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Digital Technology: Friend or Foe to Library and Information Science Reflective Paper

Lauren McLellan

LIS 701, Fall 2010 Professor Salvatore December 15, 2010

MLA

Abstract This reflective paper explores many of the articles for required reading in LIS 701 and several other research studies and academic journals to discover the fate of libraries as technology changes. The paper looks at how technology is changing literacy, how libraries will supply technologies, and how libraries can sustain themselves through changes in technology. The writer concludes that the fate of libraries is unknown, but that libraries have an important role in society and will always be needed especially as access and volume of information continues to grow.

Since the Gutenberg press was invented, mass availability of the written word has had an incredible impact on the world. Throughout history, writings have changed lives and ended lives, brought down powers and built governments. The ability to write and communicate to people all over the world in seconds is changing the world again. The internet has fundamentally changed how many people communicate and receive information. People have more and more access to information and the amount of information available grows exponentially. Now that the pages of a book can be read and distributed online, many are questioning the future of books and libraries. One of the most common threads of discussion in the Introduction to Library and Information Science course was about how technological changes and advancements will affect LIS. Cell phones and computers seem to be handled by Americans more than books, magazines, and newspapers. These new technologies are giving way to new mediums for reading - electronic books, online newspapers and databases, text messages, etc. While libraries provide digital access to many resources, they may not be able to keep up with the needs of patrons. In class, some of the primary concerns/questions regarding technology were: Is technology changing literacy/intelligence? How will libraries supply new technologies to patrons? And will technology take the place of libraries? Thankfully, these are concerns that many librarians have and some scholars have published works and performed research in regard to these topics. It seems that many in the LIS world are well aware of the technological changes taking place in American society - everyone simply has a different idea of how to confront these changes. The younger generations are the most in tune with technological changes. They are savvy at texting, surfing the web, and learning how to use the newest technology. Using these technologies, however, requires users to type or text in a specific style. This includes using

acronyms, fragments instead of sentences, and emoticons (i.e. smiley faces). Clive Thompson states in "Clive Thompson on the New Literacy," that educators and parents are concerned that this form of writing will have a negative effect on childrens ability to write on an academic level. There is fear that children will use the spliced sentences, poor grammar, and slang they use in text messages and instant messages for essays, assignments, and papers. The enormous volume of texting and instant messaging that teens write does give cause for some alarm. Thompson also states, however, that children are aware of who they are writing to and are taught early on to write specifically for their audience. Children are also being exposed to proper writing everyday in school. Educators can be sure to include plenty of reading in class to expose children to academic and literary writing. Ralph Raab even argues in Books and Literacy in the Digital Age that technology and books can be used together to create even better learning opportunities for children and can even promote literacy. While most librarians serve the needs of adults, many librarians work in schools or public libraries where they serve children, teens, and college students. So, it stands to reason that librarians would be concerned with the reading and writing abilities of children. The younger children are when exposed to technology, the less interest they may have in story time and books. Video and computer games sometimes take the place of parents to teach letters and reading. If children find no value in reading a book or do not have the attention span for reading, they have little use for a library. Summer reading programs with prize incentives and interactive story time are great ways for librarians to capture the attention of children and start their interest in reading.

Nicholas Carrs book about the effect the internet and technology has on the human brain gives hope and warning to the LIS community. Based on the research he found, Carr concludes that the internet is not reducing human intelligence, but it is changing thought patterns. Internet users may have a more difficult time concentrating, thinking deeply, and waiting to be gratified (126, 140). Patrons today are equally as intelligent as patrons were fifty and one hundred years ago. The requirements and attitudes of patrons, however, are changing along with the changes in technology. The instant gratification provided by the internet can make for impatient patrons. People are so used to being able to retrieve information instantly through a search engine, they sometimes struggle with the time it may take to participate in a reference interview, the time it may take for a librarian to gather information, and the time it may take for a librarian to gather the materials. Many patrons are also uninterested in being taught how to use catalogs or databases to do their own researching. They expect librarians to act like a Google search - they input data and in return the librarian instantly outputs the answer. Librarians could alleviate this by teaching patrons to use catalogs and databases at a young age and by showing patrons the steps they are taking on the computer to find materials. The way the internet divides users attention makes it harder for them to concentrate on reading literature and to think critically and deeply about what they read. This may require librarians to change to kind of material they order for their libraries - more New York Times Bestsellers and less Pulitzer Prize winning material. Or librarians could try to foster deep and critical thinking in patrons. This may require incentives like a childrens summer reading program uses - free food, book prizes, a grand prize of a digital nature (i.e. an iPod). Librarians

