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Q: Librarianship ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Librarianship
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: pdl-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 21 Jun 2003 13:12 PDT
Expires: 21 Jul 2003 13:12 PDT
Question ID: 220145
What do you think the status (or role) of academic librarians is (or
will be) in the 21st Century?

Request for Question Clarification by justaskscott-ga on 21 Jun 2003 13:22 PDT
I would be interested in answering this question, especially since I
will be attending library school shortly.  We also have at least a few
librarians who might be interested as well.  But first, I should ask a
few questions.

Do you want an answer for librarians in the United States, or
somewhere else?

Should the answer just cover the relatively near future -- say, the
next 25 years -- or should it span the potential changes in status or
role for the entire century?  (I'm not sure whether the answer would
differ either way, since it's quite difficult to envision what life
will be like near the year 2100.  It's even difficult to imagine life
in 2010 or 2020, but it's a little easier than 2100.)

Do you just want a personal opinion, or does the opinion need to be
supported by citations to web pages or other sources?

Clarification of Question by pdl-ga on 21 Jun 2003 13:50 PDT
I would limit the response to the United States. I wouldn't be in a
position to evaluate or perhaps even appreciate responses that might
be relevant to other countries or cultures.

Time period - even 25 years ahead is a phenomenal time block, so, yes,
let's limit it to that window. If you feel moved to speculate beyond
that feel free but note that you're doing so.

Personal opinions can be offered, but some grounding of that opinion
in trends, examples, or citations that are publically available (web
or print) should be made.  You may add a personal opinion that is just
that, but do so clearly indicating or differentiating them from the
responses that have some context and  citation support.
Subject: Re: Librarianship
Answered By: missy-ga on 22 Jun 2003 00:04 PDT
Hello, pdl!

What a terrific question!  As a former student librarian (in both high
school and college) and a staunch library supporter in my community, I
take an active interest in the roles of both libraries and librarians
in our swiftly advancing society.

Even our own beloved Google Answers was perceived to have an impact on
the future role of librarians when the project launched last Spring -
some feared it would undermine the role of librarians, relegating them
to back rooms or, even worse, unemployment lines!

I never held with that view – academic librarians are, in my opinion,
going to continue to be necessary as our society evolves and changes,
and the need for management of comprehensive research resources
increases, even as their jobs change with the new needs of libraries. 
As I researched your query, I found more than a dozen sources that
convinced me that my opinion is a more realistic prediction than that
of the “Technology will completely replace librarians!” clan of
bibliophobic doomsayers.

These articles, incidentally, made for some very interesting reading. 
I hope you find them as interesting as I did.  Though I am presenting
you with a personal opinion, I have based it on both personal
experience in an evolving library setting and a thorough reading of
the source articles listed at the end of this answer.

Let’s consider the current role of the academic librarian, first. 
What are the responsibilities of today’s academic librarian?

“Care and Feeding of the Library”

-- Cataloguing and preserving the library’s current holdings
-- Expanding the informational sources available through purchasing
and negotiation of materials loans from other libraries
-- Expanding the library’s research capabilities through the
implementation of new technology
-- Assessing the usefulness of both old and new resources through
careful study and review
-- Improving access to collected information through careful indexing
and record keeping
-- Managing the library’s budget and personnel

“Care and Feeding of the Library User”

-- Assisting new library users in navigating the library catalogue and
-- Assisting veteran library users with the location of new resources
-- Training library users to avail themselves of Internet services
      -- teaching them to use search engines to help them
      -- teaching them to navigate various databases to locate
      -- assisting them in learning to use internet research tools
(Usenet,    Google Answers, user forums) to help them obtain relevant
-- Assisting users in finding information specifically tailored to
their needs through the reference  interview, using both traditional
print media and Internet sources

A comprehensive job description and overview of work activities and
working conditions can be found here:

Academic librarian

(Although the publication is British, I can assure you that the job of
an academic librarian in the UK is much the same as that of an
academic librarian in the US.  The publication is listed solely as a
reference to current duties.)

Today’s academic librarian has many responsibilities, from the basics
of library management, all the way to assisting users with intricate
research papers requiring complex searches and specific pieces of
information.  Without the academic librarian to assist them, users
would quickly become lost in the vast array of information available
to them, become frustrated, and might ultimately recover inadequate
resources or, at the extreme, give up on their searching altogether.

How might we expect this role to change in the future?

Far from a diminished role, I believe we’ll see an increased role for
the academic librarians of the future.  As our storehouses of
information grow, so too will our need for someone to keep track of it
all and help us navigate through it.  Google might be quick, but I
daresay it has access to only an infinitesimal fraction of the
information available to or recoverable by a skilled librarian!

By way of example, Google will let me see, if I allow “similar links”
to be shown, 998 references to the Battle of Fallen Timbers, a pivotal
1794 battle which led to the eventual settlement of what is now
Toledo, OH.  Should I walk into the University of Toledo’s Carlson
Library and ask for help, the librarian would be able to point me to
the specific sections of the library containing books about this
event, and hundreds of articles on microfiche.  If he wheedles and
pleads a bit with a neighboring library and a historical society, he
can likely obtain limited access to actual documents from that time.

A well organized search engine might help me find references faster,
but a seasoned librarian will be able to help me find better, more
relevant and more detailed references, drawing not only on available
research tools, but also years of training and experience.  There is
little more valuable in the search for information than a librarian
intimately familiar with every nook, cranny and research tool in his
or her institution.  Many a term paper during my university sojourn
(just as the Internet was becoming more than just the demesne of
computer specialists) was made much easier by the assistance of
skilled academic librarians.  Unlike electronic applications, academic
librarians possess the ability to sort, filter and present relevant
information in terms specifically tailored to the individual querant.

