[UKOLN] Follett Lecture Series

Organised by UKOLN on behalf of JISC

Information, Librarians and Learning:
The Challenge Ahead

Miriam A. Drake
Georgia Institute of Technology, USA.

Introduced by Lynne J Brindley, Chair of FIGIT

London, 5 March 1996

I am honored to be here with you this evening and thank you for inviting me. London is one of my very favorite cities. One of the things I like to do is to have a leisurely breakfast and read The Times. I read The Times this morning and found two items of interest. First, I was happy to read that the Chancellor, Mr. Clark, said that the 'feel good' factor is on its way. He predicted that people would feel good by midyear. Lower interest rates, lower mortgage rates and lower taxes are predicted to produce this feeling good. I hope each of you feels good. If you feel really good by midyear I hope you will let me know.

The second item is directly related to our discussion this evening. There were a couple of articles about professors who took their inventions and began small companies. If economic recovery here follows the US there will be more jobs created by small business than by big business. Faculty members who invent and use their inventions to start companies will be one source of this employment. My advice to you is to identify and seek out the potential small business starters and be very good to them. Gi ve them technical information and, more importantly, marketing information. When they become successful they should share some of their earnings with you.

A month ago I had the privilege of attending the joint meeting sponsored by UKOLN and CNI. I am excited about the many library projects you have underway and full of admiration for the way in which you have coped with enormous change in your system of higher education and with severe funding cut backs. I want to talk about higher education because it sets the context for how we provide information and services.

Higher Education

The challenges in higher education are enormous and a bit frightening. My unscientific survey reveals a chaos on both sides of the Atlantic because no one knows how teaching and learning will change. There are many competing and conflicting forces at work. The situation is highly dynamic and likely to remain so for the immediate future. There is a high level of complexity and uncertainty. Our old and comfortable world is going away. Traditional structures and methods of teaching and learning are giving way to an new order, as yet undefined.

The elements in the new situation include more students, less money, assessment, quality, technology, productivity, student responsibility for learning, lifelong learning, distance learning and a generation that does not learn or gain understanding as we did. I call it the "point and click" generation. They have been nurtured on a diet of television and video games. In some ways, we have exposed our children to television in ways that stifle their imaginations, curiosity and fantasies. Neil Postman said, "our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business . . . the result is that we as a people are on the verge of amusing ourselves to death."1 The addition of computers in infant schools and above could exacerbate the problems.

If teachers are to be more productive, that is, teach more students in a given period of time and if students are to take more responsibility for their own learning there will have to be some big changes. For some people, technology is the magic answer. There are people who believe that technology will solve all the problems. Government officials and politicians look at private industry and see that we are producing more goods with fewer people . Processes of reengineering, using computers to control production work well for goods where uniformity is desired. They do not work well for people. The cookie cutter approach does not result in educated people.

Teachers will have to transform themselves into multimedia producers, team leaders, directors and coaches. Faculty accustomed to teaching with lectures, chalk and blackboard are likely to encounter difficulty in meeting new demands. In the process of restructuring, we may lose some excellent teachers whose experience and skills we need.

Research also is changing. It is becoming more interdisciplinary on the one hand and more specialized and fragmented on the other. There are researchers studying smaller and smaller areas while others are branching to other disciplines and combing those disciplines into new areas. These trends are apparent in all fields.

By 2000 it is estimated that 1/3 of your school leavers will be enrolled in some type of college of university. Now, institutions must compete for students at a time when colleges and universities are being asked to do more with less. The amount spent per student declined by 28% between 1988 and 1993.2 How will more students be educated with less resources?

Technology to the rescue! Universities have developed multimedia course packages that can be used by students with computers. These packages can increase the productivity of a teacher if productivity is measured by the number of students taught or reached during a given period with no regard for quality. While multimedia may be an appropriate substitute for classroom activity in some fields it may be a detriment in others. When students are working alone they lack contact with a teacher and other students. There often are questions needing answers and issues needing discussion. In fields requiring learning or intake of information from all the senses, portable multimedia packages may do harm . For example, in chemistry, computer simulation will not give smell and may not reproduce color accurately. In many chemistry experiments smell is as important as sight and smellovision has not a rrived. Courses requiring discussion of issues and airing of various views and perspectives cannot be undertaken successfully by a student working alone. E mail and computer conferencing can help; however, it may not substitute for being in a room with other people where body language and nuances can be observed or heard. We have little reliable data on the effectiveness of these packages for learning.

