This paper was presented at the 1997 CAUSE annual conference and is part of the conference proceedings, "The Information Profession and the Information Professional," published online by CAUSE. The paper content is the intellectual property of the author. Permission to print out copies of this paper is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage and the source is acknowledged. To copy or disseminate otherwise, or to republish in any form, print or electronic, requires written permission from the author and CAUSE. For further information, contact CAUSE at 303-449-4430 or send e-mail to

The Evolving Roles of Information Professionals in the Digital Age

Debbie Anderson


Janet Gesin



The Roles of the Librarian

Librarians have always played a key role in education. We have formed relationships with subject specialists to build library collections to support instruction in the classroom and provided instruction in the form of classes on library skills and have conducted library instructional orientations sessions to assist students doing research in their classes. The instructional orientation sessions were usually by request only or offered as an optional course. Library collections were built around curriculum that was being taught at the time the books were published and purchased but rarely were library collection and course curriculum built simultaneously. In most cases, a librarianUs role was limited and in some cases more passive than proactive in the area of instruction. A librarianUs role has traditionally been more of the builder of library collections and maintainer of library collections.

Today, in the digital age, librarians can no longer be simply information providers or the ‘keepers of knowledge’. The changes in technology using electronically stored and retrieved information has changed the way patrons and students are able to access, retrieve and use information. The instantaneous access of information through the Internet has made vast amounts of information and data available to anyone with a computer, a modem and a provider. Digital information is changing the role of librarians from a person who students ask for assistance in finding information in a place called a TlibraryU to someone who needs to provide services and instruction regardless of place, time or format. The process of evaluating books and purchasing books is still vital to building a quality library collection. But how do we make important and valid information available to our faculty and students that may appear on the Web tomorrow? Or how do we make government documents available which are no longer being printed but are only available on the Web? The information from the Mars exploration that was posted on the World Wide Web every 15 minutes is a good example of access to information that can reach the entire world within seconds.

Our roles as educators have also changed from someone who gathers information and makes it available only to the public through workshops or TorientationsU into individuals who actively participate in the educational process. Although Tbibliographic instructionU has always been provided, this role has expanded to a much broader instructional and participatory role in the instructional process. This role can be one of actively participating in the building of on-line courses by providing assistance in finding current and valid information for instructors delivering instruction on the Internet. Our role as educators should also extend into the area of providing instruction. Librarians must be involved in creating independent thinkers. The digital information age has enhanced our roles to knowledge navigators and instructors teaching the discipline called information literacy.

With the growth of the Internet and availability of vast amounts of information in a instant, a librarianUs role must be one of teaching critical thinking and resource-based learning. New vocabulary in education such as: living curriculum, critical literacy, information power, information literacy, and information problem solving mandate that we re-examine our roles as professional information providers and educators. Students need to acquire the skills of evaluating information. We no longer have the luxury of having professionals in subject areas to evaluate and filter ‘bad’ information from ‘good’ information in magazines and books with clear references to experts in a field. Valid information is TpublishedU on the Web daily along with opinions and rumor. This new vocabulary is bringing new challenges in library instruction.


Impact of Digital Information on Library Instruction and Library Services

Changes in education such as the infusion of instructional technology and the use the Internet to deliver instruction has also changed how libraries and librarians can provide and assist instructors in teaching in the digital age.

RAn information society is one that enables most of its members to engage in

pursuits that are knowledge-intensive knowledge-generating; and

knowledge-based.S(Manfred Kochen) Information literacy and critical literacy


New Trends in Instruction - Web Based Course Delivery

The trend in education towards distance learning and web-based courses is providing new challenges for information professionals as service providers as well as instructors. We are required to provide access to quality and valid information to support on-line instruction as well as provide on-line instruction both indirectly in the form of guides and on-line tutorials as well as directly in the form on courses to teach information literacy. Many colleges and universities are recognizing the necessity of requiring an information literacy course as part of the curriculum in the digital age. At Mesa Community College, we are requiring students who enroll in a web-based course to take an Information Literacy course before they may take any other on-line course.

Knowledge - to have understanding - is the element that may be missing when simply accessing stored digital information. Using that information effectively in the educational process is the key. The challenge that librarians face as knowledge navigators is to link information to the process of acquiring knowledge from that information. "Information is Knowledge" is not completely true. Only when critical thinking skills are used in conjunction all the instant information that is available on the Internet (for example), can we attach real value to information.

