Electronic Databases in Public Libraries: Issues of Organisational Adoption

Article excerpt

Based on research which evaluated content, usability, and use of electronic databases in public library settings, user adoptions are examined. This is done in terms of Everett Rogers' analysis of the diffusion of innovations. In this case, it was an organisation, the State Library of Victoria, which decided to adopt an innovation on behalf of the public libraries of Victoria. Nevertheless, Rogers' framework is useful for understanding why staff and library users were slower than might be expected to accept or adopt electronic databases for their information seeking. Training is the main way in which this situation could be changed

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Librarians in all sectors are playing a key role in the diffusion of electronic technologies. It is through libraries that many people use technologies such as cdroms, online databases or the internet for the first time. The attitudes of librarians to new technologies are therefore very important. For example, in the early stages of the introduction of a set of online databases into a public library, the extent to which librarians understand and promote the databases, and assist users, will be crucial to their acceptance. As Holland says, it is through persuading patrons to adopt information/networked technology that librarians act as change agents in the wider diffusion process. `The concepts of diffusion, change agency, and critical mass provide ... a structure and criteria to analyse how effective [librarians] are, and reasons why some projects succeed and others fail'. (1)

In relation to this concept of the librarian as change agent in the diffusion of innovation this article discusses a project which was undertaken in Victoria in 2000. The project evaluated the content, usability and use of four sets of electronic databases--World magazine bank (Ebsco Host); two Gale products, Health reference library (now Health and wellness resources center) and Custom database; and Electric library (at that stage, an Infosentials product). These electronic databases were provided on a trial basis in the public libraries of Victoria by the State Library of Victoria (SLV), through the Gulliver program. (2) Members of Enterprise Information Resources Group (EIRG)/ Information and Telecommunications Needs Research Group (ITNR) at Monash University were involved in the evaluation of the pilot program at four Victorian public libraries (Bayside and Port Phillip in metropolitan areas; Corangamite, a regional library service and Casey-Cardinia in a semi rural area). The chief investigators, Associate Professor Frada Burstein and Dr Kirsty Williamson received an ARC Spirt grant in partnership with SLV/Vicnet, to undertake the research. (3) SLV/Vicnet also contributed funding to the project. As well as trialing the databases with individual users, focus groups were conducted with staff in each of the public libraries. With both groups of participants, interesting and rich data emerged from the fieldwork. Although an important focus of the project was the evaluation of the databases from a user perspective, this paper is largely concerned with user adoption of the databases for finding information in a library context.

Diffusion of innovations

Everett Rogers is a famous name in the literature about the diffusion of innovations. In 1962 he published a landmark study Diffusion of innovation which is now in its fourth edition. (4) In the latest edition he analyses and critiques the 4,000 publications available at that time, compared with the 405 publications which provided the supporting evidence for the first edition in 1962. The theoretical framework he began to develop in the original edition has been revised and updated in each subsequent edition. Rogers describes five attributes of innovation

* `Relative advantage is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes. This might include economic profitability or social prestige, for example. …