Library profession in Mauritius and adaptation to changes

The 21st century, is marked as the age of electronic communication where knowledge and technology have become borderless and have become the basis for all appropriate decisions in relation to socioeconomic development of people. Electronic format dominates all spheres of our lives including education, employment, agriculture & industrial environment. As a result of this rapid and continual change in society and in the sphere of technology, the essence and contents of all the professional activities of the entire information profession are changing.

Referring to the Mauritian context, library and information professionals, we are utilizing ICT to keep pace with the problem of information explosion. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are facilitating the process of identification, collection, storing, processing and disseminating of information in most of our libraries and information centres while others are still in the process of implementing the new technologies.

Though, print media is still a major source of information in our libraries, however, this situation is changing in our academic libraries. Our service is usually geared to the needs of our students, academic staff and researchers. Our views to focus only on catalogues and in-house collection and tools are changing direction towards the web where our clients are. We are on the web exposing our resources and capabilities, surfing and exploring online libraries & databases, harvesting and linking via Facebook, Twitter, etc., bringing the power of those tools into our services. It is not only exposing resource collection but also promoting them and developing Information Literacy so that users are better equipped to discern what is of value to them.

We are showing flexibility and responding to changing realities. The skills which we have developed to such high level have to be reinvented. Our knowledge has to be reapplied in this new connected world (Walton, Graham and Varlejs, Jana). We must all be concerned with discovery in a world of awash in information and must recognize that we have a significant role to play in supporting the essential need for ongoing learning by all in a fast changing world.

Though, we may argue that the information professional today faces great challenges, the other side of the coin is that enormous opportunities proliferate on all sides – opportunities to innovate, find new customers, improve existing services and systems, and harness the continuing explosion of information to the organization. Converging technologies are offering opportunities which are beyond the wildest dreams of earlier generations of information workers. For e.g., from our own work station, we can easily links with services, systems and information which were previously either inaccessible or unknown (Pantry 1997:170)

We should always remember that we deal with information and that our skills lie in making information available through time and across borders. We should be quick to embrace the opportunities of new technologies and new approaches and show that this profession is important to the society.

In 2009, Elizabeth Stone Lecture given by Alex Byrne, he is equivocal about the need to change. “we must throw open our door and move out into the highways and byways of the information culture to cultivate a new profession which steps out comfortably in a borderless information world …”

Whether it is in Academic, National, Municipal, School or Special libraries, we all can embrace new information technologies, find new methods and ways of rendering services & communication. Some examples which can enhance our services can be as follows:-

• Computerized systems to facilitate rapid and efficient service.

• Well trained & knowledgeable staff to help with information retrieval.

• Subscription to various online libraries or databases can provide users with unlimited access to information (virtual Library).

• Information literacy program can guide users with skills & techniques for information retrieval.

• A well- equipped library with computers /laptops & ipads, internet & Wifi facilities will encourage members to visit & use library facilities more often.

Much more can be done depending on the budget allocation but even small changes can make a big difference in service provided. We have to hold tight our value for we are one of the few professions to take the long view about the need to preserve and make available without bias the knowledge of the past, present and the future. We have to be very active, encourage and mentor enthusiastic people into the profession, taking the wisdom of the experienced and the energy of the novice to create a new image of the highly communicative profession.

Sources consulted:

University of South Africa. Department of Information Science. 2003. Information professions and Cooperation. Only study guide for AIS102-E. Pretoria. University of South Africa.

Rahman, Anisur. Information and Communication Technologies, Libraries and the Role of Library Professionals in the 21st Century. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-540-30544-6_69. Accessed on 21/04/2014

IFLA, Byrne A. Promoting the global information commons: a commentary on library and information implications of the WSIS Declaration of principles “Building the information society: a global challenge in the new millennium” Document WSIS/PC-3/DT/6. http://ifla.org

 

Lalita Takoor

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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.

Laptop Loaning Programme in Academic Libraries

There is evidence  to demonstrate that libraries allowing their patrons to use laptops  in the library premises has a positive impact to attract them to the libraries. In the developed countries, laptop usage has undergone a dramatic change, mainly in the academic environment. Since technology allowed the newer laptops to become lighter in weight, students are more willing to carry them to the library leading to a constant growth in the use of these devices. The fact was noted and subsequently, academic libraries like the Gleason Library at the University of Rochester, USA planned renovation projects which aimed to make the library spaces more suitable for the intensive use of new technologies. As a result, collaborative study spaces were created for both individual and group work, furniture was rearranged, a robust wired and wireless infrastructure accomodated to support the use of laptops and other digital technologies. These amenities were welcomed by laptop users mainly by students working on group-based assignments and brought a substantial growth in the number of users. In addition, it was observed that such space attracted more students to the library and it became one of the most desirable places to study.

Furthermore, in order to cater for the use of laptops which gained popularity at a faster rate throughout the country, some libraries like the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) are checking out laptops to their patrons. They have set up  ‘ Laptop check out procedures’ to answer to any programmatic and policy questions  and drawn  a ‘ Laptop check out policy and patron agreement’ form  to be duly filled by users which binds them to the effective use of the laptops without hampering or causing any damage to the materials. Government issued ID cards with current photographs along with the library cards are compulsory (for security reasons) to check out a laptop. A fine is stipulated in case of late check ins or violation of the rules in the policy. Whats more, these procedures and policies are shared equally between more libraries which want to check out laptops to its users.

