Can libraries continue to function and serve their purpose as a repository of knowledge and a heart of research in a digital age? Why use books when you can Google it? Why come to a physical place called a library when you can access the internet from the comfort of your PC? These are the kind of questions being asked of the library service at the current time and I will try to answer them according to my own knowledge and experience.
Libraries, as learning resource centres, are responsible for the provision of resources of all kinds. Increasingly these resources are digital. It is vital for library staff to be conversant with these. As well as an impressive collection of print resources, in the ENSFC library we have 18 computers. These carry the potential to access vast amounts of information. However there are dangers inherent in this boundless access to knowledge. It is not just a question of quantity of available information, but its quality and reliability. Most people are aware of the limitations of Wikipedia. It is often the first point of call when researching a subject, but how far can such a resource be trusted? How many students are tempted just to cut and paste (maybe altering the wording a little bit in the belief they will get away with it). It is partly the librarian’s task to educate students about the nature of information available and how they can learn to assess its worth. Google something and you can be swamped in an ocean of references most of which will be irrelevant, some will be misleading, in the often vain hope of finding a glint of gold in the bottom of the pan. Librarians can provide the guidance needed to get authoritative, useful materials without drowning in a sea of irrelevancies.
Part of a librarian’s task is in selecting and enabling student’s access to the most trusted and reliable sources available. By providing this service the Learning Resources Centre becomes a place where students can start their research from a strong position. The Moodle library page is becoming a useful portal to a range of paid for resources including The Oxford English Dictionary online, The Times digital archives 1785-1985, Infotrac newspapers, Up to date issues statistics for the social sciences, Philip Allan Update review magazine to support a range of A level subjects, and free resources such as including 3000 eBooks through the Jisc ebooks for FE project ebray, and http://core.kmi.open.ac.uk/search which allows access to literally millions of scholarly papers. I have recently added a link to an Open University resource http://www.open.ac.uk/libraryservices/beingdigital/?ONEML=pf1873&MEDIA=pf0910os_1121 called “being digital” which offers good step by step advice on using the internet for research and the values and pitfalls of social networking. New resources are continuously being added as they become available. In some ways the problem now is not the quantity of quality resources, but in enabling students to structure their research questions to make best use of what is available.
One area in which the print resources of the library excel is in the matter of art materials. We have a large collection of big format art and photography books which are in constant use. However, the internet can also give access to a huge number of visual resources. Another link I have just added onto the library Moodle page is the http://www.googleartproject.com/ – giving access to over 184 collections many from major museums and art galleries. You can view them on your screen in fantastic detail or even walk the corridors street view style (but without the crowds).
Academic libraries are places where students can work in a supportive environment where excessive noise and disruptive behaviour is discouraged .Libraries; especially academic libraries have always been places where individuals can receive guidance as to how to access the information they need.
What I have just described isn’t the future, it is the present. Libraries are changing and it is vitally important that we embrace change and the huge new possibilities and opportunities which are presenting themselves.
Primarily we need to ensure that the students receive training in the use of information services. They need to be well versed and familiar with the dangers and pitfalls of relying on poorly referenced materials gleaned from the internet. They need to know where to go to find accurate and reliable data, correctly cite their sources and avoid plagiarism.
Also students need to know how to structure their research so they are not overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material available.
We must be open to the use of social networking applications. This may be controversial and there are strong arguments on both sides. Many feel that social networking is largely negative in an educational setting, merely providing distraction from the tasks in hand. Therefore access to face book and twitter are often blocked on college computers. However, it is important to be open to the positive aspects of social networking that the value of collaborative working and research. It is clearly an area about which there will continue to be a great deal of discussion in coming years. I use both applications to keep up to date with news of book awards, specific authors, literary events and news and innovations in the learning resources sector. I follow other librarians and information professionals and subscribe to several blogs which provide useful ideas and suggestions from the experience of others in this sector. Useful and entertaining news items often find their way to the Moodle book news forum.
We must also be open to including more eBooks in our collection. The ebray is a trusted source for nonfiction, but perhaps we should consider sourcing more fiction books online? I have included a link to http://www.booksshouldbefree.com/ on our library page and read an interesting article recently about the use of kindles in a school’s library to encourage reluctant readers. This remains an area of debate. However I am deeply committed to the promotion of literacy and anything which supports reading is to be encouraged.
Books are not dead; they are merely a part of the resources the library provides.
“The evidence continues to accumulate that libraries – and their librarians – lie absolutely at the heart of 3rd millennium learning organisations: a place for scholarship, a place to escape into adventures, a place of discovery, a place to share and explore, a place for deep thought, a place for surprise and above all a place without limits. The best schools have libraries at their centres not as some sad throwback to an earlier age but as a clear and evocative prototype of what ambitious learning might look like in this century of learning.”
Professor Stephen Heppell (quoted in http://www.cilip.org.uk/news-media/pages/news072010.aspx )
Learning Resources Coordinator
East Norfolk Sixth Form College