Librarians in the 21st century

Carl Sagan, the late astronomer, raconteur and television personality, once wondered aloud how many books an individual could read in a normal lifetime. “From here, to here”, was his estimate, as he walked the length of a single, not very long, shelf of books in a US library. Sagan’s point was that our capacity to read was nothing compared with the vast volume of editions contained in a normal library.

Today, with the Internet, the librarian’s job of sorting and providing access has become even greater. Not that paper-based information has been replaced; in fact, there is more printed paper produced today than 20 years ago. But the real changes have been brought about by the so-called digital revolution.

Fortunately for librarians, the new developments in information technology that have led to such explosive growth in information have also come to their rescue by revolutionising the way information is stored and accessed. The creation of bibliographic databases, the digital catalogues to complement the trusty Kardex, and the use of barcodes to store books, are just a few valuable innovations. The new challenge is how to manage and alleviate the already existing problem for researchers of “information overload”.

The Internet and search engines like Google or Yahoo may have brought sorting and retrieval of front-line information into the living room, but deeper searches demand patience. Given the plethora of information available, the Internet has heightened the need for more and better librarians to filter the wheat from the chaff.

In addition to the more traditional information portals like library catalogues, librarians now use resources like RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which uses XML tagging to stream current news stories or information directly to the client’s desktop, mobile phone or handheld computer. The OECD Observer online edition uses this service, as it is widely used for sending the latest news stories to a user’s machine and getting around email spam. This is one reason why publishers are also using RSS to inform customers about new titles or send out newsletters.

Today, the OECD’s Centre for Documentation and Information (CDI) has more than 55% of its resources in digital format, with over 55,000 electronic titles and 29,000 titles in paper format. This virtual library allows our researchers to consult the catalogues and other electronic resources provided by the centre from their desktops via the OECD’s Intranet.

The centre also provides access to important sites on the web where its clients can instantly download periodical articles and academic working papers, consult databases and even print off complete monographs. Clients can also request loans of material or ask for bibliographic researches with one click which automatically sends an e-mail request to the librarian.

Another development librarians face is the WiFi market, which one estimate predicts will be worth US$44 billion in 2008. Librarians are responding by making their catalogues and portals accessible 24 hours a day and seven days a week in formats that are user-friendly for mobile phones and other wireless handheld devices.

With the huge wealth of information available, the librarian’s “teaching” role will no doubt grow in the 21st century. For instance, as well as providing guides and information on its Intranet site, the OECD’s information centre organises personalised training sessions and regular demonstrations for its clients. Libraries with large numbers of clients, such as university libraries, have created online tutorials on their web sites. An example of this is the University of Sussex’s information literacy tutorial, “InfoSuss”.

This is a time of flux for business models in publishing; some academic institutions have already set up formal institutional repositories and are offering free on-line access to peer-reviewed articles which previously would have been published in a commercial journal. Sites like the Directory of Open Access Journals allow anyone with Internet access to freely download articles. Some commercial publishers have accepted to publish articles free on the Internet with the authors’ institutions paying the publishing fee.

A recent European Commission report finds that libraries should be allocated funds to subscribe to reader-pay journals and that authors should be able to afford publishing costs for author-pay journals. The report also stresses that perennial access to digital archives should be guaranteed. A recent OECD report on scientific publishing online foresees a period of experimentation around various versions of open-access publishing based around mixes of open and subscription-based access.

The progress of open-access periodical article publishing and institutional repositories versus the traditional models will have budgetary implications for all libraries. Printed material will continue to play an important role for researchers and library users. A recent survey of the use of online textbooks found that students preferred using the printed version and only viewed online formats as a supplement to print. Physical libraries will still therefore thrive and adapt, with reading rooms for users to come and browse, consult and borrow material. If you want to find the best path through the information maze, ask your librarian.

References

©OECD Observer No 257, October 2006




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría discusses the uncertainty in politics around the world, lack of proper skills for future jobs, global growth and US-Mexico relations.
  • Green Talks on 3D printing: 3D printing may be growing rapidly and innovations abound, but what does this mean for the environment? Click on the picture to join Shardul Agrawala of the OECD Environment Directorate on 27 February at 13:00 CET to discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of widespread 3D printing.
  • How should pension systems account for gender differences and deliver equitable pensions for women and men? Do differences in financial literacy between men and women impact their long-term well-being? These are some of the questions to be debated at an OECD-hosted conference taking place on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017