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Bull Med Libr Assoc. Jul 2000; 88(3): 234–238.

Standards for vision science libraries

The Association of Vision Science Librarians1


The minimum levels of staffing, services, budget, and technology that should be provided by a library specializing in vision science are presented. The scope and coverage of the collection is described as well. These standards may be used by institutions establishing libraries or by accrediting bodies reviewing existing libraries.

The Association of Vision Science Librarians (AVSL), whose members represent ophthalmology and optometry libraries throughout the world, has defined standards for its libraries since 1976 [1–2]. This attention to one very specialized area of library service has evolved from the work of librarians who, since 1937, have been developing and refining standards for medical libraries [3]. This edition of the guidelines was approved by the association at its annual meeting in December 1998.

The 1976 publication included both standards and guidelines [4]. It specifically addressed libraries serving optometric institutions. The collection section included tables for recommended number of “new items to be added annually” and number of journal subscriptions. Both tables gave a wide range of numbers because some optometry schools were part of a large university with an extensive multidisciplinary library, while others were small independent colleges that taught optometry only. A second table gave the 1975 average price for American journals with breakdowns for chemistry and physics; medicine; math, botany, geology, and general science; psychology; and engineering. An outline of the Library of Congress classification system sections that would be used in a vision science collection was also included. A section on “multimedia” observed that “new teaching methods are being developed to handle large classes or speeded-up course work by means of electronic technology.” Additional tables reported basic annual salaries for librarians and for a wide variety of noninstructional support staff. A list of vision serials was appended to the article.

The second edition of the standards, published in 1986, did not include guidelines [5]. By this time, librarians from eye hospitals and medical school ophthalmology departments had joined the association so the standards were broadened to include medical libraries as well as academic institutions. The section on multimedia was renamed “audiovisuals” and a small section called “computers” was added. The discussion of collection coverage included the pertinent sections of both the Library of Congress and the National Library of Medicine classification systems. A short discussion of security systems was also included.

This third edition of the standards recognizes the major impact of technology in today's libraries. There is now a separate section on the subject, in addition to mention of its effect on library staffing, services provided, physical space, budget, and scope and coverage of collection. These standards may be used by institutions developing new libraries that focus on vision science or by accrediting bodies reviewing existing libraries.


Given the variety of settings for vision science libraries, staffing requirements will inherently vary with the type of library (academic or clinical), the extent of the services provided, the number of hours the facility is open per week, and the size of the population served.

The principal staff member should be a full-time professional librarian who holds a master of library science or library and information science degree from a library or information science program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). In addition, the equivalent of two full-time employees (FTEs) to each professional librarian is recommended [6].

Head librarians in an academic vision science setting should be responsible to either the dean or chief administrative officer in charge of educational programs or to the director of university libraries. In a clinical setting, vision science librarians should report to the ophthalmology service chief. The professional staff in academic institutions should have faculty status and be active participants on faculty committees and in educational planning of the program. Equal access should be provided to research funding as well as tenure and promotion opportunities.

Responsibilities of professional librarians include selecting and, depending on the institutional setting, cataloging materials; weeding the collection; providing reference assistance using print and electronic media; and instructing in informatics as determined by the individual institution's service population. Administrative functions include planning, organizing, and evaluating the work done in the library; setting goals for future needs; and communicating those goals and needs to the organization's administration. In addition, librarians are responsible for developing and implementing the library budget; selecting, training, and supervising the library staff; encouraging communication among staff members; promoting good relations between the staff and the library's patrons; and marketing the library's services [7].

Technology is providing librarians with new sources of information as well as transforming how their job responsibilities are fulfilled [8, 9]. Therefore, librarians should engage in ongoing professional development opportunities through conferences, continuing education classes, and workshops. Membership in and attendance at meetings of local and national library organizations contribute to the ongoing improvement of the profession and are integral to the individual's professional performance. Institutional funding and provision for adequate staffing that allows the library to function while individuals are participating in relevant professional activities are crucial to maintaining a high level of standards.

The responsibilities of the library's staff include circulation control, interlibrary loans, serials control and binding operations, and preserving the physical quality of the library's materials, maintaining the general order of the collection, and ensuring all equipment in the library is in good operating order.

The library should have a personnel manual containing job descriptions and requirements for both professional and support staff positions. The structure of the library staff should be defined in the manual and illustrated with an organization chart. Depending on the nature of the parent organization, the manual should also contain policies on recruitment, probation, tenure, promotion, performance evaluation, grievance resolution, and employee benefits. Working conditions—including schedule of work hours, leaves of absence, and policies for attendance at conferences and meetings—should also be included in the manual.


