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Dewey Decimal squares off with the Web: Today's librarians are tech-savvy resources

Special to the Legal News

Published: August 23, 2011

DVD kiosks, broadband Internet service and documents that can be downloaded onto a home computer are products of the technological age we live in — and they’re all available at most libraries.

Perhaps nowhere else can a person borrow a “Harry Potter” movie on DVD, download their favorite saucy novel onto an e-reader and surf the Internet all at the same place and all for free.

Indeed, the library of today is a different world than the library of a generation ago when high-tech meant microfilm and audio cassette players.

Alongside stacks of books and periodicals are now rows of computer terminals, DVDs and CDs.

“Technology permeates every part of library science now. The Internet has changed everything,” said Belinda Boon, an assistant professor at the Columbus branch of the Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science.

That evolution certainly has benefited library users, but at the same time it has meant a dramatic shift in the job responsibilities of librarians.

It’s no longer enough for them to know the tables of the Dewey Decimal system or how to search through a card catalog. These days a librarian’s job skills definitely have a more high-tech feel to them.

“It has changed everything about the way we have done business. It’s a real paradigm shift in how we offer our services,” said Boon. “The shift takes the services out to the user.”

Kent State’s library science master’s degree program is one of the most prominent in the region and the largest such program in Ohio.

It has operated a Columbus branch, located at the State Library of Ohio’s campus in Italian Village, since the mid-1970s.

Technology has taken such a prominent role in a librarian’s job that Kent State four years ago started requiring all library science students to take a technology course called “Information Technology for Master of Library and Information Science Professionals.”

The course covers such topics as hardware and software basics, operating systems, file management, software installation and configuration, basic PC applications, search skills and Internet and web concepts, tools and applications.

Other courses offered include “Online Information Systems,” “Digital Libraries” and “Electronic Publishing on the Web.”

That’s a long way from learning the difference between an author card and a title card.

Boon said library science students must take the mandatory technology course early in their studies.

“The idea is to get everyone on an even playing field, an even skill level,” she said.

It’s not just learning how to do a Google search, either.

Features such as social media, chat rooms and text messaging also are creeping into library services.

“You can now ‘chat’ with a librarian to find information and it’s all linked. If it’s late at night and the libraries in Ohio are closed you can chat with (a librarian) in California because they’re still open,” said Boon. “There’s a lot more interactivity.”

Or, a library user can send a question via text message to a librarian.

“The use of mobile devices has become much more important,” said Boon.

Libraries are implementing these types of technology in response to user demand.

Such services as the ability to download books, films and other materials from a library’s website to a home computer are growing exponentially, Boon said.

While fledgling librarians are learning the new skills in school, veteran librarians must learn to keep up with the changing technology through continuing education seminars and workshops typically held by trade organizations such as the Ohio Library Council or the American Library Association, many of which, coincidentally, are offered through webinars.

Even many of Kent State’s courses are available online.

Libraries, like many other public institutions, are feeling the pinch of the poor economy as governments look to cut spending.

Still, interest in library science careers remains strong, said Boon.

“There’s a high level of job satisfaction. It’s absolutely fulfilling. You feel like you make a difference, and you do make a difference,” she said.

Boon said the job requires an ability to juggle several tasks.

“We look for ‘people’ people. It’s a service profession, first and foremost,” she said. “You have to multi-task, be approachable and determine quickly what you need to do to help someone.”

She added that it helps to have an “innate sense of organization.”

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