Difficult tasks for information professionals

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The Information spaces of the future will be entirely digital. Is this is a good thing?

One of the most difficult tasks for information professionals nowadays is to give a direct explanation about what information spaces is. The International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science does not have an entry. Instead of that it uses the related phrase ”virtual reality.” Despite the fact that we can't find an exact meaning, the concept seems to be used widely in studies of hypertext systems or more often in the World Wide Web. To conclude with the meaning, the term in many articles is used without definition but all in one way or another means the objects real or virtual where somebody attend to acquire information. At the present time, these objects are a library or a well organized Information centre. [7]

The world is living in a networked society age where Information Technology (IT) has been used at length to record, store, and publish information in digital form. IT brought the world so close that lot of people admits that we live into a global village. The information industry also is influenced from the revolutionary changes in the IT sector. Libraries and Information Centres are also changing to meet the demand of the new age. The new generation demands that traditional libraries should be evolved as a well equipped and organized as digital libraries. Taking serious this view, a number of information centres around the world, with Europe and Usa as pioneers, have already more or less turn into the digital mode.

The expression “Digital Library” has a range of possible meanings, starting from a digitized collection of material that someone can find in a physical library throughout the collection of all digital information along with the services that make the specific information useful to the users. Having lot of definitions for the “digital library,” terms such as “electronic library” or “virtual library” are often used synonymously. A digital library is a large database for the people who are working on hypertext atmosphere. It supports the full life cycle of creation, storage, conservation, dissemination and use of data, information and knowledge and it is accessible by using TCP/IP or other protocol. [1]

Why modern people are in need of digital information centres anyway? Why the old fashion library visit is not enough? The answer is simple. Time is the number one problem for modern users of a library and digitization seems to be the solution to this problem. In general digital libraries are needed for the following reasons:

  1. It's easier to understand a visual or a graphical information system of a digital library than a text based information system.
  2. Modern people feel more comfortable when access the needed information through their personal computer.
  3. A digital library has the ability with the use of hypertext to structure and organized the same digital information in a variety of ways.
  4. Is expected to be able to handle the problem of information overload. By providing a link it will be able to manage large amount of digital information without actually procuring the document.
  5. Information retrieval will be more specific for e.g. a particular image, photo, a definition etc.
  6. In time more and more information are going to become available via internet and digital library or a digital information centre is needed to procure the online publication and to provide link to important sources of information. [2]

Despite the fact that modern people demands the digitization of information what are the true benefits of digital information spaces either this is a digital library or a digital information centre?

  1. To begin with, the users of a digital library don't need to go to the library physically as long as an Internet connection is available. People around the world can have the same information by accessing the digital library through the Word Wide Web.
  2. Digital libraries are available 24 hours a day and 365 days of the year. Due to lack of time many people can't attend the opening hours of a physical library.
  3. One of the greatest benefits of the Digital library is the multiple accesses. How many times someone was in dire need to borrow a book or a journal to use it for own purpose but it was not available? In digital libraries the same resources can be used at the same time by a number of users.
  4. In Digital library it is very convenient the fact that we can easily move from the online catalogue of the library to the book we need and even more to the particular chapter we need. The structured approach is easier than in a physical catalogue
  5. With friendly and easy to understand interfaces the information retrieval will be easier due to the click able access to its resources.

    Preservation and conservation will be easier because thousands of exact copies can be made any number of times without side effects in the original material.

  6. While physical libraries has a restriction as it concern the storage space, digital libraries have the ability to store a lot more information, simply as they don't use physical space. When the library had no space for additional room digitization is the only solution.
  7. Finally the cost to keep a digital library active is much lower than that of a physical library. A traditional library must spend lot of money paying for staff, book maintains, rent, and additional books. Digital libraries simply don't have these fees. [2]

With this point of view all seems to be perfect when the information spaces are completely digital and everything should be digitalized as soon as possible; but nothing is perfect. Digital Libraries are not without their limitations, at least for now. According to Dr. T.B. Rajashekar &dquo;The amount of print material that already exists (and continues to get created) and the comfort attached to reading from print material, leads to the conclusion that print and digital material are going to co-exist for a very long time to come”. [3] Following are some of the key issues facing Digital Spaces today:

