Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Librarians: We're still vital in the digital age

Librarians: We're still vital in the digital age
By Angela Haupt, USA TODAY

More than 300 librarians in town for the annual American Library Association conference spread out across Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, forgoing sightseeing in favor of public service.

Their purpose was twofold: to make a difference while combating the perception that libraries are a dying institution, rendered unnecessary by Internet resources.
"There's this idea that with everything available online, there's no reason to continue building libraries," says Michael Dowling of the library association. "But libraries do so much. They are lifelong learning centers. This is an opportunity for us to reach out."

The conference began Thursday and lasts through Wednesday. Volunteers worked in schools, libraries, parks and food banks across the city.

In downtown Washington on Friday, four volunteers spent about seven hours entering 4,000 books into Ross Elementary School's computer catalog system. "I've been doing it myself, but it's quite a bit of work," school librarian Kathy Nelick says. "We're very fortunate to have these volunteers. … The job requires librarians with knowledge of databases."

Although they acknowledge that libraries play a different role in the community today than they did 10 years ago, the volunteers say they are more necessary than ever.

"There has been an incredible explosion of available information," says Domi Long, a librarian at the private Lowell School in Washington. "We need to teach kids how to evaluate information, and we need to help them navigate it."

Jill Hurst-Wahl, a digitization consultant and president of Hurst Associates in Syracuse N.Y., says a need for libraries will continue as times change. The challenge, she says, is adapting to the ways people want to access resources.

"You have the younger generation, which is more technologically literate and less eager to physically go into the library," she says. "They want to go online. And then you have senior citizens, who are becoming more technical but are also more comfortable going into the library in person. The pressure facing libraries and librarians today is taking all the possibilities and creating services — either online or in person — that adequately serve all the different generations."