Monday, November 9, 2009

Technology and its Impact on Libraries: Academic Libraries

Students and scholars have gone from reading hand written scrolls in the centuries dating before Christ to present day habits of searching on-line catalogues and reading e-journals from their computer screens. The methods of searching, retrieving and sharing information have certainly changed. The speed at which recent changes in information seeking has changed and continues to evolve is impressive to say the least; add to that the array of information sharing tools that scholars and students now use to collaborate and combine information, and the result is dizzying. Patrons expect librarians to keep up with these changes; libraries and librarians ignore this imperative at their own peril. Fortunately, most academic librarians are making changes, responding to the major shifts in information gathering and sharing that is fueled, primarily, by students entering academia for which technology and all of its encompassing features are part of their daily lives.

Thus, students and scholars in the academic community still need—will always need—access to information, but now they have choices. The librarian is no longer necessarily the “keeper of the keys,” the necessary intermediary between the information gap and the knowledge acquired through scholarly research. This phenomenon began as a trend around the 1980; s when electronic journals became available in academic libraries. Thereafter, use of the Internet became more pronounced in the 1990’s’, and since the year 2000, there has been a veritable explosion of Internet use among information seekers. Furthermore, patrons are increasingly simply bypassing the library and finding what they need through Google.

What do you think?

Can the information on Google always be considered reliable? Do students understand the importance of understanding what types of sources they are retrieving through Google? Will a librarian’s typical duties shift from teaching patrons how to access information to helping them understand the type of source retrieved?

Since the new millennium, the latest trends involving the use of collaborative information continue to challenge librarians to respond to what patrons want , need and expect. Campus libraries are responding in various ways and to varying degrees. Students now desire to be part of a collective consciousness, not only rapidly acquiring new information, but taking that a step further by sharing it and creating something new with peers via an array of available technological tools. These tools, commonly referred to as Web 2.0 technology, include but are not limited to:

Face book, Wikis, Blogs, Google Apps, Twitter, Social Bookmarking, Virtual Worlds, Podcasting, Mind Mapping Software, and Skype

In his on-line PowerPoint presentation, Ray Uzwyshyn of the University of West Florida Libraries, lists a couple of statistics gathered which support the general observation that today’s youth have incorporated social networking tools in their daily lives.

--81% of 15-35 year olds regularly comment on web blogs

--35% also post daily on blogs and social networking sites

Please follow the link below to view additional relevant and interesting facts in Uzwyshyn's PowerPoint presentation:

Steven J. Bell, of Temple University highlights examples of ways in which some academic libraries are incorporating various Web 2.0 technology tools. The citation for his article is as follows:

--At Temple University, librarians typically use Blogs for commentaries, thoughts and ideas involving higher education and information industries.

--Georgia State and McMaster University try to encourage participation by offering news feeds to which faculty and students might subscribe.

--Ohio State encourages users to add their own content through Wikis; users may add and/or alter existing content.

--Brooklyn College is trying to connect with library patrons in a virtual atmosphere; the library has a site within the MySpace social network.

Lastly, I have not yet mentioned the actual physical space of academic libraries. In light of all these changes taking place, what is to become of the actual physical space of the academic library? Changes are occurring there as well, and one need only to walk into some academic libraries to notice lots of empty space where novels, reference books, magazines and journals once filled every nook and cranny of the building. Many universities are still mulling over the transformations that can, should, or will eventually take place where space is concerned. Others have boldly confronted these modern times and made complete transformations of the physical space that they call the campus library. One such example that comes to mind is the library at the University of Texas. In his article, Richard Albanese writes of the writes of the radical transformation that has taken place at this academic library:

Such a thorough transformation is neither feasible nor desirable on every college or university campus. Even so, academic libraries cannot just ignore all the changes around them, much less fail to react to these changes, be that reaction the transformation of the physical library itself, or incorporation of technology tools into the mission of the library.

What do you think?

