A college library is a standard facility for the undergraduate students at a college or university. This article gives an overview of today’s college library. A college library may have other important sections, but this article reviews some of the main ones.


Taking books out or looking at shelf upon shelf of books are probably two of the fundamental images most people have when they think of a library. And college libraries still fulfill this function today. Differences include the fact that other materials besides books circulate. This may include audio tapes, CDs, CD-ROMs, DVDs, LPs, and videos.

There are usually several types of circulation in a college library:

  • Reserve books are books that are set aside from the general collection because they are on the course reading list for a class. They are able to be used for a discreet period of time, possibly 2 or 24 or 72 hours, and may be restricted to use within the library or allowed to go out with the student. Sometimes one can take them out again, if no one is waiting for them.

  • Holds can be put on materials so that when they are returned to the library, they are kept for a patron who has requested them or the patron who has them out may be asked to return the items.

When books are not on hold or on reserve, online renewal is often standard practice today, as connecting both from dorms and from off-campus has become standard.

Library Catalog

The library catalog, now online in nearly all libraries, is a way to find books, but also a way to compile a bibliography or discover what kind of coverage a topic has received as you're trying to determine a research area or a paper topic.

The catalog is usually also the gateway to Interlibrary Loan, a really useful service that connects libraries across the United States and allows the circulation of many materials (but not reference sets, AV materials, periodicals, software, unpublished works, and some other specialized works). The first step in the process is making sure that the material sought is not available at the library itself. Then there is often an online request to fill out. It may be several weeks before materials arrive, but less time if a photocopy, rather than an original, is sent. Electronic document loans may be picked up online, usually through a special delivery page.


The reference section of a college library is usually made up of a set of books, a set of people, and a set of services. The books generally include dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, directories, thesauri, and other books that are useful to a wide audience, but often are very large or have many volumes and are not the types of materials that individuals usually own.

The reference section is also the place you can find experts in library research. Librarians usually have both specialized subject areas, as well as general knowledge of useful sources for a wide variety of researching needs. In conjunction with this live, in-person help, you may also find that a college library offers phone and/or live-chat and email support. You can also check the library website for research guides, which may be available by class, by subject, or both.

Special Collections

Rare, fragile, or unique materials, or materials of particular value may find their way into a library's special collections. There, housed in appropriately climate-controlled atmosphere, you may find original manuscripts written by local historical figures, or materials donated to the library by alumni. These materials generally do not circulate, and if you need extended access, a scan or photocopy may be substituted for the original, for the sake of preservation.

Computers in the College Library

Technology has entered into the library and is well at home there. Besides the computers available to access the library catalog (which may also provide general Internet access), there may be computers with software for students to complete assignments on in a computer lab, and/or technologically outfitted classrooms in the library.

Copying, Printing, Scanning

Within the bounds of the applicable copyright law, students and faculty can copy, print, and scan library materials with technology available at the library. Often there are photocopiers available both near the reserve section and near the periodicals section, and possibly elsewhere.