Libraries are portals to all of the world’s knowledge and librarians make sure that knowledge continues to be recorded and saved for the future. The way of preserving and accessing this information has changed over the years as technology continues to play a vital role in accessing information. While developments in technology have made it easier for students in higher education to access materials for their researches as this can be done virtually, will the digital age mean that libraries are becoming extinct?
Griffith (2015) posits that as information becomes more digitized and omnipresent the space of the library may no longer be needed and asks how can a librarian measure against a back-drop of increase in limited funding? Simple, libraries have to become creative and face these challenges head on. The challenges are enormous however,Spiro and Henry (2010) and Nelson and Haines (2010) postulates that equally important, and deemed one of the biggest barriers to online resources in universities has been a lack of academic content and when you do find materials for courses they are very pricy “for publishers to set up and maintain infrastructures for both electronic and print books”(Spiro & Henry, 2010).
Although this may be true, we see that funding plays a vital part.In fact, libraries “predate books, and in their modern form, libraries of all kinds – public libraries, research libraries, school libraries” to name a few “typically stand at the heart of the communities they serve, and digitization creates new challenges and opportunities, hence, forcing libraries to take on new roles, and perform traditional roles in new ways”even with funding being a concern.
Challenges and Solutions
Of course, librarians have become creative to align themselves with the growing e-resources and the lack of funding among others. Ubogu and Okiy (2011) agrees and states that “the importance of funding in providing quality library service cannot be overemphasized. It is the glue that holds the building, collection and staff together and allows the library to attain its goals. As such, money can be considered the soul of the library. As a result, inadequate funds impede the effectiveness of any library.” Therefore, libraries not only in Jamaica but globally have to dig deep and come up with strategies to stay afloat in this technological age to meet the needs of the users.
Now, in a third world country like Jamaica the University of the West Indies Libraries remain competitive. Mention must be made of their West Indies and Special Collection, (WISC), (Mona) that has earned several accolades over the years from persons locally and internationally for their unique Caribbean collection which houses-: Rare Books, Manuscripts, West Indian Creative Writings, Microforms, Maps, and Audio–visuals to name a few. This collection is one of their way of remaing competitive – then congratulations are in order. In addition, there is also the Edward Seaga’s Collection,
P.J. Patterson’s Collection and Rex Nettleford’s Collection among other notable gifts. These collections consist of items both in print and digitization and the content is quite valuable and persons globally come to Jamaica to consult these “prized” materials.
Notably, there are also e-books and e-journals that the library has to acquire regardless that they may also have the printed copy, and these are extremely expensive and take a chunk out of the libraries budget. Another challenge is vendor stipulations whereas libraries cannot buy some books as they would a print and have multiple users as the publisher would not profit so it creates another “roadblock” for academic libraries. Notwithstanding, academic libraries have to be marketable, they have to attract their users no matter the challenges faced.
Also there is the task of sufficient computers and these computers have to be equipped with programs and software that is current. Libraries wrestle with the “longevity of technologies and devise back-up plans before making large investments.” So yes, “libraries are likely to remain important for years to come” and “will still purchase print books even though “space over time is in conflict with space for users” (Renwick & Peltier-Davis, 2007).
The University of the West Indies (UWI) Library for example, carries several e-books,
e-journals, electronic databases which includes their Mona Online and Research Database (MORD), EBSCOhost Online Research Database, JSTOR, EmeraldinSight, and ProQuest Central to name a few. These are some of the databases that are shared on an interface platform so that students in Jamaica (Open Campus and Mona) and from the sister campuses (Cave Hill in Barbados and St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago) can also have access.The sharing of resources helps to offset some of the costs for all the stakeholders hence, giving students access across disciplines, across campuses in real time. As well, the library at Mona offers several other services to stay abreast of technology and make themselves more marketable for example, students that are visually challenged can still have access using – :
Assistive Technology – Visually Impaired Students’ Technology Assisted Services (VISTAS) was established in 1997. It provides visually challenged students with assistive (adaptive) technologies that aid in their learning process
Kurzweil – visually impaired users with access to printed and electronic material.
Printed documents (after being scanned) and digital files such as eBooks or email are converted from text to speech and read aloud
Jaws for Windows – This software provides speech technology that works with your computer’s operating system to provide access to popular software applications and the Internet for visually impaired students.
Braille Embosser – This machine converts text to Braille
Victor Reader – This is a sophisticated digital talking book with an audio and mp3 CD player that allows visually impaired students to read from the printed pages.
As a result, several students with challenges have been able to leave the University with a degree in higher education. The library created access, equity and equality in a technologically driven time. They prepare these students for life-long learning with the necessary tools. The library should be considered the hub of any university and with this digital explosion over the years they have to be impressive. No wonder libraries have to step forward and embrace tele-education especially since there is a demand for online education (Wright, 2000). Does this make them on the road to extinction? I think not. It’s called reinvention and remaining relevant so that there is equal access.
Speaking of access, who speaks for the person who cannot afford the online resources or just prefer the book instead of virtual resources? THE LIBRARY!!! Students need options. Some students need someone that is approachable, personable, can ask open-ended questions to assist them in becoming competent and adept to finding their own information – facilitating them to find, analyse and use.
So while the library tries to stay afloat in this technological age which is sometimes too impersonal for a lot of library users, there are some persons who are stuck in the era where books are supreme and their voice must also be heard, their needs must also be met (Sharma, 2012).They want to mark and feel their books, they want to curl up privately and read not thinking about the down time of the Wi-Fi or issues with their smart phone or laptop and just unwind.
Technology plays an “important role in advancing the availability of higher education for the under-represented student populations”, while ensuring “accessibility of web materials” for the physically and visually challenged but what about persons who are not ‘tech savvy,’ where is the equity? Libraries play a vital role even in this world of technology and materials being digitized, and have to cater for diverse users to show equity.Students and faculty need options if they find it difficult to maneuver the databases or catalogue. Furthermore, some students love to sit with a librarian who can give them personalized attention and facilitate their production of the best research papers they can (Peltier-Davis, (2011). So no, there is a place for both the library and technology even amidst the unyielding challenges. Libraries will continue to reinvent themselves to meet the needs of not some of their users, but all their users – both technologically inclined and otherwise.
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Nelson, M.R. and Haines, E. (2010), “E-books in higher education: are we there yet?”, ECAR Research Bulletin 2, available at: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERB1002.pdf
Peltier-Davis, Cheryl. “Overview of library services in the English-speaking Caribbean –
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