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Digital preservation, future of libraries, Open Access, why we need libraries

5 reasons why we really need librarians and Information Professionals in the Internet age

by Louise Morrison (@ljmorr)

The library world is changing, there’s no doubt about that. The way we organise, seek and retrieve information has changed massively over the last 10 years and more dramatic changes will follow.

Threatened budget cuts have led to worrying times for library workers. But these are exciting times too! Advances in technology mean we can reach users in previously unimagined ways and provide amazing new services.

So, in celebration of National Libraries Day, here are 5 key reasons why we really need librarians and Information Professionals in the Internet age…

1) Online doesn’t always == free

“Why do we need libraries? You can get everything online now can’t you?”

Well, in some ways this is true. The last few years have seen a huge increase in the availability of e-books, e-journals, online newspapers and reference sources – items that would previously have necessitated a trip to the library or book shop to consult or purchase the print version.

But, it’s a common misconception that online means free. Many newspapers have introduced pay walls while it is well known that academic libraries spend an enormous proportion of their budgets on e-journals.

If we get rid of libraries, people will still be able to get books and journals online, sure, but they’ll have to pay for them. Libraries have always been about ensuring access to information and learning for all, not only the rich and I think it’s vital we don’t forget this.

2) Open Access is gaining in importance.

As more and more journals are published online, the traditional printing, binding and distribution costs have decreased. Yet academic libraries still pay extremely high prices for e-journals that are written and reviewed (for free) by academic staff. A growing number of researchers are objecting to this status quo and many funders are demanding that research should be made freely available to the general public. The recent academic outcry towards Elsevier’s publication policies shows the surge in support for the Open Access campaign.

Libraries have always been at the forefront of the Open Access movement. Many academic libraries have set up Institutional Repositories to archive staff publications while librarians and Information Professionals have campaigned for changes in publication policies. These skills are now more relevant than ever. It seems inevitable that the academic publishing landscape will change in coming years and Institutional Repositories and the staff behind them could have a vital role to play in storing and disseminating research.

3) The Digital Divide is growing

The gap between the Information Rich and the Information Poor is increasing. While the availability of information online is growing, many people still have no Internet access or lack the skills to use it. There is a real danger of this group of people being left behind and libraries have a vital role to play in providing free Internet access and information skills training to anyone who needs it.

4) The quality of information you find on the Internet can vary

Anyone can do a Google search but not everyone understands how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources of information. Just because something is published on the Internet, it doesn’t mean it’s true. A prime example is medical information where a simple search of common symptoms brings back a range of, generally alarming, prognoses, many of which have little medical credibility. A librarian’s job has always been about assessing the quality of information provided to users and I think these skills should be transferred to the online world.

5) It’s vital that we preserve our digital heritage

Libraries play an essential role in preserving human knowledge for future generations. For many years, legal deposit libraries like the British Library and the National Library of Scotland have been quietly storing copies of all publications issued in these countries while archives and Special Collections departments have preserved a variety of rare publications and ephemera. As a result of this vital work, we have an invaluable record of accumulated knowledge and can form an accurate picture of life in times gone by.

These policies have served us well but as more and more publishing moves from print to online, future-thinking libraries have adapted to accommodate this. UK legal deposit libraries now have digital deposit policies while the Library of Congress has taken on the massive task of archiving the entire public contents of Twitter. We have the potential to pass on an incredibly detailed picture of life in the 21st century to future generations but only if someone takes charge of preserving the vast amount of information created. Librarians’ skills in assessing how best to ensure the survival of knowledge are now more essential than they ever have been.

Librarians needed now more than ever

Far from being rendered obsolete by the pace of technology, I think the librarian’s skill set is now more relevant and necessary than ever before. Instead of fearing the changes that new technologies will bring I think we need to embrace this brave new world and lead the way with our expertise and enthusiasm.

I would love to hear what you think about these issues, please comment!

More MmITS posts about the future of libraries.

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Discussion

13 thoughts on “5 reasons why we really need librarians and Information Professionals in the Internet age

  1. I find it very difficult to persaude people that my job role as a librarian is still relevant (many of these people are friends who do not want to hurt my feelings by asking the question outright).

    Having worked with both students from the ages of 11 all the way up to 60+ I wholeheartedly agree that there are still library users who need help finding and assessing information from library professionals. Young people, especially, assume that everything that they need can be found on Google and some of the work that I see being printed out in my library every single day is shockingly inaccurate and usually the first result that comes up on Google.

    Posted by Rosie | February 8, 2012, 12:06 pm
  2. ” While the availability of information online is growing, many people still have no Internet access or lack the skills to use it. ”

    I’m not quite sure if this is a rich vs poor issue. Looking at what’s happening in some countries it seems more like a political issue where the government of the day wishes to control what its people see. In Africa, there are millions of mobile phones used to connect to the internet – they don’t always have PCs to do so.

    Posted by Vaughn Dumas | February 8, 2012, 1:14 pm
  3. I work in a school library in Canada. We’ve shifted from teaching library skills, to information skills, in the 1980’s to information literacy in the 1990’s, to Inquiry as a new way of learning in the 21st century. Students need to be taught how to identify their own information needs, and how to access accurate information. Library staff increasingly need to be resource specialists who can guide through copious amounts of online information to timely and correct resources, while guiding students in developing their own effective research strategies. Libraries are essential!

    Posted by Beverley Rayner (@BeverleyRayner) | March 13, 2012, 3:34 pm
  4. I think another important service we provide is a combination of 1 and 4. Information on the Internet isn’t always free, and it’s not always reliable…while we don’t judge the truth content of the information resources we collect, we can say whether they have some value to our communities. So we create collections that meet the needs of our communities or specific groups of people. We filter the information and reduce information overload. I believe people are beginning to see that the free Internet was just a way to get us hooked, and there are going to be more and more strings attached in the next decade or so. You just have to read up on Apple’s and Google’s and Facebook’s latest business strategies to see that.

    Posted by Ana Belinda Carreon | March 14, 2012, 6:04 am
  5. the information in the internet is not up to quater compare to the information in the library

    Posted by ubong kenrick | May 21, 2012, 12:00 am
  6. I am a librarian. I find my profession so relevant because I often hear thanks from people I helped with in looking for information sources in their research. Most would immediately consult search engines which just make them frustrated as they cannot find the relevant and authentic information online. Until they get frustrated is the time they ask help from librarians. They do not know what institutional repositories are and electronic journals and other valuable databases. More interestingly, these people do not know that librarians today have background knowledge in computer technology. I am from the Philippines.

    Posted by cativo | September 19, 2012, 7:11 am

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