Magazine article American Libraries

Five Great Roles for Libraries and Librarians within the Nii

Magazine article American Libraries

Five Great Roles for Libraries and Librarians within the Nii

Article excerpt

On-ramp of first resort: Network services are continually expanding and putting more demands on the infrastructure. Therefore, there will always be advanced services that will require resources most people do not have, either because they are not available and affordable, or because the need for them is infrequent enough to make the investment in equipment and connectivity unattractive. Libraries will need to provide access to these leading-edge information services.

In this way, libraries will create markets for some information products and services by coalescing thin market demand and will indirectly stimulate new markets for other products by providing a chance for people to try them out and decide whether to invest in them. Although creating an information marketplace is surely not the principal role for libraries, there always has been such synergy between them and publishers. This synergy is also one reason why communication and information service providers should support the role of libraries as community access points to the NII.

2. On-ramp of last resort: Access to information and possession of the skills to use it are requirements for living in any society, no matter what its technological level. Libraries have long shared the social responsibility for providing basic access and information support. As the NII evolves, they will again need to play this role, for many barriers will impede universal use in the home. These barriers include the cost and complexity of setting up in-home access, unfamiliarity with the NII, and the inability of even the connected to find useful resources to tap.

Libraries will play the role of safety net by ensuring access to the NII. As our society places an ever greater premium on the ability to access and use electronic information, this role will be critical.

3. Navigator/guide: The Web has been likened to a library in which all the books have been dumped in a pile on the floor; the information is there in theory. Some technologists have said that "worms," "harvesters," and other such automated search tools are all that will be needed to allow users to find what they seek, but that seems doubtful.

These techniques begin to break down when the number of possible sources reaches a critical mass. As the Web becomes commercialized, providers will hide their valuable resources both to secure them and to avoid the drain on their computer resources from multiple browser inquiries. …

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