could use popular books and movies to get patrons thinking and discussing in book clubs or during movie nights. While librarians can stress the importance of books and other physical materials, the LIS community will have to make concessions or changes to the library to provide digital resources. Books have so many positive aspects - they do not rely on electricity, strain eyesight, shut down unexpectedly, or become broken easily. An e-reader can run out of batteries and stop working altogether with a single accident involving a splash of water. Book also, however, require lots of shelf space and can be damaged and then need repair or replacing. Books deteriorate over time and can even be stolen. According to Lester Asheim in Not Censorship But Selection, placing physical books in specific locations automatically discriminates certain books and causes them to be less likely to be checked out. The fate of the book is difficult to determine, but if the trend of digitizing literature continues, librarians will be required to become more technologically savvy as the article on "Top Ten Academic Library Trends" states. Libraries will have to provide the tools to access the digital literature as well. This creates an entirely new issue in and of itself - how can libraries supply new technologies to patrons? The first article of the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association is We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests (Code of Ethics of the American Library Association). This means that all patrons, no matter their socio-economic status, should be provided with equal access to materials and equal service. Following this code or article is rather difficult for librarians working in urban neighborhoods or neighborhoods with patrons who are of low socio-

economic status. Many libraries simply do not have the funding to provide the latest in technology for their patrons. And at the rate in which technology changes, it would be nearly impossible to keep up with supplying the newest gadgets. According to a survey put out by the ALA, many librarians seem unaware of the needs of the poor in the communities in which they serve or lack the training or guidance to assist the poor (Gieskes). Librarians seem to be lacking the basic tools necessary to help the poor and would likely flounder under the added responsibility of providing the latest technology to the poor as well. Unless patrons have access to a computer or an e-reader they have no use for electronic books. Unless patrons have a CD player, they have no use for books on tape/CD. If books are decreasing in availability and library funds are being used more for electronic books and databases, libraries will need to provide means to use that medium and provide training on how to use e-readers and computers. And, as e-readers cost hundreds of dollars each, it would be fiscally impossible to be sure there were enough e-readers available for check out for every patron that wanted one. Patrons are also limited to accessing databases and electronic books that can be downloaded to a computer. Patrons are limited to using library computers during business hours. Most libraries also have time limits on their public computers. So, an average patron is limited to a few hours each day for using a computer - assuming there is a computer available. This is not equal access compared to a patron who owns a computer who could read electronic books for hours on end at home. Ultimately, in order to maintain equal access to books, libraries must provide a physical book in the library for every electronic book available online. Ideally, libraries should provide a public access computer lab that is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a

week. Libraries would not even necessarily need to be responsible for running the computer lab, but the local government could provide such a service in a community center or school. While libraries and books may always be necessary to meet the needs of patrons of low socio-economic status, that does not mean they will always exist. If the middle class stops using library resources and checking out library materials, funding for libraries will lessen and maybe even end altogether. Computer and e-reader owners can access books and databases from the comfort of home. Independent websites offer audio and electronic book rental at a minimal cost. This may have a huge impact on the number of people using libraries and library resources. So, how can librarians make sure that technological advancements do not take the place of librarians or even libraries? In recent years, it has become many college students experience to never or rarely step into the library on campus. The plethora of databases available from a students computer through the college library website practically eliminates a students need for the physical materials available in a library. Colleges even support this trend by offering computer labs in every building on campus or even computer kiosks throughout each building. Many colleges provide a laptop (its cost is included in tuition) to students eliminating the need for a library even for the sake of its computer labs. Easy to access Wi-Fi is also available all over most college campuses. Professors support the trend as well - a journal article accessed from an online database is equal to the same article found in the physical copy of the same journal. Professors no longer make requirements on the number of internet resources versus the number of printed materials allowed for an assignment or paper. As Gerke and Maness state in The physical and the virtual: the relationship between library as place and electronic collections, however, the qualit y of a