To go back to my earlier Fallen Timbers reference:  An electronic
application may be able to find information about the battle, but the
librarian will ask specific questions about my project, including what
I already know and what pieces I think I’m missing, and will be able
to fill in the blanks with books, articles and documents specific to
my topic, without the distraction of having to sort through unrelated
documentation on my own.  An academic librarian provides guidance,
whether by pointing the user to a specific book, or teaching the user
to more effectively avail oneself of available databases and
electronic publications.

Although there is a certain perception that anything is accessible
online, the fact is that the web holds only a sliver of the
information we have available to us, and will likely ever only hold
the barest sliver of information.  While digitizing current
collections and making them web accessible might seem a trivial
matter, it is actually a time consuming and expensive process, in
terms of purchasing equipment, manhours expended actually digitizing
and later maintenance expenditures.  As technology evolves, expensive
and time consuming upgrades eventually become necessary, requiring
knowledgeable personnel to implement and maintain them, as well as
instruct scholars in the proper use of these new resources.

In the short term, digitization will likely be limited first to
decaying collections.  Preservation of fragile older texts would take
a greater priority than immediately making newer texts web accessible
– currently, many traditional sources are virtually unusable due to
their age and fragility.  Digitization of these older texts would make
them useable again.  Perhaps in the longer term, as librarians become
more comfortable with the ever-changing use of technology, they will
be able to develop and implement plans for faster and more cost
efficient digitization of newer resources.

As the role of the skilled academic librarian changes and technology
occupies a larger portion of the typical academic library, we can
certainly expect to see some digitization of current collections, the
responsibility for which will likely fall to the librarians
themselves.  The future’s academic librarians will continue to
maintain traditional print publications, but will also be skilled in
converting some sources to a web accessible format.  They will have
extensive knowledge of intelligent (and ADA accessibility standards
compliant!) page design, and will be well versed in databases –
including methods for expanding and updating databases such as the
library’s electronic catalog to make it more easily usable and more
informative for library patrons.

Tomorrow’s academic librarians will be able to integrate “old school”
research resources with modern search methods, accessing well
organized computerized databases to locate specific books, journals
and individual articles, indicating whether the resource is
traditional print media, unconverted microfiche, or part of a digital
collection.  In an effort to continue to uphold the primary purpose of
an academic library – to collect, organize and facilitate access to
scholarly information.  Many institutions may share a large,
centralized database, effectively connecting these institutions and
treating the aggregate as a single, comprehensive library instead of a
cluster of smaller libraries.  Such a connection would help make use
of Inter-Library Loans faster and more efficient, and would also allow
institutions to share expensive resources such as subscriptions to
scholarly journals.  Connected libraries could compare subscription
lists and weed out redundant subscriptions, freeing up money to
acquire additional journal subscriptions to be shared among them.  The
effect of this expansion of technology in the academic library would
be to provide greater access to more information – current, relevant,
and easily obtained.

The academic librarian of the future will become increasingly
responsible for technology education, not only developing and
implementing library instruction courses for students, but also taking
responsibility for training faculty and staff in the use of expanding
library resources.  As new databases and other research tools are
added, academic librarians will handle explanations of not only basic
internet and networked resources usage, they will also explain how
these systems work together to allow more efficient use  They will
become largely responsible for educating students and faculty in the
use of effective search and evaluation techniques, as well as the
importance of current information.  They will teach users how to
determine the credibility of a given source of information, and serve
as important guides in the process of self education.

Tomorrow’s academic librarians will, much like today’s, be
indispensable parts of the academic library system.  Their abilities
will still be necessary to provide users with the best and most
relevant information, and they will still be needed to sort through
the myriad sources of information available and select the materials
best suited for the collections which they maintain.  Academic
librarians will still remain an important link between library users
and the information they seek, a link not to be lightly discounted.

Reference sources:

An internet role for the academic librarian?

Academic Librarianship: Reference and Public Services

Libraries-Adult Learning
E-STREAMS Vol. 4, No. 10 - October 2001

“Looking into the Future in American Academic Libraries” by Sara B.
presented at “The State of American Librarianship”
American Library Association Annual Conference 2001
International Relations Roundtable
IRRT Continuing Education Committee Pre-Conference

The Revolution of Technology: A Threat to Academic Librarians?

Internet Education Project

The work of information mediators: A comparison of librarians and
software agents 

The Social Life of Information

Disprove Old Library Perceptions Through Technology Training
by Francie C. Davis and Joyce Renfroe Gotsch
Marketing Library Services
Volume 12, No. 4, June 1998 

Building Earth’s Largest Library: Driving into the Future
by Steve Coffman - Director, FYI, County of Los Angeles Public Library
Searcher Vol. 7, No. 3, March 1999

The Response to “Building Earth’s Largest Library”
by Steve Coffman - Director, FYI,County of Los Angeles Public Library
Searcher Vol. 7, No. 7, July/August 1999

The Virtual Union Catalog: A Comparative Study
Karen Coyle - California Digital Libary
D-Lib Magazine
March 2000 Volume 6 Number 3 

Digital Libraries and the Problem of Purpose
David M. Levy - Xerox Palo Alto Reseach Center
D-Lib Magazine
January 2000, Volume 6 Number 1

Making of America: Online Searching and Page Presentation at the
University of Michigan
Elizabeth J. Shaw - Digital Project Librarian
Sarr Blumson - Chief Programmer - Digital Library Production Services
Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Rm 308
University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan
D-Lib Magazine, July/August 1997

ACRL Statement on Professional Development

Thank you very much for an interesting and enjoyable project!  If I
can be of further assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask for
clarification.  I will happily seek more information for you, if you
so desire.


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