IFLA Trend Report

The library and information landscape is constantly changing with the advent of new technologies. This is a global phenomenon. As an employee working in the library and information sector, we are concerned with the new developments taking place in our work environment and we are fully aware of the impact of these technologies, not only in our workplace but also in society in general. There have certainly been situations in our library where our users whom we serve prove to be more tech-savvy and display more competencies in the use of new technological tools. How do libraries and librarians respond to this changing technological environment?

IFLA Trend Report has identified five “high level trends shaping the information society, spanning access to education, privacy, civic engagement and transformation.”  Before going through the Trend Report, it is recommended to read the IFLA’s Insights Document entitled “Riding the Waves or Caught in the Tide? Navigating the Evolving Information Environment” which “pulls together and summarizes all of the information contained on the Trend Report website for IFLA members. It identifies five high level trends and considers possible future “collision points” between trends affecting the role and identity of libraries.”

According to IFLA, “the Insights Document is the conversation starter for the library community. It’s the ‘way in’ to the Trend Report, and opens up discussion about how information trends are shaping your library, whether it’s a public, academic, specialist or national library, within your region.”  The document is accessible at http://trends.ifla.org/files/trends/assets/insights-from-the-ifla-trend-report_v3.pdf.

 

The five trends identified are as follows:

Trend 1: New Technologies will both expand and limit who has access to information.

Trend 2: Online Education will democratise and disrupt global learning.

Trend 3: The boundaries of privacy and data protection will be redefined.

Trend 4: Hyper-connected societies will listen to and empower new voices and groups.

Trend 5: The global information environment will be transformed by new technologies.

 

LIA is encouraging all employees in the library and information sector to go through the document and participate actively in discussion groups to assess the situation at the local level.

21st Century Skills & Libraries

There is presently much debate going on about what skills are required by students, workers and citizens  to enable them to participate fully in the educational, social, economic and cultural  activities in the emerging digital age.  Fast broadband and Internet connection (gradually replacing the slow dial-up access using 56 kbps modems) will drive our  information society to the next phase of development which is likely to drastically change the current information/knowledge-based economy.  In democratic set ups like America, Great Britain and many other countries, there is a growing awareness about this “21st century skills”. Many government authorities have adopted explicit policies and attempt to ensure that all their citizens have adequate opportunities to access and effectively use ICTs in their daily lives.  In the US, association like The Partnership for 21st Century Skills which is supported by the U. S. Department of Education and which is promoting the goals of No Child Left Behind programme,   aims to define and incorporate into learning the skills that are necessary for every student’s success in the 21st Century. Another association, the NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education) mentions that  “media literacy is finally on Congress radar.” A bill introduced in the Senate provides that  “Students need to go beyond just learning today’s academic context to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, communications skills, creativity and innovation skills, collaboration skills, contextual learning skills, and information and media literacy skills.”

The European Commission (EC) too views that “Europeans young and old could miss out on the benefits of today’s high-tech information society unless more is done to make them ‘media literate’ enough to access, analyse and evaluate images, sounds and texts and use traditional and new media to communicate and create media content.” [Read more at http://www.sofiaecho.com/2009/08/20/772502_european-commission-urges-new-media-literacy.The EC recommendation on media literacy may be accessed at: http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/media_literacy/index_en.htm ]

Information Literacy and Librarians

Professional library associations like the American Library Association (ALA) and the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) have for years developed information literacy programmes.  As per the definition of ALIA, information literacy is “the ability to recognise the need for information and to identify, locate, access, evaluate and effectively use the information to address and help resolve personal, job related or broader social issues and problems.”

It is clear that the term ’21st century skills‘ includes information literacy skills, digital literacy skills, media literacy skills, information and communication skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills and  interpersonal and self-directional skills. To succeed in the 21st century, one should  have all these  21st century skills.

Role of libraries

Research papers have concluded that libraries and librarians can play a critical role both in making their users information literate and bridge the digital divide that exists at local, regional or national levels. Libraries can provide digitized full-text content, provide free access to computers and Internet and become national portals of digital information resources. In the changed environment, the librarian’s role have to shift from that of information locator (custodian role) to that of an information evaluator and instructor in the use and evaluation of information sources.

Libraries in local context

In the local context, unfortunately there are still some big libraries which are entirely dependent on print media. Automation of libraries is still a dream while  employees are often seen performing all library house-keeping jobs manually. With regards to ICTs, the attitudes of some librarians having charge of  important libraries are really frustrating. As soon as they hear about computers or computer-related technologies in the LIS field, their first reflex is that such things are the realm of computer technicians, systems analysts, database managers, not for librarians or library people. Such behaviours on behalf of those at the head of institutions are detrimental to the library profession in general. They forget that technology permeates all branches of learning, all disciplines and every sphere of our life. Lawyers, engineers, medical practitioners, people of all walks of life need ICTs in their daily personal and professional lives. If  librarians and library employees are themselves not fully conversant with ICTs, it is difficult to see them having a role in the information literacy programmes. They may not be of any assistance in bridging the digital gap.