librarys website/catalog is a very important factor in patrons satisfaction with the librarys services. This makes sense as many patrons use catalogs to view what is available through all the librarys different databases. Jankowska and Marcum make an argument in favor of libraries in Sustainability Challenge for Academic Libraries: Planning for the Future by stating that libraries are necessary social outlets that foster great discussion and ideas. Jankowska and Marcus believe that libraries invite and encourage casual and planned gatherings to play, explore, test, share, collaborate, and learn, both formally and informally. There are other places students can meet to dialogue like the student union building, cafeteria, or even outside. No other place than the library, however, provides a quiet workspace with the proper tools where students can easily access any information necessary. Though technology may seem like a threat to keeping libraries open, some research findings found that technology can actually help to promote the library and bring in more patrons. As Lietzau points out in, "U.S. Public Libraries and Web 2.0, " libraries with a greater online presence had more visiting patrons, checked-out more material, had more librarians on staff, and received greater funding. This online presence included using social networking through facebook, twitter and other websites. Clearly a library needs the resources to create a good online presence to begin with, but, like advertising, the more people are reminded about the services available through the library, the more likely they are to use the library. Even if libraries were done away with, there would likely still be a need for librarians. Library staff make decisions about purchasing databases, cataloging, updating web pages, processing interlibrary loans, etc. All of this work a librarian does supports the technological and online resources students use outside the library. Charles Martell writes in The disembodied

librarian in the digital age, that as physical libraries become less and less prominent, librarians will need to take on new roles in the digital and virtual realms. Libraries may become something that exists only in a digital form. Patrons, however, will always desire the help of a librarian when searching for and supplying the proper materials. Clearly the concerns LIS students have in the 701 course are well founded. They can see the way technology is changing their own lives on a daily basis. There is a lot to think about and a lot of research to read regarding how technology may be changing literacy/intelligence, how libraries will supply new technologies to patron, and whether technology will take the place of libraries. While many LIS students enjoy their courses and what they are learning, they are ultimately preparing themselves to obtain a profession. They want to know there will be jobs available after graduation. Librarians will be needed to find and purchase good materials. Librarians will be needed to assess the needs of communities and the kinds of materials fit to serve those needs. Librarians will be needed to help run library websites, databases, do cataloging, library promotion, and help patrons through instant messaging. This instant messaging feature is already available through many libraries, including the Rebecca Crown Library website through Dominican University, which offers Ask Away, an online chat reference through Illinois Librarians Online. Finally, with the ever increasing availability of information, there is a greater need to sort and organize the information. This is the specialty and forte of librarians and what they are educated to do. So, librarians may be needed in other capacities than libraries. Librarians can be an asset to corporations, organizations, schools, universities, hospitals, and anywhere lots of information is sent, received, and processed every day.

Works Cited Asheim, L. Not censorship but selection. Wilson Library Bulletin, 28 (September 1953), 63-67. 13 Dec. 2010 http://www.ala.org/template.cfm?section=basics&template=/contentmanagement/content display.cfm&contentid=109668 Borgman, C. L. The invisible library: Paradox of the global information infrastructure. Library Trends, 51.4 (2003): p. 652-74. WilsonWeb. Web. 13 December 2010. Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009. Print. Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. American Library Association, 22 Jan. 2008. Web. 13 Dec. 2010 Gerke, J., & Maness, J.J. (2010). The physical and the virtual: the relationship between library as place and electronic collections. College & Research Libraries, 71 (1), 20-31. Available in WilsonWeb. Gieskes, Lisa. "ALA Task Force Member Survey on Policy 61. Library Services for the Poor." Progressive Librarian Winter/Spring 2009: 82-7. OmniFile Full Text Mega. Web. 13 Dec. 2010. Martell, Charles R.. "The disembodied librarian in the digital age." College & Research Libraries 61.1 (2000): 10-28. Education Full Text. Web. 13 Dec. 2010. Raab, Ralph. "Books and Literacy in the Digital Age." American Libraries 41.8 (2010): 34-7. Education Full Text. Web. 13 Dec. 2010. Thompson, C. Clive Thompson on the new literacy. Wired Magazine. 13 Dec. 2010. Web. http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/17-09/st_thompson#

Top Ten Academic Library Trends Identified in College and Research Libraries News. Library Journal. 17 June 2010. 13 December 2010. http://www.criticasmagazine.com/lj/home/885404264/top_ten_academic_library_trends.html.csp