Michael Caine once said "I educated myself in the library, which means I found out for myself what I wanted to know. School taught me what I didn’t know and what I should find out when I left school. School should really teach you how ignorant you are and what you want to find out.S Or as someone else once commented ‘schools are for teaching, libraries are for learning’.

How do we meet these new professional challenges?

There are several ways that we can begin to meet these challenges brought on by electronic information and the explosion of the World Wide Web as a vehicle to make information available to the world. Many college libraries are using a variety of tools and techniques to assist students in finding and evaluating information. The following is a list of some of the ways that Mesa Community College Library is working towards meeting the needs of our patrons and students.


Creating an Electronic Library at Mesa Community College

( may be the most effective way for a library to provide access to quality information located on the Internet. Although there are a number of quality electronic libraries available on the Web as well as great subject-based search engines such as YAHOO!, creating your own electronic library will allow you to provide access to information that is directly related to the courses offered at your college. It is an opportunity for collaboration between subject specialists and the librarians. In Web-based instruction, courses can be built around the resources that librarians and teachers find on the Internet. An Electronic Library also allows you to find the information you need or use most often in one place.

Finding quality information is the biggest challenge our faculty and students are faced in the research and instructional process. With the advent of distance delivery of instruction and web-based pages for libraries using the vast amounts of information available on the Internet, it is essential that independent learners are skilled in locating information. Internet guides ( and on-line tutorials ( provide instructional opportunities 24 hours a day at a distance or in the library. Students can access these tutorials and guides from home or from the computers in the library and walk through self-paced instruction on any topic from TWhat is the Internet?U to THow do I do research?U.

Using search engines effectively and choosing the best search engines for your specific needs may be the most challenging skill that learners need to master. Guides to recommended search engines that introduce and compare search engines in a standard format are an invaluable tool for independent learners. Students can readily compare the different features of several search engines and access the search engines directly from your libraryUs page. You may find this helpful when Tnet searchU is busy and you would like to go directly to a specific search engine.

Teaching Information Literacy in the electronic environment is a new and exciting role for librarians. Creating courses and formal instruction in the discipline of information literacy with the purpose of encouraging independent learners and critical thinkers to meet the challenges of the new information age is the role of the future for librarians. In todayUs workplace, employees are not only expected to work well with others, communicate well, find creative solutions to problems; they will also be expected to use the Internet and electronic information effectively to solve problems and conduct business. More and more businesses are moving towards conducting business on the Web for advertising, delivering services and products as well as using the Internet as a communication tool. Librarians must be involved in creating valuable employees with the current skills required to be successful on the job.

In conclusion, librarians have historically been the experts in locating, evaluating and making information available to the public. We have moved from books and print materials to individual databases with single search engines towards the open environment of the World Wide Web. Librarians are the most appropriate professionals to lead the team of people in finding the answers to the challenges we are facing in the digital environments of electronic information and the Internet. We have always been the experts at teaching people how to use the tools to locate that information regardless of format. We are the most effective searchers and researchers and our basic role of teaching those skills has not changed. The technology and varied format of information is changing and making new demands on our profession. In this fast-paced world it is important that we change with the changing roles and challenges.


Technical Support for the New Digital Age

The evolution of the library and information technology has brought on new challenges for campus libraries and information access and delivery. Maricopa Community Colleges consists of ten colleges, two skill centers and multiple satellite education centers. It constitutes the largest single provider of higher education in Arizona and is a major resource for those seeking post-secondary education and job training. The libraries share common databases, intercampus loan, inter-departmental loan and electronic resources. Roughly 40% of those enrolled at the Maricopa Community Colleges (Maricopa Community Colleges Information Update, 7/97) have previously attended either one of the other colleges or another post-secondary institution. It is essential for a core group of shared resources to be accessible across the District libraries and information centers. Remote access and authentication of database usage as well as connectivity and student rates for Internet Services Providers are just of the related challenges facing a centralized Instructional Technology Services at Maricopa Community Colleges.

No longer is the library a closed society with librarians and staff working solely with Library Technical Services for ordering, processing and cataloging of print and video materials. A holistic approach integrating customer service, complex technology and fiscal planning is necessary to achieve successful delivery of services on the campus libraries and beyond the walls of the libraries. Librarians need to be managers of information access, designers of systems in conjunction with programmers and college technicians, and service providers when working with students.


Cost of Ownership

In the past, the trend has been to consider software, hardware, and training as the more important components when discussing cost of ownership. According to Martin Ringle, staffing is at the top of the list considering new technologies. One needs to acknowledge the varied employees involved in supporting library innovation and information access. The past two years CAUSE/EFFECT has recognized this need with at least one article per journal on the importance of staffing.