  1. First of all the most crucial problem is the Copyright: With the free transfer of books and journals a digital space violates the copy right law because “the content of one author can be freely transfer by other without his acknowledgement”. So digital information spaces must find the way to distribute information. It is very difficult to give information and protect the copyright of the author at the same time.
  2. It is common sense while more and more computers nowadays has internet access the connection speed between the user and the digital information space to decrease dramatically. Without the power of new technology (new servers, better computers etc.) then in the near future the digital space of a library or an information centre will be full of error messages which eventually will discourage users from using it.
  3. Despite the fact that the cost to keep a digital library or information centre active is much lower than that of a physical library meanwhile the starting cost of a digital space i.e. the hardware and software cost; the rental communication route is generally very high. This means that the cost may prevent libraries or information centres to become fully digital or new digital libraries to begin from scratch.
  4. Another problem where technology may have the solution in the future is the matter of band width. A Digital centre will definitely need high band for multimedia resources transfer. While the band width is decreasing gradually due to it's over usage imagine a digital space where a thousand (1000) or more users try to download recourses the same time. The transfer rate will be extremely low and the users will be frustrated, disappointed and eventually they will give up the effort putting the blame in the digital space for not having the information they badly need it.
  5. With the information overload a digital space can provide, finding the accurate recourse for task becomes more difficult. The more irrelevant information the user has the less efficiency achieves. In a physical space like a traditional library the user with the correct guidance from the librarian / information professional will attain the desired efficiency avoiding the trash. A digital space without the online communication service is doomed. This service allows the direct communication of the digital space reference specialists with the online users.
  6. How many times a user admired the physical space of a library or an information centre. Let's take for example the environment of the British Library or the Library of Congress or even the environment of the warm public library of an area. These feeling cannot be reproduced by digital spaces no matter how good web pages they have. It is worth mentioning also that even today in the modern time, many people find extremely harsh and difficult to read from a computer screen and they prefer the printed material a physical information space can provide.
  7. The danger of hacking in a digital space is not a joke but a reality. A simple User Id and a password most of the times are not enough as most people believe. If the web page of the digital space is not well protected a hacker with a “brute force attack” may retrieve not only free recourses but also personal data ( credit cards, location, telephones ) of registered users.
  8. Finally it is due to technological developments of our time, that a digital space may rapidly become outdated and its data may become unapproachable. This is another reason why some physical places are discouraged to become fully digital and for some people this is the main reason why they don't invest large amount of money to create one.[2]

In the new age where users can access the needed information from their home the role of librarian/information professionals cannot be ignored. Handling digital information, electronic publishing, online advises to users will be some of the new tasks of the librarian of the new age. Without doubt though the major challenge for the librarian of the new age will be “to decide who are author who are publisher and who are user because any one who has access to the network of digital libraries can be a publisher by posting messages to an online discussion group or by other means”.[2] The major change in the work of a librarian is that approximately will be considered as a “hypertext engineer”. This is not as bad as someone may think because the new environment opens new paths for the digital librarian and the practical use of new technology makes this profession far more interesting and exciting.

Technology for fully digital spaces is not yet mature. Open distributed control in the digital information space is still a research and a progress challenge. Digital libraries can't replace the physical ones completely and they are not ready to do it but no doubt they are coming to the society in order to meet current demands and to satisfy users who want to access the knowledge a library can offer, from their house. The initial cost of digitization is high but only in the beginning. After digitization is established the cost to run a digital information space is cheaper than any physical library. As long as the cost of digitization is decreasing and more online publications become available, more and more libraries will decide to take the digital path. What information professionals has to do in the upcoming changes, is to gear up their knowledge armoury and be prepared to face the new challenges a full digitalized environment provides.

References

  1. Lorcan Dempsey. Library places and digital information spaces: reflections on emerging network services. Alexandria, 11(1), 1999. p 51-58.
  2. [2] Digital library and its different aspect. Available at: http://liswiki.org/wiki/Digital_library [Accessed 30th November 2007]
  3. [3] Dr. T.B. Rajashekar. Digital Library and Information Services in Enterprises Available at: http://www.ncsi.iisc.ernet.in/raja/is214/is214-2006-01-04/topic-1.htm [Accessed 30th November 2007]
  4. Nicholas Negroponte. Being digital. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995.
  5. Manuel Castells. The rise of the network society. Oxford: Blackwells, 1996.
  6. Counsil on Library and Information Resources : Library as Place, Rethinking Roles, Rethinking Space, Washington D.C., 2005
  7. Cliff McKnight. The personal construction of information space. Journal of the American Society for information Science, 51(8), 730-733

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