How will we assess the effectiveness of these courses? Assessment ,quality and accountability are intertwined. Assessment often is a surrogate for accountability. Each set of customers, stakeholders and government officials have their own agendas for higher education. They judge results subjectively in accordance with their own thinking. Quality is an elusive element and highly subjective. When politicians and others demand quality, they often want instant gratification. Audits and assessments, it is assumed, will determine the quality of teaching, learning and research and whether the institution is fulfilling its purpose. Learning is not easy to measure. It may be more important to assess learning and the effectiveness of a course of study four or five years after students have left university. At that point former students have a better grasp on the value of their education for the work place and the quality of their lives. Students usually want education to prepare them for work and life. They cannot assess the value of that preparation until they are in the work force and have shaped the course of their lives. Politicians in the US want instant results. If the Congress appropriates more money for education they expect that test scores will improve in six months. Few politicians understand that learning is a long range process.

The emphasis is shifting from teaching to learning and making students responsible for their own learning. This shift can be positive if the student's imagination, curiosity and creativity are stimulated.. Current and future students will have several careers in their lifetimes. John Kotter, a professor at the Harvard Business School, observed, "If students are to succeed in tomorrow's world, their education must instill in them the desire to keep learning throughout their lives."3 Self motivated learning will be essential. People will not be able to wait to be told to learn. They must recognize that they have a need to learn and that learning enhances their professional and personal lives. Distance learning may work well in post graduate situations. Some people will want to go back to campus for additional education. Others will use interactive television. The highly self motivated will rely on multimedia packaged courses, e mail and good old fashioned reading. In a dynamic and increasingly competitive world keeping up to date and staying ahead will be essential to success. Higher education needs to address the issue of teaching students how to learn and communicating the necessity and desire to continue to learn.

In learning how to learn key competencies are gathering, evaluating, analyzing and synthesizing new knowledge and information. Teaching information competencies will be a major responsibility of librarians.

The problem of teaching information competencies will be more difficult for distance learners. If these distance learners do not master information competencies in school or in university, they are likely to have a difficult time with independent learning. We, in libraries, need to be prepared to serve the distance learner. I will talk more about that challenge later. Distance learners will acquire their education in many ways. Remote television is being used now to broadcast courses away from campus. More and more of our campus courses are using WEB sites and E mail as additional means of communicating with students. Our librarians, at Georgia Tech, have been actively involved in setting up these WEB sites. Technology

In these courses technology is being used to enhance the work of the classroom, not replace it. It is all too easy to say that technology is the solution to our problems. If we forget about content, concepts and critical thinking than it is easy to say that technology is the solution to all our problems. It is a confusion of means and ends.

Peter Drucker, in his latest book, points out ,"Too much talk focuses on the technology. . . Now that knowledge is taking the place of capital as the driving force in organizations worldwide, it is all too easy to confuse data with knowledge and information technology with information."4 The people who hype technology rarely think about content, meaning, understanding or value. Arno Penzias, a Nobelist in Physics, said, "Machines only manipulate numbers; people connect them to meaning."5 I am distressed by technohype and notion that technology is the solution. I am distressed that people in academe believe that computers will solve all our problems without negative consequences.

In the US we have many teenagers living in cyber space. These young people have been caught up by the capabilities of the network. They spend hours surfing the net, engaging in online chat with people whom they will never see. Their online communication can range from learning to communicating with cyber friends to loneliness, alienation, and cyber adultery. A new field of clinical psychology is emerging on the west coast of the US geared to helping young people relate to others in person rather than online.

Technology is a great enabler. Computers can store vast amounts of information and they cannot intuit, invent or create. With networking vast amounts of information can be delivered almost anywhere in the world.

Every day we see how our lives have been changed by technology. Most of the change is for the better. We are fortunate that the Internet is global and was developed initially by academics. This global capability has created online communities of people with common interests. It has facilitated research and human interchange and interaction.. We can keep in touch. and exchange ideas, data and thoughts. We can access vast quantities of information and data. This information glut makes it necessary to make judgments on quality, reliability and timeliness. Lack of meta data exacerbates the problem of finding desired information on the net. While there are several good services to start the process there is not certainty that we will find what we are seeking.

