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Information management & technology podcast.

Information management & technology podcast

Closely arranged shelves tightly packed with the classified and codified accumulated knowledge of mankind in areas from archaeology to art, meteorology to medicine and physics to psychotherapy – ah, the academic library; the physical centre of most university campuses and the metaphorical centre of student life for generations. Could it really be under threat from the electronic revolution?

Money that was formerly spent on books and the print versions of periodicals is increasingly being diverted to online databases and collections. Growing amounts of information are available on the internet that were never available in hard-copy format, and never will be. These electronic resources, moreover, are increasingly becoming available to library users remotely. Fewer students are borrowing books or consulting reference collections in the traditional way. But Storey (Library Management, Vol 28 Nos 8-9 2007) believes that forecasts of the imminent demise of the university library are alarmist.

The author suggests that academic librarians who predict the arrival of the ‘library-less’ university are over-reacting to the ‘newness’ of the electronic environment and under-valuing their professional skills and traditions. Calling on 35 years of experience in academic-library management, Storey concedes, however, that academic librarians will have to change to meet the challenges of the future.

One necessary change will be to play an increasing role in teaching students, faculty and university administrators how to make the most of the wealth of knowledge and information now available in digital form. Li et al. (Library Management, Vol 28 Nos 8-9 2007) point out that librarians at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have already developed a web-based information-literacy tutorial that has been incorporated into the IT proficiency test that all students at the university must take. The inclusion of information competencies as a graduation requirement at the university, meanwhile, has provided an opportunity to incorporate information literacy into the curriculum and, through this, to foster greater collaboration between faculty and librarians. According to Li et al., librarians’ teaching role at the university is expanding as administrators and faculty increasingly come to value these skills.

Meanwhile, Lukasiewicz (Library Review, Vol 56 No 9 2007) argues that, in order to remain an important and dynamic part of a university, academic librarians must create digital libraries that offer not only innovative reference services, but also cutting-edge products such as podcasting and wikis. The author advances the view that America Online Instant Messenger has the potential to be used for reference, and more scholarship should be done in this area.

In short, academic librarians are going to have to change from being archivists, preservationists and gatekeepers to being counsellors and trainers. They will exchange one set of skills for another. The emphasis will be on offering a service, rather than being present in a place. But they will be no less central to the university environment because of that. After all, librarians, like universities themselves, are in the knowledge ‘business’. As long as students and faculty members need to discover new things, librarians will be on hand to help them to do it.