Are academic libraries acting quickly enough, and in such a way as to preserve the vital role that academic libraries serve on university campuses, or are they in danger of extinction?

I recently saw the film, Julie and Julia. Since the idea of meal preparation is still fresh on my mind, I can’t help making a connection between the evolution of Americans’ eating habits and the evolution of our information seeking habits. Once upon a time, meal preparation took time, as well as the meal and digestion itself. There was a sort of “canon” of food preparation to which we could refer, reliable and stable. If we were familiar with, for example, and carefully applied cooking techniques studied in classics like Julia child’s The Fine Aft of French Cooking, we could be sure of the source, and that the knowledge acquired from that source would lead us to some sort of “truth” where food preparation and the experience of eating were concerned. But then came the advent of fast food, complete with an ever-increasing array of packaged foods and gadgets that promised to facilitate our lives. We gained something--time--that is, but lost something along the way. It was up to nutritionists and health experts to guide us back to certain truths, an awareness of what it takes to produce quality results.

Correspondingly, it has been that since the advent of new electronic technologies, the way in which we seek out information has also changed rapidly over the past two decades. We now have in the information world what seems to be an endless supply of information, gadgets, and collaboration tools. What’s more, just as in the world of food, we have become quite fond of many of these time saving devices: Who wouldn’t, for example, prefer to chop vegetables in a fraction of the time that it would take to do so with a knife? Or, who would not prefer retrieving electronic articles at the click of a mouse as opposed to trudging through the motions of setting up a microfilm in a clumsy machine?

Be that as it may, I will conclude with my reason for making this comparison in the first place: Just as nutritionists and health experts have had to re-educate the public about our diets, librarians will have to do the same for information-seekers. Nutrionists have not advocated throwing out all of the gizmos, ready-made meals or even fast food restaurants; neither should librarians deny technology its rightful place in libraries. What librarians should do is educate, (in some cases re-educate), patrons about different types of information. Patrons, and for the purpose of this discussion, students using academic libraries, need to learn about the quality of the sources they are retrieving, when and how it is appropriate to use these different types of sources, and that --sometimes-- getting to the heart of a matter by acquiring knowledge through research takes time, patience, perseverance, and can’t be accomplished in a flash. In my blog, I have listed ways in which academic libraries continue to endeavor to help students understand and accept this notion, all while embracing the modern technology that makes many research-related tasks more expedient.


Uzwyshyn, Ray. (2009). Technology and the Next Generation Academic Library: Present and Emergent Digital Possibilities. Retrieved from http://

Bell, Steven J. (2007). Building Better Academic Libraries with Web 2.0 Technology Tools. Library Issues. 28(2).

Albanese, Andrew Richard. (2006). The Heart of Texas: With the University of Texas Libraries, Wherever You Go, There They Are. Library Journal. 131(19),p.36.

Pongracz Sennyey, Lyman Ross and Caroline Mills. (2009). Exploring the future of academic libraries:A definitional approach. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2009.03.003

Wilder, Stanley. (2007). The New Library Professional. Chronical of Higher Education. 53(25).

1 comment:

Bradley said...

Nice job!

Can the information on Google always be considered reliable? Do students understand the importance of understanding what types of sources they are retrieving through Google?

Just as an experiment, I decided to put the topic of my blog, "German Library System" into Google to see what would come up. The very first thing to pop up was my blog. Nice, except if a student was doing research on this and my blog for this class came up, I would recommend that the student not use it. Is my blog a scholarly piece? Yes and no. Although I did research on it, a blog from an "Intro" class is hardly a scholarly work. Perhaps an approved PhD thesis will pass for an academic work, but will the student browsing care what it is as long as he has a source and it goes with an answer he is searching for? Remember PLE? The Principle of Least Effort?

I did change search engines and alter the subject name to see my search results. My blog came up empty on a couple and page 4 of another.

This is where a librarian can help discern good and bad information for a student.