The concept of libraries is as old as humanity itself, says IRN Goudar, Visiting Professor and Library Advisor of Bangalore University. But the way the ever-changing information ecosystem has affected these storehouses of knowledge has made managing it more complex than ever. Many libraries, at least in the country, are not fully prepared for the technology wave, be it library services platforms, discovery services or consumer technologies. But it is high time they do, warns Goudar, who himself has worked closely with University of Mysore in rejuvenating their library space to incorporate innovations into the infrastructure. In a chat with Edex, Prof Goudar holds forth on the need for libraries to develop a model for automation that will help them stay relevant.
How has the advent of technology affected the state of libraries?
We have seen a seismic shift in the library system. The traditional library has become electronic in many ways. Library collections including books, journals and reports are either born digital or existing documents are digitised. Abundantly available open access sources add further complication for resources management in academic libraries. Traditional library management systems have made way for electronic resource management systems. And with this wave of technology, the role of the librarian has also undergone a paradigm change. While earlier tasks like creating the entries, collecting and organising the data, archiving and disseminating the information were done manually, now there are tools that allow one to digitally publish, store and make the information reach a wider audience much faster. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Trend Report identifies five high-level trends shaping the global information environment. One of them states that digital content created in 2011 is several million times that contained in all books ever written. Internet traffic has risen by 13,000 per cent in the last decade.
The proliferation of hyper-connected mobile devices, networked sensors in appliances and infrastructure are transforming the global information economy. With advancements in machine translation and availability of internet access, potentially any book in any language could be available to a user, regardless of their location. What impact this will have on libraries is anyone’s guess.
Evolution of Library Science
As libraries grew in stature, the processes and procedures used in library services gave birth to a new discipline called Library Science. Various universities then started courses. In later years, during the 1990s, these universities added ‘information science’ to the course name. With this, the role of the librarian and the techie became one. The librarian of today has the same onus — he or she has to adopt new technology to improve discoverability of and access to all types of information in all physical media and formats as radically and broadly as possible.
However, despite changes in technologies, digital resources and society in general, Dr SR Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science (Books are for use; Every reader (should be able to obtain) his or her book; Every book its reader (each book will find someone); Save the time of the reader; The library is a growing organism) still apply to libraries today. Michael Gorman redefined these laws in the context of the digital era as follows: Libraries should serve humanity; they should respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated; use technology intelligently to enhance service; protect free access to knowledge and honour the past and create the future.
Challenges for academic libraries
Academic libraries face a number of challenges posed by emerging technologies. If we take into consideration library automation in India, a number of issues are of serious concern. Most of the time, the job is half done and compliance with standards is a serious matter for us to address. Improper radio-frequency identification implementation is a setback too. With Electronic Resource Management Systems, the data required to manage e-resources is complex, locating the data is difficult, the amount of information is immense and keeping that information up-to-date is also a challenge. The need of the hour is development of academic librarians’s tech skills to help them cope with new dimensions that the digital era has spawned.
How can they enhance their services?
Many ask if integrating internet resources with library services is the job of a librarian. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. This can be accomplished by creating a library-specific e-resources portal, providing links to existing portals and creating a customised library website. There are information search tools that one can use like online catalogues, web lists (A to Z List), aggregated databases: bibliographic and citation databases, e-resource gateway, subject directories, et al.
In these times when search engines, social networks, and cloud computing rule the roost, libraries have to make an effort to stay relevant, while not diluting the core library principles. They have to explore new strategies, make use of software created under open source and commercial licences. Merging the best of the technology era can be possible only when librarians themselves understand the innovation that is underway. Take for instance, social networking applications. A librarian can utilise this media to create a network around students, scholars and faculty, conduct orientation programmes, share community information and solicit feedback. As per a Taylor & Francis (a publisher of library journals) white paper, 88 per cent of librarians think social media will become more important in the future. We need to remember, “The internet complements libraries, it doesn’t replace them.”