Special Librarianship

The MLIS program requires 43 units for graduation. Within those units, six courses (16 units) are required of all MLIS students and must be taken as part of all career pathways: INFO 203, INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204, INFO 285, and either INFO 289 or INFO 299. Beyond those six courses, a student is free to select electives reflecting individual interests and aspirations. See: MLIS Information.

If you are interested in this career pathway, you may choose to select from the Foundation or Recommended course electives listed below. Foundation courses form the foundational knowledge and skills for this pathway. If you can only select a few electives, then choose from the Foundation courses. The Recommended courses are very relevant, but not as foundational to this career pathway.

The Career Pathway described here is provided solely for advising purposes. No special designation appears on your transcript or diploma.  All students get an MLIS degree.

Find an Advisor by Content Specialty


Special libraries, also called information centers or knowledge resources units, competitive intelligence units, intranet departments, knowledge resource centers, content management organizations, and others, are associated with particular industries or businesses or with specialized collections within research libraries or non-profits. Special libraries can be found in many different settings, including international organizations, advocacy organizations, government agencies, professional associations, corporations, medical and/or health institutions and hospitals, not-for-profit organizations, research centers, college campuses, and law firms. (Learn about careers in Law Librarianship, Medical Librarianship, and Competitive Intelligence.)

Special libraries often have a more specific clientele than libraries in educational or public settings, and deal with a specialized or particular type of information. They directly support the mission of their sponsoring organization, and their collections and services are targeted and specific to the needs of their clientele.

Please see the Special Library Career Environment pages for additional detailed information about jobs and worklife in special libraries and information centers, salaries and opportunities, job search resources, tips to ace the interview, and more.

Employment Opportunities

Special librarians are information resource experts dedicated to putting knowledge to work to attain the goals of their organizations. Their position titles are as varied as the environments in which these information professionals are employed. A few examples of the diverse services that special librarians may perform include:

  • Creating databases for organizations to access their internal information
  • Developing and maintaining a portfolio of cost-effective, client-valued information services that are aligned with the strategic directions of the organization and client groups
  • Evaluating and comparing information software and sources of data prior to purchase
  • Gathering competitive intelligence
  • Maintaining current awareness of emerging technologies
  • Preparing research reports in response to staff requests for specific information
  • Searching patents and trademarks
  • Training other staff to efficiently and cost-effectively use online databases
  • Verifying facts for external and internal reports and publications

Core Theory and Knowledge

The Special Library Association sees the core theory and knowledge as:

  • Applying expertise in databases, indexing, metadata, and information analysis and synthesis to improve information retrieval and use in the organization
  • Conducting market research of the information behaviors and problems of current and potential client groups to identify concepts for new or enhanced information solutions for these groups; and transforming these concepts into customized information products and services
  • Managing primarily electronic information resources and records
  • Managing the full life cycle of specialized information from its creation or acquisition through its destruction. This includes organizing, categorizing, cataloguing, classifying, disseminating, creating and managing taxonomies, intranet and extranet content, thesauri etc.
  • Negotiating the purchase and licensing of needed information products and services

Recommended Coursework

Required Courses:

Foundation Courses:

Recommended Courses:

Effective leadership and management (of people and information) is critically important for all types of work environments and clients.

We recommend that students consider also selecting some courses from the Leadership and Management career path to complement or supplement core skills in other areas.

Special Libraries Association

Students interested in pursuing a career in special librarianship are encouraged to get involved with the Special Libraries Association. It's a great way to network and learn more about the special librarianship career pathway.

Learn More

Check out the the Special Library Career Environment pages for additional detailed information about jobs and worklife in special libraries and information centers, salaries and opportunities, job search resources, tips to ace the interview, and more.

Read Community Profiles of students and alumni pursuing this career pathway.

Browse presentations by professionals working in the field.

Search the Alumni Career Spotlights for alumni working in this field. Consider contacting an alum for an informational interview.