The Librarian In The Twenty First Century Education Essay

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In this paper Barbara Hull considers the role of the librarian in the twenty first century as facilitators of information rather than custodians. The impact of the digital divide is highly relevant in schools where students are drawn from a variety of backgrounds, particularly the lower socio economic group who, on finishing school, would have taken up jobs in the unskilled sector. The advances in technology have meant that there are less "jobs for life" and more of the workplace is being driven toward technology by government initiatives and economic need. This is particularly relevant for the higher education sector, as Hull observes, as people who would have traditionally found work in the unskilled sector are now having the get a higher education, hence the student population is less homogenous than previously.

Critical analysis:

Although published in 2000, this report serves to highlight the plight of those sections in the community who are vulnerable to the effects of the digital divide by way of social class and learning difficulties.

To support the notion of the 'digital divide', the author uses statistics from her previous study (Hull, 2000) which was undertaken on behalf of the Library and Information Commission. Although now 9 years old, the relevance of these statistics (use of personal computers and internet in the homes in an area of higher than average unemployment in England) is less important to the report than the overall findings. Not surprisingly, in the aforementioned study, the more affluent demonstrated a higher level of computer competency than those from less privileged backgrounds.

As libraries serve to provide equal access to all members of the community it is vitally important that librarians can accommodate variations in information literacy. The problem of the digital divide may be magnified by uptakes of technology, but social exclusion has been a long standing problem well before the advent of the computer. On a lower level, there is the problem of functional literacy which makes using a library or computer difficult (Hull quotes 1 in 5 adults in England as functionally illiterate, Moser Report, 1999).

Hull comments on a new interest in the future role of libraries in which they serve as major information providers, referral and access points, partners in training opportunities and learning, and as providers of ICT services (Phipps, 2000). Overcoming the effects of social class and wealth differences is a huge and ongoing problem only exacerbated by electronic access, and is beyond the scope of the librarian alone, but there are suggestions here for steps to improve the success of librarians in helping to bridge the gap.

Firstly Hull suggests that all library staff be informed of the changing environment in which libraries are operating and of variations in client groups. Secondly, libraries need to continue strengthening partnerships with other agencies (Hull quotes inter-library co-operation schemes and outreach programmes). Thirdly, staff need excellent technical and interpersonal skills. In a study quoted (Library and Information Commission, 1998), the attributes most lacking in new library graduates were friendliness, flexibility, and confidence in own ability. Understandably, these qualities are listed as most important for librarians in the new millennium as they are "entrusted with an increasing role to facilitate access to the burgeoning amount of information," and need to appear friendly and approachable to all walks of life.

Annotated Bibliography 2: Libraries' role in equalizing access to information.

Russell, S. E. & Huang, J. (2009). Libraries' role in equalizing access to information. Library Management, 30(1/2). Retrieved March 16, 2009, from

Brief description:

As the title suggests, Russell and Huang investigate the role that libraries can play in equalizing access to information outlining their findings so that these ideas may be utilized "for the future benefit for those who remain disenfranchised by the digital divide." The digital divide is defined as "the percieved gap between those who have access to the latest information technologies and those who do not… usually measured by computer ownership and internet accessibility (Compaine, 2001; Kargbo, 2002; Kastsinas and Moeck, 2002)." The authors outline studies citing the uptake of technology across The United States. The US has done much to equalise accessibility as it has become an important social issue, and while the gap between the "information rich" and the "information poor" is narrowing, it is still significant.

Critical Analysis:

Perhaps predictably there are still differences in accessibility across the population, with the lowest percentage of computer ownership being for the over 65's, African Americans, and Hispanics. This situation of unequal access can be found across one city or within one school system. Interestingly the authors quote a study about the availability of technologies for students at selected elementary schools across Oklahoma City which showed vastly different results for home computers and internet connectivity from one school to another. There are many factors that add to the digital divide problem and the authors state that the data "demonstrates that the digital divide will not disappear anytime soon."

This report shows that schools with highest access to technology for its students at school and at home ranked higher in academic achievement tests than those who had less. Much of the solution to this has been to equip schools and libraries with the hardware requirements necessary, but this is only part of the problem, as "the user must also receive adequate training and educational opportunities that enhance their use of the computer and internet by providing them with necessary skills to achieve optimal results in their quest for information."

