Monday, September 7, 2009

Thing 2: Library 2.0

After watching Abrams video and reading Blyberg's blog, it is very apparent to me that the advent of the Internet and, specially, the evolution that gave rise to Web 2.0 has had a visible impact on libraries and will continue to pose challenges for libraries and information providers as new technologies develop and come to public acceptance.
The changes that this phenomenon has brought to the libraries is most apparent in the library's current layout. Before the Internet became widely accepted and used by the public, libraries didn't have computer labs, only the bigger library systems had media centers, and electronic information retrieval, like internet access in the library, or electronic journal searching and browsing was a reserved domain of librarians. Nowadays, even the smallest branches offer some form of internet access for their patrons, and said patrons can perform information searches electronically, both on the Web and internal library resources, with little or no interference or help from the information professional.
I believe that the patrons' ability to use electronic information retrieval systems (computers and the Internet, Library's OPAC) has changed dramatically the relationship that the patron and the librarian used to enjoy. I am not trying to romanticize the library of old, but the transformation of the relationship between library user and librarian seems to have evolved in the same way that, for example, grocery shopping has. Allow me to elaborate:
In the days of the front counter, Mom and Pop grocery stores, a person would come to the counter, state his/her need to the shopkeeper, and the shopkeeper would locate the item in question. Nowadays, with the creation of supermarkets and the self-service concept of selling groceries, a shopper has free access to the items available for sale, requests help in a need-to-know basis and, in many stores, a shopper does not even have to have help paying for and bagging groceries. If correctly planned, a shopper can do his or her entire shopping done without ever encountering an employee.
Libraries are following a very similar storyline as Mom and Pop store-Supermarket's. A library patron can satisfy his/her whole information needs without ever requestiong help or even encountering a librarian/employee, thanks to automation, user friendly OPAC's and unrestricted access to books and materials. Librarian's assistance to patrons has moved out of the normal operations and has become a series of sporadic events, relegating his/her knowledge to internal operations of the library.
These are changes that have already occured in our libraries, but I believe the most important chance that will occur with the advent of Web 2.0 technologies will redefine libraries, from information access points into the broader realm of the social services. These technological advances have created a new class of "information poor" people. People who do not have enough resources to have a computer, or do not have the necesssary skills to retrieve adequate information from one, rely on libraries to have their information needs met. Just like the Department of Human Services and Federal and State health programs attempt to meet the needs of those economically poor, libraries currently supply the needs of those who do not have the resources to find needed information. Information poverty is no more different than economic poverty, and, in many instances, they are closely related. Among the many changes that libraries will experience, Web 2.0 will trasform libraries into a form of social service, providing not only necessary information, but also tools for those who can't afford them.
'Til next time, dudes!

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