Tuesday, 13th July 2010
UK: We Still Need Libraries in the Digital Age (A Must Read For All)
The focus of this op/ed is on public libraries.
It was written by Ian Clark, who works at the Canterbury Christ Church University library and is studying library and information science at Aberystwyth University.
Here's a summary and some thoughts from ResourceShelf. However, reading the entire op/ed is a must.
From an Op/Ed in The Guardian:
With the government axing public services, librarians are being forced to defend their existence against accusations of irrelevance in modern society. As one adviser on Newsnight put it during the BBC's recent "mini-consultation" on the proposed cuts, why do we need libraries when everyone has broadband and can access information without recourse to a librarian?
Mr. Clark continues with a number of clearly written and easily understood examples about why the above statement is just wrong.
+ Not everyone has broadband access (about 1/3 of the UK Population)
+ Not everyone has ever used the Internet
+ The poor least likely to have access
Public libraries provide a key role in both facilitating access to information via the internet, as well as providing free internet access to bridge the digital divide, which does not only exist between industrialised and developing nations.
We can't argue with that statement. We might have stressed that part of the facilitation can include teaching/training but for all we know Mr. Clark did point this out. What someone sends to a newspaper as a final draft vs. what is actually printed can be much different.
He also brings up the search angle and again is write on the money.
There are still many users who cannot search the internet correctly and successfully. Some simply select the top result in Google rather than ensuring that their search terms are appropriate, and that the resource is reliable. It is not just the general public – even respected journalists seemingly fail to grasp the intricacies of search engines.
Make sure to read the detailed description about how Evelyn Gordon writing for Commentary had some "issues" while working a search engine. Another journalist also made the same error.
As we said the other day (and we are not the first to say it), we think Clark's words illustrate another type of digital divide. Those who can use the tools to find and analyze info (in a timely manner) versus those who don't have the skills. What's amazing is that he uses two examples of journalists having this problem. His decision to choose the examples he did makes for an even more powerful statement.
Also, as more and more web search databases grow larger and larger and if searching skills don't improve, trying to find what you want, from a current and authoritative source, will become an even bigger challenge than it already is for many people.
Every "good" page can't be in the first seven or eight results and remember to some degree the first few results for very general queries (what most people still use) are being gamed in one way or another. As we have said for nine+ years of ResourceShelf, it's a waste of time to get upset over the gaming. It's the way it works. Time would be better spent becoming a better searcher and learning about specialty databases.
MORE AFTER A CLICK
Clark also talks about how librarian training can help with information literacy issues by assisting with "extracting information" from the Internet.
Librarians not only provide access to physical materials, they are also trained in using the internet appropriately to extract information for users – a skill that has been at the heart of the profession for many years. This ensures that misinformation is minimised and helps to maintain a well-informed society.
Here's a brief portion of his conclusion.
Libraries are a bridge between the information-rich and the information-poor. They need reinforcing, not dismantling. We need to continue to provide a highly skilled service that is able to meet the needs of the general public.
In our view, Mr. Clark's commentary in The Guardian is a keeper no matter if you're in the UK or elsewhere.
Again, a minor issue (that might even be to strong), is that a bit more about the public library of today and tomorrow being about more than books would have been helpful. Please, don't misunderstand, books are still an essential part of librarianship. Books are taking different forms but books (the paper kind) are still going to be around for a while. If you were at ALA, there was a large amount of publishers selling paper books. Perhaps it was nowhere more noticeable in the children's book area where librarians and kids waited (in line/on line) for autographs from favorite authors. Someone does need to figure out a way for an author to sign an ebook but that's another story.
If you read some of the comments about Mr. Clark's commentary many refer to the library as a place for books and nothing else. We must let people know that their library has a range of resources available from virtual reference (24x7x365) to archived issues of a magazine and it's all available for free. But the most important asset a library offers are the professionals that they employ and their accessibility (there has never been more ways than today) to help answer, train, verify, select, and so much more.
Among the the ideas and concepts libraries are about are the building and organization of collections. Collections can be print, electronic, or even open-web material. Of course they can also be collections of DVD's, CD's, or even power tools. When it comes to the open-web it's not like URLs don't change (-:, new resources become available, and/or old ones just go away. In fact, one could possibly argue that collecting, organizing and maintaining open-web resources is just as much of a challenge (if not more so) than other types of material since it's so dynamic and their is often a lot of junk to get through, material to analyze (since their is often a lack of publisher reputation) before getting to the most useful, current, and authoritative content.
Perhaps what's needed is an organized effort to show what info pros do in the earlier 21st Century. It's been our experience at ResourceShelf that the general public and even media has little to no idea except mentioning something like, "oh, you must know the Dewey Decimal System by heart" or smiling and going shhhhh....." Perhaps the major library organizations and vendors with the help of the library press and blogosphere should take a cue from Google and offer a series of live events (also live on the web) for key members of the press, government, education, and others to learn about what we do and what is coming soon. As we always say, people can use or support what they don't know about.
Bottom Line: Brilliant and well-done, Mr. Clark. You've written something that should be read and discussed by both the general public, government officials, and info pros.
Source: The Guardian