New technology, new librarians?


Some say that the electronic revolution has taken us back to the middle ages. The computer rules and the information explosion has affected our profession in a big way. I would like to quote an article that I just read:

Librarians must get away from thinking that libraries are about reference, cataloging, acquisitions, preservation, interlibrary loan, and circulating materials – or even about managing physical facilities and print collections. Simply translating current library activities and tasks into electronic or digitized information will not satisfy the needs of the library’s customers, nor will it ensure its future.

But then again can’t the task of libraries can be simply stated. They are as true for a modern branch of public library as they are for cathedral libraries of the Middle Ages or the great research collections of universities. Libraries exist to acquire, give access to, and safeguard carriers of knowledge and information in all forms and to provide instruction and assistance in the use of the collections to which their users have access.

So is it strange that we are confused?

We do not exist in a vacuum, and external and organisational changes do affect us. The environmental factors that have influenced colleges and universities worldwide in the last decade are mainly

  • growth in student numbers without a parallel rise in resources
  • change in teaching and learning methods
  • increasing diverse student population
  • continuous rapid change
  • the need to manage resources on a value-for-money basis
  • the requirement for customer-centered, high quality services
  • developments in information technology

We are no longer just the “guardians” of books. We are information providers in an environment that is constantly changing and where information need to be gathered quickly and effectively. Today our mission is to promote services for the ever increasing amount of information. And even if we don’t like it, information technology has changed our jobs.

We are on the web! Creating web pages and using the search engines instead of encyclopedias and somehow that has lead to increasing interest in library and information studies in Iceland, all of a sudden it is hip to be a professional librarian. Our self image has changed for the better and that of course is good but I feel that somehow we are a little bit lost. I have created web pages and searched for links on the web and helped people with their research and all of a sudden people view us as the know all at the University. I have not a clue how a UNIX system works or how these 3D images are created but I understand the capabilities of web and how to use it even though not always successfully. But I knew how to gather information before we began to use the WWW but no one thought very much of that at that time. Because after all non-electronic work was less visible, less measurable and less glamorous. Going and looking up the Encyclopedia Britannica on-line is somehow cooler than just browsing through the pages.

Since I graduated as a professional librarian five years ago my training is outdated, even though my tasks are still the same, I am in charge of interlibrary loans (automated two years ago), the serials department (not yet automated) and teach new users how to use the library. The typewriter is gathering dust, our users can no longer borrow books by just signing their name on a lending card and all of a sudden we have masters students that are doing research on issues that have never been tackled in Iceland before and distance learning students all over the country. We have access to more information than we will ever possibly need, new Pentium computers and students all over the country that need our help. We can all agree that our services, systems and environment have changed and so have we.

We have had to readjust to new situation and develop our skills. Because after all it is us that manage and operate the machines and we make up the organization and make it function successfully. The human resource in any organization is the key to its success or failure.

So lets go to library management that should take care of the human factor.


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