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Transitioning to College : Academic Libraries

All about college and university libraries and how they differ from high school and public libraries.

Academic Libraries

Academic library refers to a library that supports a college or university.  Colleges and universities may have more than one library.  Find out how academic libraries are different than school and public libraries!

First-year students, Jason and Emily, meet their mentor, Brian, a junior nursing major. Brian takes them on a tour of a typical university library and introduces them to some of the services available to them.

Video Transcript



Anatomy of a College Library

Most college and university libraries share these features.  Visit the library the first week of your freshman year to familiarize yourself with the facility, services, and staff.  Check your library's website for a list of all the services and resources they provide.


  • 24 / 7 Online access to resources
  • Reference help and research consultations  
  • Assistance finding materials
  • Research instruction classes and workshops 
  • Interlibrary Loan
  • Course reserves
  • Copiers


  • Books and ebooks 
  • Reference sources such as general and specialized encyclopedias, almanacs, and atlases
  • Periodicals (journals, magazines, newspapers) in print and electronic forms
  • Microforms 
  • Videos and films
  • Music and sound recordings
  • Photographs
  • Government documents
  • Maps
  • Media equipment loans (still/video cameras, iPads, iPods)


  • User Services or Circulation
  • Reference
  • Book stacks
  • Archives
  • Special Collections 
  • Periodicals (journals, magazines, etc.)
  • Silent or quiet study
  • Group study
  • Computer lab
  • Cafe

How are Materials Arranged in an Academic Library?

Most college and university libraries use the Library of Congress Classification System

You are probably more familiar with the Dewey Decimal System used by high school and public libraries. 

Literature (fiction, poetry and drama) will not be shelved alphabetically by the author's last name.

In the Library of Congress system, novels and short stories are mostly found in the "P" section since this is the area for literature and language. Books that are written about specific authors or books are shelved near the original works.  Use these resources to learn more about how academic libraries organize their materials.

Remember the library staff will be happy to help you find any books or other materials you need. Just ask for assistance.