The library staff are learning new skills such as DRA Web (the new web-based library catalog), Netscape, LANs interfaces, electronic resources access, e-mail, a variety of other skills related to digital information. Currently, Maricopa Community Colleges have an arrangement with US West Interact to provide Internet service to students and employees. The networking technicians are shifting from dialup to web access, installing upgraded equipment that (at times) may cause the system to be unavailable. This necessitates scheduling between District Services Support Center (DSSC) and college personnel as a crucial factor in successful implementation of new technology on the campuses.

The Instructional Technology Department is facing hardware and software upgrades and ongoing maintenance throughout the District libraries supporting the changing technology. Computer Repair receives, disburses, and delivers hardware to colleges appropriate to their time frames. College technicians are involved with infrastructure rewiring plans coordinated with library and DSSC staff in an effort to replace TdumbU Wyse terminals with Pentiums or Hewlett Packard machines. A programmer is daily at the colleges installing LAN databases, troubleshooting hardware, integrating LAN resources with OPAC databases and Web, and interpreting non-technical explanations into a work environment.

Training these technicians and support staff is an ongoing priority for ITS. Maricopa Community Colleges purchased vendor training for the new modules and third party software and offered it to a representative from each college. We suggested who should attend based upon skills, but were unsuccessful in this endeavor. As a result, the wrong people received the training, so another multiple day session will have to be offered by the programmer. The programmer provides training to local staff on policy file, ILL overview, and override passwords, as examples. There is a need for more to be trained, but the issue of backfill of personnel has not always been successfully answered.

Software purchases or updates create an increased maintenance cost, sometimes, 50% more than current cost. This must be built into the operating budget as a permanent line item, and is usually, not absorbed by the individual colleges.

Collaboration of Colleges

The librarians meet monthly with a continuing agenda regarding database purchasing, access to databases, decisions on local LANs, how to share electronic resources and how to find funding sources. The ten colleges work with DSSC technicians and share knowledge of supported technology, hardware and software configuration, infrastructure planning and scheduling, and many of the college computer coordinators and technicians are in the first year of intense coordination with librarians. This connection is very important due to the timeliness of equipment arrival and installation, so there is no warehouse time for the warranty. For both sides, this is a rather unique experience of learning how they can support each other and join together to provide better services to the students. The fiscal managers are providing budget codes, lessons in budget timelines and generally reinforcing M D. RingleUs statement, RThe more awareness that users have of information technology financial constraints, the betterS (CAUSE/EFFECT Fall, 1997, p. 23).


Resource Sharing

A Vax Alpha is located on each college and in DSSC there is a Vax Alpha loaded with the Data Research Associates software available to all colleges. The DSSC programmer works with the Novell software used by LANs and WANS. Additionally, the programmer is accountable for supporting user accounts, installing and maintaining databases and hardware.

Currently, Maricopa libraries share databases and database subscriptions such as Information Access Corporation (IAC), Social Issues Resource Services (SIRS), and New York Times.


Funding Sources

The Vice Chancellor for Information Technologies Services at Maricopa Community Colleges asked each of the library directors to submit a Library Implementation Plan (LIP) prior to any request for funding. In the past, any major purchases for all libraries had been paid by the District. The LIP was designed to be a cooperative project involving the college computer coordinators or technicians as well as the librarians. The Vice Chancellor and programmer reviewed the plans and asked questions of each college library.

Maricopa Community Colleges passed a bond initiatve which included Special Projects line for capital spending. Since each college received capital funds, he reminded colleges to be involved in their college funding allocation process. This was seen as an opportunity for librarians to present a well thought-out plan with timelines, staffing, training and implementation to their fiscal planners as a way to support students through library resources and services. The bond proceeds would fund one-half of the machines and the other half was the responsibility of the college. Some paid the full amount; others paid a percentage.

Many of the journal articles during the past year have recognized the fact that capital equipment grants come with a later price. Upon receiving a grant, libraries should immediately build into the operational budget a maintenance plan for the software, plus an obsolescence plan for the equipment.


Change Considerations

When considering changes, whether they are districtwide or within a local library, Steven Lee Johnson reminds the audience of three factors:

Information Access is dependent upon hard work, collaboration, funding, flexibility, software that is appropriate for our students, change to oneUs thinking, willingness to search outside the library for partners, training, and consideration of your collegeUs mission.




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