The library should reflect the teaching and research interests of the institution it serves. Its users and the services provided for them are dictated, in part, by the nature, size, policies, and financial resources of that institution. The user population may include students, faculty, residents, fellows, physicians, optometrists, support staff, alumni, surrounding academic or health sciences communities, patients, and others in the community who need bibliographic and information services in the vision science field.

The library should be open and staffed a minimum of forty hours per week. Services that must be provided during those hours, regardless of the size of the vision science library, are materials circulation, reference assistance, online searching, photocopying, reserve material access, and interlibrary loan requests provision.

As technology evolves, librarians are expected to be teachers as well as information managers [10]. Therefore, whenever staff size allows, additional services such as end-user instruction in the use of available electronic resources as well as Internet navigation should be offered. More in-depth classes covering current and retrospective vision science bibliography should be provided, particularly in the academic setting. Tours for new users are helpful and a newsletter or aquisitions list is an effective service. Current awareness services, such as routing tables of contents and periodicals, are valuable resources that may also be provided.


The library facility should make the user feel welcome. It should be well lit and have adequate ventilation with temperature and humidity control for both the comfort of the users and the preservation of materials. The atmosphere should be quiet but not silent. Carpeting provides acoustical as well as aesthetic value to the setting. Free-standing furniture allows flexibility in use of the physical space as the components of the collection become more electronic and the patrons' uses of technology become more sophisticated [11]. Clocks and adequate informational signage should be in evidence.

The type of library (hospital, college, university branch library, etc.), hours of operation, circulation policies, type of stacks, and proximity of other libraries with similar collections should all be considered when determining space requirements. Recommendations for the number of seats required in a library serving a graduate program population vary from 40% to 65% of the full-time student population. A comfortable reading surface allocation is approximately ten square feet per individual and there should be fifteen inches between each chair [12].

Stack space should allow for a minimum of ten years' growth, preferably twenty. Separate shelving areas should be provided for reference and reserve collections, audiovisual materials, and over- or undersized materials. The Americans with Disabilities Act dictates a minimum of thirty-six inches between stacks. A standard stack is three feet by seven feet. It should hold 100 bound volumes. To calculate the amount of space needed to house the library's collection, allow six volumes per linear foot [13].

Small group-study or conference rooms, photocopying areas, and adequate computer and audio-visual equipment space are basic needs for any library. Sufficient accessible electrical and data lines to operate this equipment must also be available.

The physical arrangement of the service area should provide for the proximity of reference works to reference librarians. The library's catalog access should be located near the circulation desk, which should be located near the entrance or exit [14].

Approximately 125 square feet of space per employee (both full- and part-time) should be allowed. An additional twenty square feet needs to be added if employees have computers at their work stations [15]. The staff space should be arranged so that it does not interfere with user space.


The individual vision science library's budget depends upon several factors including what the overall size of the vision science program is and whether it is within a free-standing hospital or college or a large university. The institution's curriculum, the degrees granted, the areas of research, the interests of faculty or medical staff, the size of the library staff, and the availability of additional resources from a parent institution all affect the depth of coverage needed in the collection.

Salaries and benefits must be consistent with those in the geographic region as well as within the individual institution in order to attract and retain a competent staff. The AVSL tracks this data on a regular basis [16].

The materials budget should be sufficient to purchase books, including duplicate copies of essential and heavily used titles; journals; and audiovisual and electronic materials. Additional funding should be allocated for binding and replacing lost or damaged materials. Interlibrary loan fees, electronic resource licensing fees, and network affiliation membership costs must also be factored into the budget. Additional budget items, depending on the type of library and institutional policies, include hardware, software, photocopying equipment and supplies, security systems, telephone lines, postage, office supplies, and costs associated with maintenance, housekeeping, and utilities.


The vision science collection should reflect the objectives and administrative organization of the institution. A collection-development policy should indicate the scope and collection levels necessary for the various subject areas appropriate to the institution. This policy will also help to ensure that the collection meets the requirements of the academic, research, and clinical programs of the institution, thus facilitating evaluation by accrediting bodies.

To define the scope of the collection, the library may use the categories devised by the ALA and the Research Libraries Group, which use the Library of Congress (LC) and National Library of Medicine (NLM) classification systems as guides. Table 1 outlines a modification of these systems for the subject coverage required in a vision science library collection.

Table 1
Subject coverage for a vision science collection

More extensive criteria for defining the scope of the collection are provided in The Guidelines for Academic Vision Science Librarians [17]. This regularly updated electronic file includes, in its appendices, a list of journals held by six or more of the AVSL libraries and the “Opening Day Book Collection: Visual Science.” These two documents identify titles that should form the basis of any vision-oriented collection.

