Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The New User Environment: The End of Technical Services?

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The New User Environment: The End of Technical Services?

Article excerpt

Technical Services: an obsolete term used to describe the largest component of most library staffs in the twentieth century. That component of the staff was entirely devoted to arcane and mysterious processes involved in selecting, acquiring, cataloging, processing, and otherwise making available to library users physical material containing information content pieces (incops). The processes were complicated, expensive, and time-consuming, and generally served to severely limit direct service to users both by producing records that were difficult to understand and interpret, even by other library staff, and by consuming from 75-80 percent of the library's financial and personnel resources. In the twenty-first century, the advent of new forms of publication and new techniques for providing universal records and universal access to information content made the organizational structure obsolete. That change in organizational structure, more than any other single factor, is generally credited as being responsible for the dramatic improvement in the quality of library service that has occurred in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

There are many who would say that I was the one who wrote this quotation. I didn't, and it is, in fact, more than twenty-five years old! (1) While I was beginning to research and prepare for this article, I began as most users today start their search for information: I started with Google. Granted, I rarely go beyond the first page of results (as most user surveys indicate), but the paucity of links made me click to the next screen. There, at number 16, was a scanned article. Jackpot? I thought as I started perusing the contents of this resource online, thinking to myself how the future had changed so dramatically since 1984, with the emergence of the Internet and the laptop, all of the new information formats, and the digitization of information. Ahh, the power of full text! After reading through the table of contents, introduction, and the first chapter, I noticed that some of the pages were missing. Mmmm, obviously some very shoddy scanning on the part of Google. But no, I finally realized that only part of this special issue was available on Google. Obviously, I missed the statement at the bottom of the front scan of the book: "This is a preview. The total pages displayed will be limited. Learn more." And thus the issues regarding copyright reared their ugly head.

When discussing the new user environment, there are many demands facing libraries today. In a report by Martha Bates, citing the principle of least effort first attributed to philologist George Zipf and quoted in the Calhoun report to the Library of Congress, she states:

   People do not just use information that is easy to find;
   they even use information that they know to be of
   poor quality and less reliable--so long as it requires
   little effort to find--rather than using information
   they know to be of high quality and reliable, though
   harder to find ... despite heroic efforts on the part of
   librarians, students seldom have sufficiently sustained
   exposure to and practice with library skills to reach the
   point where they feel real ease with and mastery of
   library information systems. (2)

According to the final report of Bibliographic Services Task Force of the University of California Libraries, users expect the following:

* one system or search to cover a wide information universe (e.g., Google or Amazon)

* enriched metadata (e.g., ONIX, tables of contents, and cover art)

* full-text availability

* to move easily and seamlessly from a citation about an item to the item itself--discovery alone is not enough * systems to provide a lot of intelligent assistance

** correction of obvious spelling errors results sorting in order of relevance to their queries

** help in navigating large retrievals through logical subsetting or topical maps or hierarchies

** help in selecting the best source through relevance ranking or added commentary from peers and experts or "others who used this also used that" tools

** customization and personalization services

* authenticated single sign-on

* security and privacy

* communication and collaboration

* multiple formats available: e-books, MPEG, JPEG, RSS and other push technologies, along with traditional, tangible formats

* direct links to e-mail, instant messaging, and sharing

* access to online virtual communities

* access to what the library has to offer without actually having to visit the library (3)

What is there in this new user environment for those who work in technical services? …

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