How Technology is Changing the Role of Librarians

The most significant historical change in the library field was the introduction of stacks in the early 20th century. The prominent structures used to house and protect tomes are a familiar sight for library patrons. For many, the idea of entering a library without seeing an immense collection of books is unthinkable. Despite this, a New York public library attempted to do just that. However, the engineers tasked with planning the project immediately opposed the concept, opting for a renovation that would leave a significant portion of the book collection on-site.

The rapid evolution of technology and the digital era is allowing people to have faster and more convenient access to books and education, and the role of the traditional librarian is changing. The following passages highlight three significant transformations taking place in the library profession.

Transformation 1: The Task of Upholding Ethics Has Evolved

Since 1939, the American Library Association and the International Federation of Library Associations have maintained a code of professional ethics that librarians and other information professionals reference regarding social challenges such as copyrights, censorship, and freedom of information. Despite advances in technology, librarians ensure that all patrons and peers are treated fairly. They view social responsibility as a part of their profession. Additionally, library professionals pursue excellence, integrity, collaboration, and transparency in the workplace.

Librarians must make patrons feel comfortable accessing information in an environment that doesn’t safeguard their personal data. According to the Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act and the Protection of Pupils Amendment, firms are free to collect data in academic settings, creating an ethical dilemma for library professionals. The complexity of big data research that many large companies conduct is testing the limits of current library computer science, institutional review board, and ethics standards. Publishers argue that information monitoring and gathering is requisite for fair compensation. Conversely, librarians uphold that patrons should be able to learn and access information freely and without restriction.

Transformation 2: There’s Much More Information to Oversee

In the 15 years preceding 2025, technology experts predict that the total volume of digital information will expand from 130 to 40,000 exabytes. In the past two years, society has produced more data than the sum of all digital information created by humanity. By 2020, technology experts predict that society will generate 1.7 megabytes of information each second for every individual on the globe, and the sum of all digital information will grow from today’s 4.4 zettabytes to 44 zettabytes. As a result, libraries need professionals who can use technology to quickly conduct research, analyze data, tackle problems, and develop new solutions.

The popularity of social media has generated a massive amount of consumer data. Society is generating so much data that enterprises are seeking the talents of specialists trained in psychology to make sense of it all. Behavioral psychologists who specialize in information technology interpret data and human behavior to help organizations provide better services.

Transformation 3: The Tools of The Trade Are Changing

Modern librarians exhibit equal proficiency in finding information using digital and non-digital resources, enabling them to help older generations to make the transition to a digital world and help younger generations to find needed information. Technology proponents have postulated the concept of replacing tombs of hardbound and paperback stacks with open reading spaces populated not by books, but space-saving, cost-effective electronic reading devices. However, the public, it turns out, is not quite ready to do away with the tactile pleasure of turning hardcopy pages just yet, although it’s more than likely that this is where the future of the library is headed. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly when this change will take place, as civilization goes through the growing pains of transforming into a digital society. Still, like many other institutions, the library system is finding that it must answer the call to enter the digital realm.

Libraries are one of the few remaining places where community members gather as citizens rather than consumers. Currently, library leaders are working on maintaining the function of the establishment, while providing patrons with modern resources. It will be interesting to see how the library profession retains its reign as the guardians of public information. One outcome may be the expansion of “maker spaces,” where community members gather to learn and develop skills that are impractical to learn via the Internet, such as how to use a sewing machine or a 3D printer. Whatever the outcome, the focus of the library will always remain on learning.

By Ryan Ayers

About the author

Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on data collection and analysis.

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