It used to be a given for librarians: "If the building is
burning down, save the card catalogue." But as libraries shift
focus and format to keep pace with electronic advancements, the old
ways have changed dramatically - along with the role of librarians.
"We threw our card catalogue away. It was a wrenching thing to
do, but it was useless," says Malcolm Hamilton, librarian at
Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass.
For Mr. Hamilton and other librarians, requests for assistance
scanning the Internet, World Wide Web, and other electronic venus
are becoming typical fare.
But as the public develops digitally sophisticated expectations
for research, the pressure is growing on librarians to keep pace.
Some question whether librarians have the skills to keep their
libraries - and themselves - indispensable in the Internet age.
What's at stake, they say, is maintaining a public commitment to
libraries when electronic resources are readily available, and thus
making those resources available to those who can't afford
"In many libraries, there still remain a large number of people
who will need extensive retraining if they're to make the
transition to electronic information management," says Stanley
Wilder, assistant dean for technical and financial services at the
Louisiana State University libraries in Baton Rouge.
But the problem seems minimal to Tom Sloan, state librarian at
the Delaware Division of Libraries. He admits that librarians and
library staff who received training in the pre-computer era have
greater training needs than new recruits.
But Mr. Sloan is not worried: Through an active
continuing-education program, Delaware librarians with little or no
computer experience will learn to go on-line to conduct a search
and download information to e-mail or a floppy disk, he says.
Too much hype
"There's too much hype about how different everything is for
librarians," Sloan says. "Conceptually, it's no big deal - the
outcome remains providing information services. Librarians have
been doing that for hundreds of years. The challenge is that it now
requires a different set of skills."
Carolyn Coco has seen a range of computer skills and enthusiasm
in librarians. Over the last two years, she has trained more than
300 Louisiana public, university, and school librarians to search
on-line catalogues and indexes, navigate the Internet and World
Wide Web, and retrieve full-text journal articles from different
Ms. Coco, network librarian for the Louisiana Library Network,
says that most of her trainees now know how to form a good Internet
search, yet admits that many still require help understanding the
telecommunications and hardware end of the job.
"If they are unable to do a search, they need to be able to
determine, is it something they've done wrong; is there a line down
somewhere? They should be able to do this - especially in smaller
or rural libraries where they are expected to be a
jack-of-all-trades," Coco says. …