Special library and information services

Special libraries comprise government, NGO, health, law, corporate and other libraries that serve departments, institutions or businesses. Increasingly the word library doesn’t appear in the title, instead these are often known as information services or research units, terms which also describe their main purpose and function. 

General information Government Health 

Special libraries 

In 2010, ALIA’s Special Libraries Advisory Committee completed a survey of Special Libraries. The survey found a majority of respondents worked in libraries which employed between one and three staff and were based in capital cities. The special topics of the libraries had a very broad range: agriculture, art, business/corporate, cultural, defence/military, health/medicine, law, mining, music, religion, research, science/technology and other sectors.

The survey found that there was no definitive space in which special libraries operated within organisations. The services, clients, business services and collections of the special libraries were also unique depending on the purpose of the library.

It is hard to pin down an exact number for these libraries. Many are small and most are hidden within the organisations they serve. The best estimates, based on the Australian Libraries Gateway database, are from 2200 to 2400, depending on which types of library and information services are included (the definition can cover everything from volunteer-run historical society collections to libraries in large teaching hospitals).

ALIA Futures has more information about special libraries. 

ALIA and special libraries 

Useful resources


Government libraries exist across Australia in different government departments on a federal, state and local level. Some government libraries possess special and unique collections and others deal with very specific topics.

Government libraries and ALIA


Health libraries are institutions that are designed to assist health care professionals and researchers in finding health and scientific information to improve, update, assess or evaluate health care.

Health libraries and ALIA

  • The vision of ALIA’s Health Libraries Australia group is that all Australians benefit from health library and information professionals’ expertise that is integral to evidence based health care. In support of this vision, and in line with ALIA's policy direction and priorities, HLA undertakes strategic initiatives in five key areas (portfolios): Professional development, education and training; Demonstrating value; Partnerships and collaborations; Publishing and communication; Membership. Each of these has a number of activities, all aimed at realising our vision. Please visit the HLA page for details of our activities, including publications.
  • ALIA HLA maintains an active elist, aliaHEALTH.
  • From 1 July 2013, LIS professionals in the health sector will be able to demonstrate their specialised knowledge by complying with an additional commitment to the ALIA PD Scheme choosing ongoing learning based on a specific set of health core competencies.
  • In 2012, we partnered with Health Libraries Inc to produce A Question of Life and Death, an investigation into the value of health library and information services in Australia
  • We developed a return on investment study for health libraries with SGS Economics as a partnership between ALIA Health Libraries Australia, Health Libraries Inc.