Ask a Special Librarian

Ask a Special Librarian
Tracy Z. Maleeff
Library Resources Manager at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia
@LibrarySherpa &

Tracy_Z_MaleeffGreetings, INALJers!
This is the first installment of my new “Ask a Special Librarian” column for the site. I’ve gathered that there are many myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings about special librarianship through my interactions during Twitter-based #INALJchat sessions, talking with students/new professionals and just reading blogs or Tweets. My goal for this column is to help educate readers of the INALJ site about special librarianship to pursue as a career choice or just to be more harmonious with fellow librarians and information professionals. I will unapologetically promote the Special Libraries Association (SLA) because I am most actively involved with that organization, but I will also mention other groups that also offer great benefits for special librarians.

In order to start things off, I will list some of the actual questions that I have been asked by either non-librarians or librarians. Have a special librarian question for me? Email questions or topics you want me to address to INALJ COO Rachael Altman ( and then look for my responses here. I may even tap my special librarian or information professional network from time to time to shake things up a little bit and give a different perspective than my own. Everything you wanted to know about special librarianship and were afraid or didn’t know who to ask!

Author’s Note: These questions have actually been asked of me at different points in time during my career. The wording of some of the questions may have been slightly modified for entertainment value, but the intent and core meaning of the questions are absolutely true.

Q: What the hell is a “special” librarian? What makes you so special?!
A: Glad you asked! You see, to the best of my knowledge, there is no “official” definition of a special library or a special librarian. Personally, I consider a library or information center to be special if it is not a school or public library. Much like cheese, I feel that academic libraries stand alone. But, there are many phenomenally talented academic librarians I know who very much identify with the special libraries world and their work may be more of a special collection. Confused yet? Good. That means you understand the term “special library” as well as anybody else.

Q: How could special librarians have turned their backs to public libraries by not supporting them professionally?
A: Becoming a special librarian does not put you at odds with the public library. I know many special librarians who volunteer at their local public libraries or belong to their boards or friends groups. Personally, I actually had the opportunity to advocate for public libraries with the two Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates when they made campaign stops at my place of employment. Being a special librarian doesn’t mean that you don’t support public or school libraries or look down on those librarians.

Q: How does it feel to have sold your librarian soul to work for a corporate/law firm entity?
A: Wow, you must be a hoot at parties! A special librarian who works for a corporate entity or a law firm still serves patrons like any librarian. The difference may be that our patrons are accountants, business analysts, lawyers or scientists instead of the general public or students at a school. I was taught in my Library and Information Science program that librarians and information professionals are supposed to be free from judgment when it comes to serving a patron or completing a reference task. We are all professionals in the same field and should respect each other as such.

Q: Why don’t some special librarians have the word “library” or “librarian” in their titles?
A: Much like snowflakes, no two special librarians are exactly alike. Depending on her or his work environment, industry or personal preference, the “L-word” may not be the best descriptor for that professional. Some alternatives often used are Knowledge Manager, Information Analyst, Data Coordinator or Cybrarian. Graduating with a Master of Library and Information Science degree does not automatically make you a librarian. There is no legal certification to be named a librarian. What the MLIS does give you, said in Liam Neeson’s voice, is a particular set of skills. Whichever title she or he decides to utilize as a badge to indicate those skills is up to that person.

Now that I’ve gotten the ball rolling, let me know what’s on your mind about special librarianship! Email INALJ COO Rachael Altman ( your questions today!