The laptop use in the academic libraries in Mauritius has followed a similar trend. More students are bringing laptops into the libraries. However, they are compelled to use them in existing traditional library spaces. The amenities such as technology infrastructure, aesthetics and rearrangement of furniture have never received any serious consideration. Development of policies and strategies to accommodate tech-savvy users  are unfortunately delayed in the local library spaces. In view of the expected growth in the number of laptop users in the future ( students and academic members) it is imperative that authorities consider this revolution in the academic world of learning as a priority. Moreover, in order to market the library services and at the same time solve the ever-growing space issues, laptop check outs could be given some serious thought as an innovative incentive to attract the users. The University of Hong Kong libraries ‘Laptop Loaning Programme’ may be a model to emulate  (http://lib.hku.hk/techsupport/laptoploan.html). The transformation of library spaces need to be ultimately included in the concept of today’ s academic libraries in the local context. Ways to reshape and rethink services for more response from the users should be furthermore considered so that the objectives of the libraries to support learning and research of students and academic members are met with much satisfaction and less drawbacks.

Lalita Chumun

Reference:
1. Briden, Judi. 2008. Snapshots of laptop use in an academic library. University of Rochester, River Campus Libraries, USA
2. Laptop check out programs. Available from: http://techsoupforlibraries.org/files/

Technology Watch

Apple’s new tablet, named ipad, unveiled on 27 January 2010 is described by the company as  “a revolutionary device for browsing the web, reading and sending email, enjoying photos, watching videos, listening to music, playing games, reading e-books and much more.” This new piece of technology has aroused the interest of many people and  the library community has immediately started debating about its possible impact on the delivery of library services in the future. It is worth noting that the ipad is not the only device capable of reading digital books available on the market. Other devices from Sony, Barnes and Noble, including Amazon’s popular kindle along with PDA’s are also capable of reading e-documents. Librarians view the coming of such portable devices with mixed feelings. For some, such devices are just “transitional” while others described them as “little mutant experiments”. Jason Griffey has even proclaimed that the “early 2010 is going to be the height of the e-Reader, and late 2010 will see their decline”.

What should be the response of libraries in the light of  a proliferation of such e-Readers? If the promising mobile technologies, with added functionalities, attract more and more users and succeed in changing the information-seeking behaviour of library patrons, librarians will have no alternative than to adapt to the changing realities. Heavy demand from users for e-books will ultimately force libraries to re-define their services to meet new expectations. Failure to do so may entail their elimination as a competitive information provider in the information society.

P. Hauroo

Mobile Computing & Libraries

During the last few years, a diverse array  of network-capable mobile devices – ranging from smart phones, e-readers, PDA’s, netbooks and laptops – has hit the consumer market. These mobile devices along with global cellular network have had a profound impact on the information-seeking behaviour of users. Many people now use their mobile phones to connect with others and communicate online through social network sites. Major web browsers like Yahoo,  Google,  Opera,  etc all have  mobile (mini) version to fit the mobile screen. The  Horizon Report (USA, ed. 2010) states that  “The available choices for staying connected while on the go are many — smart phones, netbooks, laptops, and a wide range of other devices access the Internet using cellular-based portable hotspots and mobile broadband cards, in addition to wi-fi that is increasingly available wherever people congregate. At the same time, the devices we carry are becoming ever more capable, and the boundaries between them more and more blurred. In the developed world, mobile computing has become an indispensable part of day-to-day life in the workforce, and a key driver is the increasing ease and speed with which it is possible to access the Internet from virtually anywhere in the world via the ever-expanding cellular network.”

Librarians have always been enthusiastic in applying and adopting new technologies to serve their clientele. Many libraries in foreign countries have successfully exploited novel web-based technologies, including social networking, chat technologies, Instant Messaging, SMS etc. All these technologies are increasingly being used on mobile devices.  Should libraries turn to mobile technologies to meet new users’ needs?  An interesting book entitled Mobile Technology and Libraries, by Jason Griffey advocates  that librarians should get ready for it… The author  outlines the different mobile platforms, devices, and services, and shows you how to create mobile library websites and implement a number of important developments including mobile reference and SMS. He also explains how the various affected parts of the library –reference, I.T. circulation–can work together. You’ll learn techniques for marketing and measuring your services, and best practices to follow during planning, implementation, and evaluation.”

An extract of the preface of the book is hereby reproduced which makes a convincing case for librarians to go for the mobile technology:

“Worldwide mobile telephone subscriptions reached 3.3 billion – equivalent to half the global population. In over 50 countries, cell phone penetration (the number of cell phones per person) is above 100%. By 2010, 90% of the world’s population will have access to a cell phone signal.These statistics are indicative of a major shift in the way that the world interacts with information, and illustrate the next real paradigm shift in information gathering, use, and sharing. As phones become more and more capable, fewer and fewer people find the need to connect with their infosphere via computer. Instead, the majority of people use a cell phone as their primary interface for surfing the web, listening to music, watching television, reading books, and communicating with friends. The mobile phone has become, over the last 10 years, one of the major methods by which people interact with information around the world. Librarians need to be aware of these changes, peer forward, and prepare for the future of library mobile interaction.

Mobile Technology and Libraries will help integrate your library into the mobile revolution, showing you the steps to development a mobile library website, reach library patrons in a new and exciting way, as well as use Short Message Services (SMS) communication…”

For those who are interested to promote future mobile services,  visit the  NCSU Libraries Mobile site http://m.lib.ncsu.edu/. For another application of mobile technologies in the provision of enhanced user services, go to Mobile MedlinePlus. The mobile site provides users with the latest health news and information on topics such as diseases, wellness, drug prescriptions and other related topics.

Are you interested to build a dedicated mobile site for your library? Carrying your library in your pocket or putting information at the fingertips of your users, does it sound unrealistic?  Think about it!

P. Hauroo