School of Information Studies professor Jana Bradley says librarians are essential for helping people sort through the vast amount of information available on the Internet.
Defining the Modern Librarian’s Role
In this age of digital documents, one may be tempted to write off librarians as going the way of the typewriter—useful only when a task requires direct access to traditional print. But Jana Bradley, director of the Master of Library Science program in the School of Information Studies, says librarians are needed now more than ever to help people navigate the overwhelming amount of information that the Internet and other electronic media bring to their lives. “Many people think of the profession as just handling books in libraries,” she says. “But historically there have been roles for people working with society’s recorded knowledge, whether that knowledge is recorded on papyrus or clay tablets, or in handwritten manuscripts, printed books, or, now, electronic documents.” Though much of a contemporary librarian’s work deals with the printed word, libraries have long used such media as microforms and computer databases to manage information. “Modern libraries are more automated than many other organizations,” she says.|
Bradley came to Syracuse University a year ago from Indiana, where she had directed the satellite library science program at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. Before deciding to enter the higher education field, she worked as a library administrator for 18 years. “I was very much aware that librarianship was undergoing a massive change, and I wanted to be part of preparing students for that change,” the California native says. “We live in a time when a new medium is growing up for recording society’s knowledge.”
Bradley is fascinated by the emergence of “hybrid libraries,” which handle electronic as well as print resources, and pioneer new roles for librarians. In one such role, librarians act as custodians of information found in cyberspace. “The Internet has been likened to a library with all of the books thrown on the floor,” Bradley says. “With the huge amount of electronic information available, librarians can help identify quality resources, and provide access for people through virtual libraries.”
In addition to electronic books and articles, digital libraries provide such resources as historical documents and photographs. Bradley says the Library of Congress American Memory Collection (http://memory.loc.gov/) can be imitated on the local level, preserving photos, illustrations, and stories from a community’s history. “Public libraries that digitize collections will remain an important resource in the community,” she says. Librarians also lend their organizational skills to companies, managing print and electronic information. “Librarians’ skills are very much in demand for organizing complex web sites,” Bradley says.
An important role for libraries is providing equal access to electronic resources for all sectors of society. “One big concern about our becoming more dependent on electronic information is that people without access to computers will be marginalized by society,” Bradley says. “Just as in the 19th century, when people who couldn’t afford books or college came to the library to read, the public library can become the place where people have access to electronic information.”
Bradley says the School of Information Studies’ approach to information is unique. “We’re more than a school of librarianship, a school of information technology, or a school of business applications of technology,” she says. “For nearly 30 years, the school has taken the stance that information is an interdisciplinary phenomenon. We have degree programs for various information professions, but we’re one faculty, all working together. There’s a tremendous synergy from having different disciplines and professions involved with information represented in one faculty.”
As information becomes increasingly digital and society develops new ways to deal with such issues as privacy, security, and access to electronic media, she notes, a variety of perspectives will be essential. “Our school is well-positioned to produce leaders who will help society adapt to electronic information,” Bradley says. “An important part of that adaptation is not losing values that are inherent in the print information world, and finding the appropriate balance between print and electronic media. Our job is to educate librarians who can be leaders in finding that balance.”