Technology also is changing the publishing industry. The number of electronic journals is increasing daily. Some are high quality, others are junk. Sir Brian Follett, in his presentation last month, pointed out the necessity of maintaining a refereeing structure to add validity to scientific findings and ensure quality control in published materials. We also need to preserve documents of record.

Paper publishers are putting their products online. More and more publishers are seeking ways to distribute their products through online consortia and other groups. The STM publishers are tying these online subscriptions to the paper subscriptions. They have not gotten the message that most people do not need both online and paper products. Online publication using SGML coding offers a significant enhancement in providing the ability to find formulae, graphics and other parts of a book, article or report. In science and engineering this feature is very welcome.

The problems of archiving and making older material available have not been solved. If publishing is online exclusively and we do not have to store paper, how will we obtain older materials? At what price? Electronic archiving may not be the answer. We cannot read older electronic data now, how will we do it in the future? Clearly, there is a great case to be made for preservation microfilm. Fifty years from now we can take to a window and read it with a magnifying glass.

I am confident that books and reading will not disappear soon. They may disappear in a generation . High resolution monitors and hand held devices could mean the end of books in the future. I do not know whether young people who need to read and under stand complex concepts will want to read in paper or from a screen.

It is likely that emphasis will shift from the journal to the article Peter Lyman, in his Follett lecture talked about the McGraw- Hill experiment at USC in which textbooks were available online to professors who could build their own books from online books .They found that the unit of information was the paragraph, not the article. The users selected material without context - a dangerous practice. If this type of activity continues how will we know who wrote what? What will be the document of record?

Context also is essential. Penzias observed, "Human intelligence almost always thrives on context . . ."6 Computers do not behave in context. Paragraphs read out of context can be misleading and lead to erroneous conclusions.


The context for the work of academic librarians is higher education and how it is performed. There are customer and institutional contexts. The customer context is changing and becoming more diverse in age, ethnicity, experience and preparations. We will continue to see more people in their thirties and forties returning to university or beginning their degrees. They will come from more diverse backgrounds , educational experiences and contexts.

Unlike computers, librarians deal with information requests in context. By talking with a customer we learn why a person needs information and how it will be used. We can make better judgments regarding the source, content and form of information that will satisfy the need.

In the future, librarians will focus on people and the learning environment, not the local stock of physical objects. The challenge is to transform the library into a customer oriented rich learning and service center where people and problem solving are important. This new environment will foster self motivated and lifelong learning and actively support learning, teaching, research, and personal and professional growth.

For the immediate future libraries will continue to maintain paper, photographs and microfilm collections because the past is recorded on paper. We will focus on content and delivering that content to people who need it. Content may be print, video, audio, graphic or multimedia. Some librarians will work with computing people, instructional development people and faculty to develop multimedia course packages.

We will spend more time teaching and directing. Librarians will be guiding people in the selection of online resources and helping people select and use multimedia materials. Librarians will need to review and judge networked resources for accuracy, reliability and timeliness before they are recommended. These resources may become part of our online catalogs so that people can find descriptions of appropriate materials. The addition of URLs and communications capability will enable people to select the source and be connected easily with no need to know network protocols or URLs.

The need to physically go to the library will decline gradually. Many faculty members now feel strongly about browsing in paper. The serendipity effect is important to them. They obtain information from flipping the pages of books and journals. The online experience is not the same for them. Humanists and social scientists whose research depends on original material will continue to work in paper for many years to come. Twenty years from now when today's students are faculty members things may be different. They may be able to scan and convert all they need so it is available to them at the desk.

In the past libraries were collection based. We saw our mission as providing the most complete collections we could. The new mission will be customer based and focused on providing services to individuals. Customer service begins with the assumption that each information seeker brings a unique mind set, experience and context to information finding and problem solving. Charles Martell observed, "Computer centers have helped build the electronic infrastructure and the networks that allow us to chart new courses. But where the mission of the computer center ends - the user's fingertips striking the keyboard, ours begins. . ."7 Most libraries will have to be customer driven to survive. Librarians providing information, reference and research services will need broad knowledge of basic networked information and deep knowledge of specific subject fields. They will need to ask questions of customers to fully understand what is needed. Librarians will need to be flexible in their approaches and responses. Generalists may be needed to perform triage, screen questions and make referrals. We will bring people and information together in new ways. We will make linkages and evaluate needs within the context of the individual just as physicians or attorneys. A physician observes, asks questions and performs tests. The resulting data are analyzed and synthesized to produce a recommended course of action. The attorney reviews facts, asks questions, reaches conclusions and recommends a course of action.

