is the United States Congress'
official research library and is the oldest federal cultural institution in the country, having been founded in 1800. It contains more than 170 million items that cover a wide range of subjects from across the world and in 470 different languages. The library has offices abroad through which it is able to acquire and maintain materials that are not easily available through traditional acquisition methods.
Research libraries can be either reference libraries
, which do not lend their holdings, or lending libraries
, which do lend all or some of their holdings. Some extremely large or traditional research libraries are entirely reference in this sense, lending none of their material; most academic research libraries
, at least in the U.S., now lend books, but not periodicals or other material. Books available in research libraries can include textbooks, journals and rare manuscripts. As the contents of research libraries are so focused, there can sometimes be a high demand for certain book titles. To ensure that as many patrons as possible can have access to the books they need, libraries have reserve collections, the books of which are only available for short-term loans. These loans can range from a few days to as short as a few hours.
Patrons can also gain access to periodicals and journals that require paid subscriptions through their libraries which they can use to access primary research materials.
A research library is often connected to the services of the university related to
Scholarly communication involves the creation, publication, dissemination and discovery of academic research, primarily in peer-reviewed journals and books. It is “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evalu ...
, such as support for
open access journal
Open access (OA) is a set of principles and a range of practices through which research outputs are distributed online, free of access charges or other barriers. With open access strictly defined (according to the 2001 definition), or libre op ...
s run by the institution and the operation of an
An institutional repository is an archive for collecting, preserving, and disseminating digital copies of the intellectual output of an institution, particularly a research institution. Academics also utilize their IRs for archiving published work ...
, as well as support for the usage of other institutions' repositories and
open archive An open repository or open-access repository is a digital platform that holds research output and provides free, immediate and permanent access to research results for anyone to use, download and distribute. To facilitate open access such repositori ...
discovery tools A discovery system is a bibliographic search system based on search engine technology. It is part of the concept of Library 2.0 and is intended to supplement or even replace the existing OPAC catalogs. These systems emerged in the late 2000s in res ...
academic search engines
This article contains a representative list of notable databases and search engines useful in an academic setting for finding and accessing articles in academic journals, institutional repositories, archives, or other collections of scientific and ...
OurResearch, formerly known as ImpactStory, is a nonprofit organization which creates and distributes tools and services for libraries, institutions and researchers. The organization follows open practices with their data (to the extent allowed by ...
Rare books and manuscripts are often very valuable and can sometimes be fragile. These are often not available for loan, and can only be accessed within the library and sometimes under the supervision of the librarian.
Rare books are those that were printed before 1850 and of which very few copies still exist today. They are highly valuable for research purposes as they often form the basis of historical research. Having a rare book in a library's collection is very prestigious and is often indicative of the library's high standards for materials.
Libraries may also have archives of old photographs, films, musical scores and even artwork.
They often also have archives of old newspapers and periodicals. Newspapers are often accessible through
Microforms are scaled-down reproductions of documents, typically either films or paper, made for the purposes of transmission, storage, reading, and printing. Microform images are commonly reduced to about 4% or of the original document size. ...
machines, which are used to view images of back issues of such publications.
Research libraries also often provide patrons with basic technological equipment such as computers, scanners and printers to aid them in their work.
These libraries frequently collaborate with one another to share resources through inter-library loans. This enables each library to meet the needs of more patrons while keeping their costs down. Libraries may also collaborate to share the costs features such as licensing information sources. This is especially important today, with libraries being required to offer more services for their patrons with fewer resources.
A librarian is a person who works professionally in a library providing access to information, and sometimes social or technical programming, or instruction on information literacy to users.
The role of the librarian has changed much over time, ...
s at research libraries are responsible for curating the library's collections. They identify the best books and resources by reading catalogues, publishers' announcements and book reviews, and acquire them for the libraries. These resources are often of high quality and are from trusted sources and publishers. They also catalogue and organize the books and resources, maintain and repair books as required.
Librarians can also work with colleagues in other institutions to share resources and better the relationships between institutions.
Librarians who work in research libraries often have in-depth knowledge of the subjects that are the focus of the institutions in which they work. They are therefore able to answer more specific topical queries that patrons might have while also giving advice on the best resources to access for the necessary information.
They conduct informational or reference interviews with patrons to ascertain what information they are looking for, and the purpose behind their research. This can help them to direct users to the appropriate databases or materials or in some cases obtaining these materials from external sources for them.
With the changing role of libraries, research librarians’ roles have evolved to include more than just selecting and maintaining the library's offerings and books, and helping patrons locate the items of their choice. Today, librarians must also be technologically savvy so they can teach users how to use the library's electronic systems.
Many librarians conduct their own independent research on topics pertaining to a library's field or on the topic of libraries themselves. When the library is affiliated with an academic institution, librarians may even have quotas on how much research they must complete and how many papers they should publish. Oftentimes, these librarians have to meet their quotas in order to be eligible for promotions or even tenure positions at the library. Librarians’ research can help to improve the level of service offered by the staff of the institution by increasing their knowledge of the investigative process.