Most modern libraries offer their users free computer and internet use and are closing their hard copy reference sections in favour of computer workstations. The authors outline many ideas that have been implemented in libraries in the U.S. in order to facilitate libraries contribution to narrowing the digital divide. Some of them being: Information Literacy programmes, computer classes to help users use various software and conduct online searches, linking public and school library catalogues online for students, and partnering academic and school librarians by inviting them to tour the libraries in order to pass on that information to students and colleagues. Connections with private and charitable organisations can be worthwhile too (The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was cited as providing 160 sites to native american populations to preserve american culture while providing opportunities for technical training through access to computers and the internet).

Published in 2009, the report outlines changes that have been made and successful programs that have been implemented in information literacy but interestingly, it acknowledges the divide remains.

Annotated Bibliography 3: Bridging the digital divide: The role of librarians and information professionals in the third millennium.

Aqili, S. V. (2008) Bridging the digital divide: The role of librarians and information professionals in the third millennium. The Electronic Library, 26 (2). Retrieved March 16, 2009 from

Brief description:

Information Communication Technologies (ICT's) offer enormous potential to developing countries and disadvantaged communities to address the social problems they face. The issue at hand is the digital divide which separates these communities from access to ICT's. The world faces the problem of providing access and sharing information in order for the aforementioned communities to achieve their potential. The author reports that librarians, being at the forefront of information services are well placed to make a difference via their "ability to locate, use, process, organize, create, communicate and manipulate information and information resources and somehow find an appropriate identity and status in the electronic world."

Critical analysis:

The author makes a comprehensive assessment of the role that librarians can play in reducing the digital divide. According to the Digital Divide Organisation (2006), solving the digital divide is considered a precondition for reducing poverty, resolving terrorism and achieving sustainable world markets. Resolving terrorism seems like a long shot, but the point is more that it is a social issue that goes beyond the issue of access alone.

The author draws on a variety of relevant reports and papers to illustrate the role that librarians can play in overcoming the digital divide via their information services. These include reference and collection building, inter-library loan, selective dissemination of information, current awareness services, digital libraries and resource sharing.

The Governing Board of IFLA approved a declaration which the author outlines and this is useful in understanding how well librarians are placed to bridge the gap. The report focuses on the importance of librarians in bridging the gap in the digital divide and outlines exactly the skills in which librarians need to be proficient to do this. Librarians will emerge from this instruction as "Technology experts", "Guides" (directing to information), "Scouts" (ferreting out information), "Analysts, an "Information providers".

There is no doubt that librarians can have a significant impact on bridging the digital divide, but little has changed in the profile of the role of librarians in the digital divide debate.

Annotated Bibliography 4: Growing the community of the informed: information literacy--a global issue.

Bundy, Alan, (2002). Growing the community of the informed: information literacy--a global issue. Australian Academic and Research Libraries. Retrieved March 21, 2009 from

Brief description:

Embedded in the problem of the digital divide is the issue of information literacy..

This paper takes a global view of the digital divide and outlines how many countries are spending money on technology but ignoring information literacy education. It outlines the importance of professional (library) organisations on this issue and how they can help to broaden the concept of information literacy to politicians, bureaucrats, educators, trade unions, social action groups and other professions in order to develop a national information strategy. Additionally, the author outlines seven main ideas as pointers to raise the profile of the importance of information literacy worldwide.

Critical Analysis:

Although published in 2002, the issue of raising the profile of information literacy remains relevant today. The author asserts the importance of evidence based advocacy in the push to highlight information literacy, not the digital divide, as the critical issue of the information age.

Even though it is a precursor to world events such as the one organised by the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science and the National Forum on Information Literacy held in Prague in 2003 and the World Summits on the Information Society, many of the issues raised remain unchanged. Much of the focus of the digital divide in recent years has been on spending money on infrastructure and information literacy remains an issue difficult to sell.

The author acknowledges the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) as leading the development of a national strategy and having been associated with the issue of information literacy from 1992. This highlights the fact that information literacy has largely been ignored for a long time.

Perhaps this is because, as the author asserts, "Librarianship is the only profession which is really alert to an information literate citizenry as the prerequisite for personal and democratic empowerment", and technology being what it is, is easy to sell. Money spent on teacher training, information literacy integrated into the curriculum, well resourced school, public and academic libraries etc, as the author suggests, may not be nearly as marketable as the latest technology.

Of course, progress has been made in information literacy education, and examples of this are given, but the report serves to highlight the difficulty in moving from identifying issues to implementing changes in the improvement of information literacy.