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The Library: Not just about books!

By: Ayotunde Badaru

February, 2013

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It is no longer news that libraries all over the world are experiencing changes in operations and services because of the impact of information and communication technology and internet applications. Libraries now evaluate old operations and services and refine them to suit the current trends in the society in order to remain relevant. It can be said that, the library regardless of the type or location has over the years fulfilled its role as a custodian of information materials of various types and forms ranging from one field of study to another. Specifically, the traditional role of the library is to select, collect and preserve information. This traditional role hasn’t changed; instead it has broadened or expanded in terms of scope with the advent of information and communication technology and internet applications. Obviously, information and communication technology and internet applications have impacted institutions, organizations, agencies and business through the integration of its concepts and technologies into the operations of these entities, the library being one. This write-up will identify how the library uses information and communication technology and internet applications to articulate its role and deliver better services.

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First, lets take a brief look at the main subject; a library. The word library is traced to the Latin word “liber” meaning “books”. Therefore, a library is a collection of books and other literary materials that are kept for reasons suitable to the patron. The library cab be also been seen as a collection of information materials such as books, films, maps, manuscripts, phonographic records and so on for retrieval and use by patrons. There are a lot of definitions for the word “library”, am sure you will have one. The library is located at different places and has different functions depending on where it is located; this forms the basis for different types of libraries which can be academic (university or college) library, public (state, city) library, school (high or secondary, primary) library, special (organization, personal, research) library. The library handles information in different forms i.e. it acquires processes, organizes, makes available, preserves and conserves materials that contain information for patrons or users. Therefore, the whole essence of the library’s existence hovers around information; information is why any library exists. Information however, can be presented in two major forms: print form and non print form. These two are umbrella terms for other materials such as books, microfilms, films, audio-visual materials and so on.

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Information Communication Technology is a term used to refer to an integration of telecommunication equipment, wireless signals, and other technologies that are capable of transmitting information from one place to another. The term is an extension of Information Technology (IT) used since the 1980’s by researchers. In addition to this, according to Antherjanam and Sheeja (2008), ICT is the convergence of computers, communication and microelectronic based techniques. Technologies such as computers, telephones, mobile devices, www (World Wide Web), internet, videoconferencing, satellite technologies and others make up ICT. One of the greatest ICT component however, that has impacted the library and its environment is the computer. The computer, a machine that is capable of doing just about anything, is the basis for the use of other technologies and the internet. Information Communication Technology from my opinion is a “catalyst”: a global phenomenon that speeds up change in every aspect of human endeavor. From being known by few members of the society, ICT has rapidly led to a paradigm shift to “paperless” workplaces and computing, and based on the definition given by the Information Technology Association of America which states that Information Technology involves study, design, application and implementation of computer based systems; the 21st century library in every aspect of its operations through study and design has applied and implemented computer based systems to its operations and services. Shivakumari noted in his PowerPoint presentation on the impact of ICT on academic libraries in India, that the emergence of the internet and web as the repository of electronic information as impacted the library greatly. The internet therefore is another major component of the ICT that better utilizes ICT technologies and aids communication.

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No doubt, the internet and web are two major ICT components that have revolutionized the information industry by providing information for just about anything, but this doesn’t change the fact that these components has led to the creation of an “information jungle”. Now, a jungle is majorly characterized by confusion and complexity with various types and species of flora and fauna, applying this to the information industry shows information of various types having different subjects scattered all over the web, thereby leaving the searcher with information relevant and irrelevant to what is needed. The search process therefore is eventually slowed down and will not yield the result required leading to frustration. The library like I said earlier selects, collects and preserves information. The library therefore, identifies what is demanded by the patron, goes into the “information jungle”, searches through all information, selects the relevant one for the patron and the preserves it for them. The library therefore has expanded its roles due to “information explosion” resulting from the innovation of ICT. On the other hand, the library uses ICT to search for, retrieve, and present information to its patrons. And according to Shivakumari, web based information resources such as e-books, e-journals and e-reference sources accessed through networks has taken the library to its patrons. The library therefore, with the innovation of ICT is even more relevant than ever as its roles will come to life and be better articulated in this age of “information explosion” Now, look at how the library expands its role through ICT: Collection development: The library through ICT has access a wider range of information materials from different parts of the world. Online catalogues, online bookshops and publisher’s website are used for search for relevant information materials. In cases of periodicals, online journals are subscribed to and downloaded for free or on a specified amount.