The research conducted may also support the operations of the library.
Librarians also spearhead the digitization projects of any primary research sources that the library might have. These sources are typically the result of research projects conducted by the librarians affiliated with that institution.
Digitization projects are often intensive and long-drawn. Librarians need to identify which materials should be digitized and the priority in which they should be digitized. They also need to ascertain what formats will be most suitable for the materials and the patrons, raise the necessary funds and obtain the rights to digitize the items. They then need to prepare the original documents, have them scanned or otherwise converted and ensure that all the necessary metadata is added. They then have to perform quality checks to ensure that the material is of the highest quality and fit to be released to the public.
With the rapid advancement of technology and the advent of the digital age, consumers expectations are changing and libraries are being required to improve their digital infrastructure. This phenomenon began in the early 2010s and has been accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic
when many libraries across the world were physically closed forcing patrons to rely solely on their electronic offerings. Libraries have had to update their technological infrastructure in order to keep up with the new demands of the public.
The first step the average person takes when they conduct research is no longer visiting the library but searching for information online.
Patrons will obtain a basic understanding of their topic and identify the books or materials they need before ever setting foot in a library. They can also identify which libraries will provide them the most convenient access to these materials through online archives and catalogues.
This is what makes effective digitization projects in libraries and the maintenance of accurate online catalogues crucial for libraries' continued survival. Libraries may also have functions on their websites which enable patrons to email librarians with questions directly to obtain answers in a quick and efficient manner and also ensure that questions will be addressed by the most qualified party.
Libraries are now required to have extensive digital collections which comprise electronic journals,
An ebook (short for electronic book), also known as an e-book or eBook, is a book publication made available in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, readable on the flat-panel display of computers or other electronic devices. Alth ...
s and virtual reference services. They must also make their catalogues available online for users to quickly determine whether the library has the materials they need and when and how these materials will be available for their use. Many libraries also have interlinked systems that enable patrons to reserve and borrow books from affiliated libraries, effectively increasing their collection size while keeping costs down.
This can make it possible for libraries to offer resources that have a narrow appeal and a low demand but that could still be useful for patrons to access.
Libraries are also required to be more efficient to meet both consumer demand and to keep up with continuing budget cuts. One benefit of increasing digitization is that it enables greater automation of workflows within libraries which ensures that they become more streamlined. These increased efficiencies ensure libraries and their librarians are able to provide the highest quality service possible.
File:Rom, Vatikanische Museen, Großer Saal der Bibliothek, Salone Sistino 1.JPG, The Sistine Hall of the
The Vatican Apostolic Library ( la, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, it, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana), more commonly known as the Vatican Library or informally as the Vat, is the library of the Holy See, located in Vatican City. Formally es ..., Vatican City
File:Widener Library.jpg, Widener Library
The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, housing some 3.5million books in its "vast and cavernous" stacks, is the centerpiece of the Harvard College Libraries (the libraries of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and, more broadly, of the ... at Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1636 as Harvard College and named for its first benefactor, the Puritan clergyman John Harvard, it is the oldest institution of higher le ... is one of the largest research libraries in the world
File:Folger Reading Room.jpg, Folger Shakespeare Library
The Folger Shakespeare Library is an independent research library on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., United States. It has the world's largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare, and is a primary repository for rare materia ..., Washington DC
File:Bibliotheca, Valletta, Malta 001.jpg, The National Library of Malta in Valletta
Valletta (, mt, il-Belt Valletta, ) is an administrative unit and capital of Malta. Located on the main island, between Marsamxett Harbour to the west and the Grand Harbour to the east, its population within administrative limits in 2014 ...
File:NDL Tokyo02bs3200.jpg, The National Diet Library
The is the national library of Japan and among the largest libraries in the world. It was established in 1948 for the purpose of assisting members of the in researching matters of public policy. The library is similar in purpose and scope to ... of Japan
File:Cmglee Cambridge Trinity College Neviles Court.jpg, Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge University
, mottoeng = Literal: From here, light and sacred draughts.
Non literal: From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge.
, established =
, other_name = The Chancellor, Masters and Schola ...
File:Rijks Museum Library.jpg, The Rijksmuseum Research Library in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
An academic library is a library that is attached to a higher education institution and serves two complementary purposes: to support the curriculum and the research of the university faculty and students. It is unknown how many academic librar ...
* Trends in library usage
Research Libraries Group The Research Libraries Group (RLG) was a U.S.-based library consortium that existed from 1974 until its merger with the OCLC library consortium in 2006. RLG developed the Eureka interlibrary search engine, the RedLightGreen database of bibliograp ...
JSTOR (; short for ''Journal Storage'') is a digital library founded in 1995 in New York City. Originally containing digitized back issues of academic journals, it now encompasses books and other primary sources as well as current issues of j ...
Association of Research Libraries
Types of library