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The challenges facing academic and corporate librarians are similar
In December of last year I explored the changing role of librarians and automation within corporate environments (IT December 1996, "The Systems Librarian: Corporate Librarians on the Leading Edge"). I recently decided to examine the same topic through the eyes of a university systems analyst and a vendor specializing in working with academic institutions. I'm sure many of you won't be surprised to learn that the challenges faced by many academics are similar to those of their corporate brethren.
Corporate and academic librarians face the same challenge of working with, and staying ahead of, user populations that are increasingly computer literate and have access to almost unlimited sources of information via the Web. In both types of environments, a well-trained professional librarian can guide the user to meaningful, reliable information. However, in order to be successful in these times, librarians have to be better prepared technologically than their predecessors ever dreamed of.
Technologically Astute Users Influence More Decisions
Kathie Marvin, who holds an M.L.S. degree from Syracuse University and is now a lead systems analyst in the administrative computing department of West Chester University, West Chester, Pennsylvania, said that "the systems librarian has to be even more technologically astute in many different areas than we were before. Our users, and end users, are becoming more and more technically knowledgeable with time. They know how to use more systems and also find out about new systems and new technology quicker than in the past. We have to keep ahead of our users so we may provide the best possible help and advice on systems."
Also, in years past, libraries made their own decisions regarding which systems and software packages to purchase. But, as Marvin pointed out, the tables are turning: "I think, too, that our users have more influence now in what systems we purchase and install, especially on the PC level."
As a member of the SSHE -(State System of Higher Education, Pennsylvania) shared system project, in which the libraries have contracted for shared database access and have also agreed to share the same integrated library, automation system, Marvin has first-band experience addressing the issues facing herself and her colleagues in keeping up with new technology and meeting the growing requirements of students, faculty, and others associated with the university.
Jane Burke, president of Endeavor Information Systems, Inc., of Rosemont, Illinois, a company specializing in automation systems for academic institutions, shares Marvin's perspective on the changing role of the systems librarian within an academic environment. Burke suggested that "over the past two to three years, as the technology used in library systems is becoming more alike (with the introduction of the Web and with more PCs taking the place of terminals), systems librarians will have to give away much of their traditional power and expertise to the user. Until now, it was their responsibility to manage the systems, and no one else could change a parameter. As public service and cataloging librarians have become more technically literate, the systems librarian's role is one of technology-cheerleader, charged with moving staff along competently and quickly."
Following along with Marvin's assessment of staying technologically ahead of users, Burke explained, "as vendors are reengineering for open systems, the systems librarian must learn PC software in-depth, investing the time to learn how to create custom reports and analyses. …