For Whom Tolls the Bell?


Libraries throughout the world are undergoing sweeping changes at an unprecedented rate. Professionals in the field have no valid option than to craft the right strategies for the management of change in the delivery of library and information services. The inability to do so will spell their extinction from the competitive information industry. Libraries have never been the exclusive provider of information in society and today the truth is that information-seekers have an even larger variety of sources to select from the market. Some authors go to the extent of qualifying this phenomenon as “users facing a tyranny of choice”.  Complicating matters even further for librarians, users have become more demanding and want their information needs to be satisfied in the format that they want and at the time they want. As they are exposed to online services and probably have experienced standardised services from reputed organisations, they are not ready to compromise on quality or accept a sub-standard / poor quality service. There is no room for mediocrity and the young technological savvy “googled-generations” do not hesitate to go for alternate information service providers on the Internet.

External factors impacting on the delivery of information services include not only technological changes but also a number of socio-economic and cultural factors such as the evolving knowledge-based economy, a changing educational and learning environment and a motivated labour force determined towards self-improvement through lifelong learning and continuing professional education. To maintain employment prospects in an increasingly competitive workplace, employees are eagerly taking personal responsibility for developing new competencies to become multi-skilled. All these factors are creating new demands on libraries and librarians have to leave their comfort zones to embrace new technologies, devise innovative online information delivery systems and, above all, develop a real user-centred culture. Since users are well-versed in online information retrieval systems and global networks, libraries need to quickly implement digitisation programmes. The creation of electronic contents to be disseminated to targeted customers will enhance the image of the libraries and ultimately win the trust of customers who have a tendency to vacate the physical premises of the library to go into the virtual world. Failure for librarians to acquire new competencies and skills to adapt to these changes will render them redundant.

 Libraries in developed countries have successfully adapted themselves to the changing environment. A scanning of professional literature in the LIS field shows the use of terms such as ‘Cybrarians’, ‘infosphere’, ‘biblioblogosphere’, ‘information superhighway’ and many other new terms coined to express the changing nature of the work of the librarian. Some authors have even gone to the extent of qualifying the term ‘librarian’ as antiquated as it does not reflect the actual work of the ‘professional information worker’. Is it not correct then to call the term ‘librarian’ in those countries as a misnomer?

What about librarians in our country? Those who form part of the old establishment and who have systematically refused to espouse the ideals of modernism (new ideas, new communication tools and technologies) will gradually phase out. This is a natural phenomenon. Young professionals who are starting their career in this field need to be cautious and not to follow suit. Change is the only constant factor. If you don’t manage the change, you will slowly but surely become obsolete. In that case, it would not be a surprise to hear the answer to the question “For Whom Tolls the Bell?”  to be “For thee, Librarians!”

R. Hauroo 


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