About university libraries
Universities maintain libraries primarily for use by their staff and students for research purposes, but most allow members of the general public to join (sometimes for a small fee) & to consult their holdings.
They can seem quite daunting to 'outsiders' (and to insiders a lot of the time), but don't be put off using University Libraries by the apparent differences between them and other public libraries.
The main differences between academic libraries and public libraries are:
- University Libraries contain mostly reference books & academic journals, with relatively few works of pure fiction that users might borrow purely for entertainment. Whatever 'entertainment' holdings there are (DVDs, CDs, etc) will be there for academic study purposes.
- They often have a wider range of loan conditions than do local authority libraries. For example, books may me available only for consultation within the library, on loan overnight or for longer periods such as several months.
- Often, different rules regarding, for example, the number of books that can be borrowed at any one time will apply to different categories of members of a university library (students, university staff, the general public etc). It is very rare that a university library would allow anything other than reference access (i.e. you can consult materials onsite, but cannot take them away with you) to members of the general public.
- University libraries tend to employ subject specific librarians, who not only have a good knowledge of the library's holdings, but also have a good subject knowledge (like history, languages, physics, etc). They are typically employed to liase between the library and the various academic departments in the library. As a member of the public you may be able to liase with them, but there are no guarantees of this.
University libraries often also house the institutions' archival material, and archival materials collected by research active members of staff, or archival materials donated by alumni. This means that there may be no particular 'theme' to a university's archival holdings, they are simply what staff and students have donated over the years.