The Changing Environment of Academic Libraries: End-User Education and Planning Strategies for Libraries in India

Article excerpt

Developments in computers, microelectronics, and communication technologies have radically changed the library and information environment. Gone are the days of stand-alone libraries, in which a library was judged less by the quality of its resources and services than by the number of documents it had available. Traditional libraries were dominated by print publications and the access mechanisms were also by-and-large manual. The paradigm shift from stand-alone libraries to library and information networks, available via the Internet, can provide end-users with a seamless connection to Internet-based services. Moreover, we are surrounded by automated, digital, and virtual libraries as well as by networked data, specialized networks, and library networks. Multimedia and the Internet have further made the job of library and information professionals more challenging.

The development of new technology makes direct access to information easier for users, and, while information skills are required to collect and present that information, in the future there is likely to be less of a role for information workers as intermediaries between users and information sources.

In fact, there is a paradigm shift from a parent-child relationship between information provider and user to an "adult-adult" relationship. While new formats and mechanisms are being developed to cope with this rapidly changing environment, the existing gap between the generation and use of information is further widening in the present situation. A major aim of user education is therefore to widen the use of a range of library resources, which will enable academics to improve their teaching and research, and students to learn more and achieve better results in their work.

In the print-based environment we spoke of library instruction, bibliographic instruction, and user education programs. Initiation of users, lectures to library users, library tours, pamphlets and brochures, audio-visual aids, and, in a few cases, user education programs were the main tools and techniques for enabling patrons to make good use of the library. These tools and techniques must now be supplemented. End-user training should now be the focus of user education. (1)

The Need for End-user Education

User education is essential. It helps publicize library services. It improves the image of the library. Above all, user education and training are the best ways to implement Ranganathan's five laws of library science (2). User education and training are often fee-based, because developing the infrastructure for the network environment is very costly.

The Challenge in Information Services

Information has become more complex and expensive. The traditional services, such as reference service, current awareness services, and selective dissemination of information need be supplemented by "Selective Elimination of Information," the evaluation of information to separate quality information from junk. In this context, the basic challenge is to convince and convert traditional users into users of Internet-based resources and services. Information literacy can contribute to developing information technology (IT) related competencies among end-users as it includes basic computer and network literacy. The aim of information literacy is to make information users capable of locating, retrieving, and using information.

Planning Strategies

Traditionally, librarians instructed the end-users in the use of print publications, but a balance between print and digital documents will be a basic norm in the near future. In this context, training and retraining the end-users in the use of IT-based resources and services, such as e-mail, ftp, telnet, www, browsers, search engines, opacs, databases, system software, application software, electronic journals, computer conferences, scholarly discussion lists, mailing lists, Usenet newsgroups, websites, CDs, and DVDs should become an integral part of a library's user education programme. …