Library people have time and again complained about lack of training to develop ICT skills in employees. They wrongly believe that the onus of training falls entirely on their employers. In a climate of cataclysmic change, no one is guaranteed a job for a life time. Those who train themselves by constantly updating their skills and become multi-skilled and who are engaged in life long learning are those who have greater chance of employability in such changing workplaces. In the past, employers made it a duty to train their employees but nowadays this responsibility is given less importance. In difficult economic situations, they downsize their personnel and redeploy those who suit the new market requirements. Others are easily laid off as they become redundant due to lack of new skills to fit the new organisation. In the local context, our librarians and information workers need to give a serious thought about the exigencies of the 21st century and the skills required to meet all the forthcoming challenges.

P. Hauroo

References:

1. Wallis, Jake: Digital Directions: Cyberspace, Information Literacy and the Information Society. Library Review. Vol. 54 No. 4, 2005

2. Aqili, S. V and Moghaddam, A.I: Bridging the Digital Divide – The Role of Librarians and Information Professionals in the Third Millenium. The Electronic Library. Vol. 26 No. 2, 2008.

“From collection to connection”: A far dream for library and information services in Mauritius.

The application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in library and information services in many developing countries has transformed the very nature and provision/delivery of information services in those countries. By just visiting the websites of academic and national institutions in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, India and many others, one would get an idea of how fast their libraries are growing. This is happening because they have been able to take advantage of emerging technologies. The response of the authorities there has been quick to satisfy the information requirements of the young tech savvy generation. Development of digital libraries, 24/7 online services, setting up of library consortia to provide access to e-journals databases, open archives of full text documents, etc are all realities in those countries. What about the overall picture of institutions in this area in our country?

At present there is in the pipeline a few computerization projects for library housekeeping jobs . However, these computerization projects are meant to facilitate the tasks of library personnel and are aimed primarily to ease housekeeping library activities. The users  (end users)  of the library and information services are not the direct and real beneficiaries of the computerized systems being implemented. Moreover, there exist great variations in the size, collection, staff and level of ICT application in the libraries in Mauritius. There are small one-man libraries in schools, relatively good collections in municipal libraries with  automated library functions, private sector libraries with qualified personnel and automated housekeeping activities along with national institutions offering online library catalogues. But none of these institutions have been able to provide, in the strict sense of the term, real online library and information services to the local users. Except minor queries which are answered by email or on phone, for most information needs, users need to come on site to consult the resources. The user and the information resource  have to be physically on the same spot for the service to take place.

The application of ICTs in libraries can help to resolve many problems including the acute problem of space in some libraries. This is specially true in those libraries which have a mandate to conserve and preserve for posterity the national print heritage of the country. It is commonplace to see the duplication of storage of same materials in various libraries. Serial publications such as newspapers, periodicals and popular magazines are big eaters of shelves space in many libraries. A national policy on preservation and conservation of such materials would have avoided the wastage of scarce resources and unnecessary duplication. The same applies for local multimedia productions such as films, videos, sound recordings, CDs and DVDs.  In the past, some libraries have resorted to compact shelving to solve the problem but it was only palliatives as newspapers and magazines are fast growing media in terms of  size or volume. Libraries have no other option than to digitize their collections or convert them into microform to solve the storage problem.  The application of ICTs in this area is critical.

The provision of mere bibliographic descriptions of locally held information resources through the online public access  catalogue (OPAC) is now commonplace. However, users nowadays require much more than bibliographic descriptions of documents. Their need is the information itself and this need can be satisfied only by providing access to the full text documents online, round the clock. Users do not have the time to come to the library in person and in a world fully wired, connected, networked and more and more virtual / digital, they would like to access the information at the time they want it and in the format they want. In brief, such service should be made available to them at the click of  a button.

The immense capability of computer technologies to process, manipulate and retrieve information in a very short time is yet another reason to apply ICTs in library and information services. Retrieval of full text documents from archives of e-journals databases, sounds and images retrieval and online document delivery system are all within the realm of new possibilities. The potential for ICTs in library and information services are really immense and yet unexploited in Mauritius.

It is true that the application of ICTs in libraries and information services requires heavy investments in hardware, software and in the training of people.  Nothing comes free and a sustained effort is required to implement digitisation projects spanned over a number of years. Besides the glorified virtues of technologies, one should however, not forget the human side of the problem when implementing technological solutions. The readiness of the population to accept the change has to be ensured. If the virtual library or “library without walls” is possible with the help of ICTs,  the emergence of a new type of illiterates who, though having the ability to read and write, and who may be ” technology illiterates” cannot be totally ruled out. In our so-called present information age, digital literacy (the ability to use computer, the Internet and web-based applications) is crucial. If the trend in the application of ICTs is more and more oriented towards the individual which ultimately empowers him to enjoy a sort of  “self-service” as far as information service is concerned, on the other hand, the same technologies also exclude and marginalizes a segment of the “technology illiterate”  population. This digital gap may worsen the plight of the socially excluded labour force to play an active role in the development of the nation. With consideration to these social problems, can our library and information services make the shift “from collection to connection” to play their roles fully in the information age?

R . Hauroo