The developing role of librarians in a digital age

The academic publisher Taylor & Francis is exploring the transformation of the traditional library role through a series of interviews with academic librarians around the world.

In a digital age, academic researchers are increasingly referring to online sources to begin their research journey. With such significant change underway, it is essential that the role of librarians is evolving to keep up with this shift in researcher behaviour.

'The Library Voices' project is designed to offer a platform to librarians working in diverse settings and locations around the world.  We have found it fascinating to find technological advancement being highlighted as a key challenge for many libraries, regardless of their geographic location. We’re pleased to be able to showcase the many different, individual stories of how librarians are embracing this change as part of their roles.   

The interviews feature librarians from around the world, including India, China, Kenya and Italy. It is apparent from these accounts that a new role of 'knowledge mediator' is becoming a common element of library services. Librarians guide researchers to ensure they are accessing high quality, relevant information and they play a critical role in helping users spend less time searching and more time accessing and using valuable content. In his interview, Moses Munyao of United States International University in Kenya comments;

"A librarians' profession has long been seen as one that entails arranging books but in the current era which is considered to be a digital era, library professionals have adapted to the changing times thus demystifying the earlier notion."

The perception of the traditional librarian is being overturned as librarians utilise technology to support researchers. In an academic arena overwhelmed by electronic resources, demonstrating the value of content and using an array of tools in order to do so is part of the librarian’s role to plan collection development.

Technology is also being embraced as a communications tool to form remote library teams and support burgeoning services in isolated areas. Ethan J. Allen, Director of Florida Atlantic University Libraries, describes how he uses email and Google hangouts to support the newly created library collection at Monastero San Benedetto in Norcia, Italy.  "I have been returning once or twice a year to Italy for the last 14 years for short periods, sometimes bringing other librarians to advance the work being done on site." Despite the absence of a permanent librarian, between visits he is able to use online tools to communicate and provide advice on the reclassification of the liturgical collection at the monastery. Online communications are opening up library services far beyond the walls of an institution.

As well as identifying, filtering and demonstrating the value of content, the librarian must also understand how their library users access their research and develop their services accordingly. Rameshwar Dayal at the Indian Social Institute explains that the majority of users are 'using the library online either through computers or using their mobile device'. In response to this need, the Indian Social Institute is planning to launch its own mobile app, demonstrating the importance of tailoring services to meet the technological needs of their researchers. Other librarians in the Asia region describe how they use online tools to connect with patrons, from user engagement and customer service to teaching information literacy. "The role of the librarian is not only providing books and journals, but now in this digital age it has grown so far, librarians are teaching the teachers, students and even the public,” Abdullah Al-Modabber of South Asian University observes.

Library roles are clearly becoming multi-fold, with the librarian acting as an educator, marketer, and facilitator to high value content. These interviews provide a unique perspective on the practical reality of modern library services.

Jodie Bell is Communications Manager at Taylor & Francis.