Purpose – To provide comprehensive literature review on the utilisation of intelligent agent technology in the library environment. Design/methodology/approach – Research papers since 1990 on the use of various intelligent agent technologies in libraries are divided into two main application areas: (1) Digital Library (DL), including agent-based DL projects, multi-agent architecture for DLs, intelligent agents for distributed heterogeneous information retrieval and agent support to information search process in DLs; and (2) services in traditional libraries, including user interface for library information systems, automatic reference services and multi-agent architecture for library services. For each paper on the topic, its new ideas or models, referred work, analyses, experiments, findings and conclusions are addressed. Findings – The majority of the literature covers DLs and there have been fewer studies about services in traditional libraries. A variety of architecture, framework and models integrating agent technology in library systems or services are proposed, but only some of them have been implemented in the practical environment. The application of agent technology is still at the research and experimentation stage. Agent technology has great potential in many areas in the library context; however it presents challenges to libraries which want to be involved in its adoption. Intelligent agents in libraries 2 Practical implications – The survey has practical implications for libraries, librarians and computer professionals in developing projects which employ intelligent agent technology to meet end users’ expectations as well as to improve information services within limited resources in library settings. Originality/value – The paper provides a comprehensive survey on the development and research of intelligent agents in libraries in literature.