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Internet Applications: Internet applications are applications that are accessed over a network. These applications are hosted in a browser controlled environment and rely on internet connectivity. The major ones used by the library include:  Blog: A blog captures the views and opinion of a person, group, organization and others based on particular topic. A library creates a blog to convey key messages, promote awareness and provide research findings on various fields of study. The library also serves the community through the provision of information about events and happenings in the community through blog.  Podcast and readcast: The two applications allow the library to upload digital recordings or text materials for patrons from all around the globe to download. Podcasts and readcasts associated with RSS feeds that are identified by patrons interested.  E-Learning groups: E-Learning is also a platform the library uses through ICT. Groups are created through wikis, blogs, and online groups for sharing information. Each member of the group provides an opinion about a topic which will benefit other in the group. The library can also provide sources of reference and information materials to aid learning.  E-mail: Perhaps the most widely used internet application used today, email enables users with an account send messages to one individual or numbers of persons. The librarian uses e-mail to interact with users, subscribe for online materials, and create online groups and so on. Ready reference service: Ready reference service is an ICT enabled service that brings the library to the patron. Reference queries are can be asked by patrons through e-mail, videoconferencing and instant messaging, the reference librarian searches for information that suits the query and replies the patron almost instantly. Cataloguing: Cataloguing and catalogues just got a lot better with ICT. Online catalogues can be used to view catalogues in other libraries for copy cataloguing, decision making and so on. A major innovation is: OPAC (Online Public Access Online)

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 OPAC: Online Public Access Catalogue is a great ICT component in the library industry. Catalogue holdings of a library can be accessed without being physically present in the library, thereby, bringing the patrons to the library in an instant. Information can be gotten on the spot when needed. Catalogues from other libraries can be accessed based on agreement between libraries.  MARC: Machine Readable Cataloguing started as a pilot project in the Library of Congress and offers speedy cataloguing process and flexibility. MARC can be applied to variety of information materials, thereby incorporate all the information materials in the library in one location. MARC is a major ICT tools that saves the time of the user and reduces cost of producing card catalogues. Preservation and conservation: The library through ICT provides reprography of information materials through the printing, photocopying and scanning. Library materials therefore, can last long as possible; patrons can saves time by producing copies needed without having to spend time in the library. Library materials can be conserved in online databases and computer storage disks and can be retrieved easily without stress. The Library Website: The website of any library is as a presence of the library on the internet. The library can be read about and contacted through information displayed on the site. The library website however, is also more than a presence but also a virtual resource that the library exploits to deliver services like Current Awareness Services, provision of links to online databases and interesting sites that keep the patron informed. The library website offers community service through the display of news, and upcoming events in the environment like sports, politics and entertainment.

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The library now 2.0 is surrounded with various information sources and patrons with varying needs, this environment however, should not be a reason for confusion and despair. The library should therefore, take up the responsibility of a guide, a guide in the sense that, the library through the resources it possess should ensure that members of the society are directed to information they need at the right time. The influence of ICT on the library should not be seen as challenge but as a stepping stone to better service delivery and activities and with the current shift to computer based information acquisition, use and storage, the library will definitely continue to be relevant in the society and not just be about books according to popular opinion.

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Antherjanam and Sheeja (2008). Impact of ICT on Library and Information Science: Major Shifts and Practices in CUSAT Central Library. InternationalCALIBER: p. 35-43