Archive for October, 2014

Working in a local public library, often being surrounded by children’s books, brings back my own memories of all the books I delighted in reading as a child, from Dr Seuss, Enid Blyton to the Harry Potter series, and how they still speak to us, perhaps even more so as we get older. Lemley (2011) uses the analogy of ‘Chicken Little’ to reflect on the human tendency to view technological changes and developments from printing press to the internet as indicative of a threat to content industries like the media and libraries. This ‘the sky is falling in’ mentality is my no means new. What is most worrying however, is the fact that the more we talk about our profession in this manner, the more likely it is that the powers that be will begin to accept this as fact rather than fictitious discourse that it actually is.

In her Presidential address to the LIANZA Conference last year, Laurinda Thomas (2013) urged librarians to change the conversation, and promote a more positive image of our profession. Far from rendering libraries and librarians obsolete as the media would have us believe, recent developments in Web 2.0 enable librarians to expand our services, and deliver then on demand 24/7 onsite and on user-driven participatory web. According to Maness (2006) Library 2.0 is the ”the application of interactive, collaborative, and multi-media web-based technologies to web-based library services and collections”. This opens up our collections to re-purposing and remixing through mashups and gives our users to ability to engage, share and interact with our collections. Chan (2011) provided some impressive examples of how new Web 2.0 technologies like social tagging and social networking sites like Flickr can be used to enhance online catalogue records and create new possibilities for interaction and engagement between scholarly researchers and students. My favourite example is the catalogue record of an ‘Auguste Bonaz replica Spanish mantilla comb’, where a client had posted a link to an article in Trove about that same fan. In this way, the Flickr Commons and API’s have opened up the library collections to a whole new audience, allowing them to contribute content, and fill in gaps in institutional knowledge by dating and/or identifying unknown images or objects.

However, despite this the public perception that ‘print is dead’, that ‘online’ means free, and tendency for general press to discuss migration to eBook and the bookless library in an uncritical manner pervades. The one that comes to mind is Forbes outrageous claim that we should ‘close public libraries and give everyone a Amazon Unlimited subscription‘. Obviously, this is not only grossly exaggerated but inherently inaccurate, showing a complete misunderstanding of the important role public libraries play in our communities that Amazon could only every dream of. Whilst its true that libraries face significant challenge of adding value by adapting services to meet changing needs and expectations of communities for information in multiple formats to be easily accessible to them anytime and anyplace, this does not mean we should loose sight of our cores strength and purpose of providing universal access to information and knowledge for free, or ignore the important role we provide in connecting our communities with books and reading.

Working on the service desk in a local public library, writing customer surveys and literature review for an eResources strategy as Digital Resources Librarian in a local public library, has opened my eyes up to the social and economic inequalities that still exist in our communities with regard to access and ability to computer and information technologies. Whilst there is an acknowledgement of the convenience of online collections and services, my survey of 211 respondents revealed that there is still a strong preference for reading in print. By comparing lending statistics for print and online collections in public libraries, it is clear that print still far outweighs online.

This is supported by recent reports on elending and the future of libraries compiled by library and information associations like ALIA and IFLA. They place much of the commentary questioning the role of public libraries in an online world, into perspective in terms of current and future developments in the provision of digital and electronic resources in libraries. For example, two studies carried out by the Australian Public Library Alliance, part of the Australian Library and Information Association (2014) illustrated the difficulties faced by libraries in providing their users with eBook collections. Key findings included:

  1. eBooks make up on average 5-6% of a public library’s collection, and account for less than 1% or 5% of loans.
  2. Between half and two thirds of libraries are less than satisfied or not satisfied with the choice of bestsellers, books by Australians, popular authors and overall content by ebook providers.
  3. The major publishers, including Penguin, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Macmillan, have struggled to find a model for lending eBooks to public libraries

The latest Nielsen Books & Consumer survey showing that ebooks were outsold by both hardcovers and paperbacks in the first half of 2014. According to Nielsen’s survey, ebooks constituted only 23 percent of unit sales for the first six months of the year, while hardcovers made up 25 percent and paperback 42 percent of sales. In other words, not only did overall print book sales, at 67 percent of the market, outpace ebook sales, both hardcovers and paperbacks individually outsold ebooks.

Also, the pervasion of digital technologies into every aspect of how we live, work and play, and the perception that online means everything for free, masks the one of the major social justice challenges of our time, digital exclusion. A recent submission to the National Curriculum review by children’s education charity The Smith Family found that for many disadvantaged families the internet is a luxury many could not afford. The latest ABS report on Household Use of Information Technology in Australia from 2012-13, shows similar inequalities amongst older persons age group (65 or over), who represent the lowest proportion of internet users. Similarly, in the 2013 Sensis Social Media Report, shows 97-100% of people in the 14–49 age group access the internet, compared to 84% for 50-54 age group, and only 60% for +65’s.

My experience in working with clients has and will continue to inform the ways I provide access to the Library’s collections. That is embracing new media opportunities to promote and improve library services, to provide collections in multiple formats and to enhance existing print and digital collections in a manner which adheres to fundamental core library values (IFLA, 2014):

  1. freedom of access to information
  2. universal and equitable access to information
  3. delivery of high quality library and information services
  4. access to these services without regard to citizenship, disability, ethnic origin, gender, geographical location, language, political philosophy, race or religion.

In my current role as Digital Resources Librarian, I play an important role in the community as a guide to online eResources including eBooks, emagazines and research databases, legal and drug information collections and physical reference collection. This involves liaising and negotiating with suppliers and publishers to ensure that our eResource collections meet the needs of our community, Council’s strategic priorities and Collection Development policy. It also involves embracing new mobile and online technologies as alternative access points to the Library’s services, physical and electronic collections. For example, I have created Pinterest Boards for our eResources. My role also involves educating clients and clients in digital literacy, online research skills, database and catalogue searching, identifying authoritative sources of information.

Chicken Little, I beg to differ. The sky as far as I can see it, is not falling down on books, reading and libraries!



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