Audiovisual (AV) materials, including audiotapes, slides, videos, microforms, and computer software, have become an integral part of the teaching programs of the vision science curriculum and the ophthalmology and optometry residency programs. The handling of these materials presents challenges for libraries in terms of storage and the development of well-defined use policies. In addition, the library needs to have the equipment with which to use these materials, and the library staff must have the technical skills to operate and maintain this equipment.


Since the previous edition of the standards [18], there has been a considerable increase in the use of computers in libraries. Today, computers are essential to practically every library operation from selection of materials to cataloging to answering reference questions. The digital library is now a reality instead of just an abstract idea. This change has been accelerated by tremendous improvements in computer and communications technology. It is being validated by the growing perception of users that the library should organize and support access to the new forms and structures of information that are evolving [19]. Today, libraries make information available in a variety of electronic formats: compact disks, software, indexes, full-text databases, electronic journals and newsletters, and electronic documents viewable over the Web. Some of the information provided to today's library patrons exists only in digital form, and this trend will grow in the future.

The vision science library should contain a full range of computing, communication, and instructional technology to provide its service population with the most complete and up-to-date knowledge-based information, including access to VisionNet, MEDLINE, and the other National Library of Medicine databases. Specifically, the library should include the following:

[filled square] electronic workstations for each professional and paraprofessional staff member

[filled square] access to the Internet and other online databases

[filled square] in-house databases appropriate to vision science research and practice, either via institutional network or software on stand-alone, end-user stations

Vision science librarians should become expert in the use of this technology and be prepared to teach its use to the library's users. Librarians should be able to participate in the AVSL Internet discussion list. If the library's parent institution maintains a Website, the library should have a home page that describes its services and operating hours in addition to whatever other information is appropriate for the individual institution.

If the vision science library is part of an academic institution, librarians shuld play leadership roles in the use of instructional technology. If feasible, electronic classrooms should be electronically linked to the library. Librarians should work closely with faculty to develop interactive instructional software that is incorporated into the institution's curriculum and made available in the library.


As the amount of print and electronic information available to vision science patrons increases, the role of the library as the gateway to this knowledge becomes more important. The Association for Vision Science Librarians expects that adherence to these standards will help the individual vision science library fill this gateway role to the fullest extent possible.


The following AVSL members contributed to the development of the revised standards: Judith Schaeffer-Young, Wills Eye Hospital; Bette Anton, School of Optometry, University of California at Berkeley; Patricia Carlson, Southern California College of Optometry; Gerald Dujsik, Illinois College of Optometry; Suzanne Ferimer, College of Optometry, University of Houston; Douglas Freeman, College of Optometry, Indiana University; Laurel Gregory, Pacific University; Reva Hurtes, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute; Claudia A. Perry, Ph.D., College of Optometry, State University of New York; Sara Richardson, Pennsylvania College of Optometry; and Maureen Watson, Ferris State University, Michigan College of Optometry.


  • Association of Vision Science Librarians. Guidelines and standards for visual science libraries serving optometric institutions. J Optom Ed. 1976;2(3):8–15.
  • Association of Vision Science Librarians. Standards for academic visual science libraries. Am J Optom Physiol Opt. 1986 Jul;63(7):559–66. [PubMed]
  • Yast H. Standards for library service in institutions: B. in the health care setting. Lib Trends. 1972 Oct;21(2):267–85.
  • Association of Vision Science Librarians. 1976 . op. cit.
  • Association of Vision Science Librarians. 1986 . op. cit.
  • Hitt S, Administration: personnel. In: Darling L, Bishop D, and Colaianni LA. eds. Handbook of medical library practice. 4th ed. v.3. Chicago, IL: Medical Library Association. 1988 . 291p.
  • Bowden VM, Olivier ER. The first professional position: expectations of academic health sciences library employers. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1995 Apr;83(2):238–9. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Braude RM. Impact of information technology on the role of health sciences librarians. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1993 Oct;81(4):408–13. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Warling BN, Stave CD. The health sciences librarian as Internet navigator and interpreter. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1995 Oct;83(4):395–401. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Ibid, 397.
  • Leighton PD, Weber DC. Planning academic and research library buildings. 2d ed. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1986.
  • Ibid, 557.
  • Ibid, 153.
  • Ibid, 105.
  • Ibid., 225.
  • Watson M. AVSL salary survey. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Vision Science Librarians; Orlando, FL, 8 Dec 1996.
  • Association of Vision Science Librarians. Guidelines for academic visual science libraries. [Web document]. Bloomington, IN: The Association. [rev. 25 Feb 1998]. <http//www.opt.indiana.edu/guideline/main.html>.
  • Association of Vision Science Librarians. 1986 . op. cit.
  • Braude. op. cit.

Articles from Bulletin of the Medical Library Association are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association
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