This intellectual activity takes place within the unique context of the individual seeking the advice of an other individual who has the professional background and experience to understand, analyze, respond and recommend. Librarians perform the same sorts of functions.

We now deal with people who have varying skills in information finding and use. There are customers who are users of our systems and collections. They want to do things themselves. They often know more about sources in their fields than we do. They spend hours surfing the net and finding new things. At the other end of the spectrum are clients. They are active participants in a service transaction. They want and expect information tailored to their unique need. They do not want to take the time to explore the net. They want us to direct them or to deliver information in a useful format and that has meaning for them. We have deceived ourselves over the issues by believing that owning a book or journal meant we owned information. In fact, the book or journal is a container and we had some rights to use the information but also some restrictions.

The role of technical services staff will expand. Acquisitions staff will need to learn more about the law because they will be more involved in licensing agreements. As libraries subscribe to online databases, journals, and multimedia or mount databases locally it will be necessary to understand the legal aspects of licensing. Obtaining rights and permissions to use text, graphics, film clips, TV clips in multimedia documents will become a major activity in universities developing multimedia course packs. The Library is the logical unit to work with faculty on rights and permissions.

In addition, acquisitions and collection development staff will be looking at the best way to acquire documents or access documents. Catalogers will shift their focus from describing physical objects to describing intellectual content or providing meta data to facilitate retrieval and ensure effectiveness in the retrieval process.

In describing a CD-ROM it will be necessary to delineate the content. Statistical data will require a description of content, coverage and units. For example, the UK exports a large volume of spirits and sweets. If I were looking for data on the exports of spirits I would want to know how the exports are measured - bottles, liters, tonnage, constant monetary units or current monetary units. If I wanted data in constant monetary units and the only data available were stated in liters I would want to k now before looking at the data set or downloading.

Catalogers also may be involved in reviewing online resources for inclusion in the catalog. This review would include content as well as location.

Customer satisfaction in the new world of libraries goes beyond putting a book, photocopy, list of citations or URL in someone's hands and concluding that the job was done. Sara Fine has pointed out that assumptions about people and information can be obstacles. She states, ". . . A tenaciously held assumption by both librarians and users is that having information is the same as using information."8 We clearly need to gain greater understanding of customer behavior . Why do they seek information? To answer a question? Solve a problem? Learn new techniques or methods? Make a decision?

Techniques of the past may not work in a new environment. We are in the early stages of change in the way people learn and find and use information. For next few years we will be living with technohype - the belief that technology can solve all our problems. If we view technology as a provider of tools we can make great things happen. At some point the pendulum will swing back to personal services.

Customer satisfaction is elusive, subjective and difficult to measure. Service is not sitting on the shelf. It occurs when an information seeker and librarian come together to produce service. Personal service will enrich our lives, provide more challenge and give us a greater sense of job fulfillment.

Clearly, we need a new breed of librarian who understands and integrates technology, information and learning into a new model. I believe that this new model will be far more exciting than the old one.

In closing I want to first remind you that librarianship is the world's second oldest profession. We have survived wars, plagues, coups d'etat, economic depressions, economic booms and every social and cultural change. We are leaders and survivors.

I want to close with a story about an up and coming Atlantan who decided to spend his holiday in Africa in search of big game. He was young, had a good job and was making a good living. He went to the best store in the US to be outfitted, he hired the best guides and was very excited about the notion of conquest. He and his guides were racing through the jungle and just as they were getting close to his prey the guides stopped, sat down and rested. This young man was outraged. How could this happen?

He protested to the leader of the guides. He threatened , pleaded, cajoled and tried bribery. Nothing worked. "Why? He asked. Why stop now? The leader replied, : the mean say that they have hurried to fast. Their bodies have run so fast that they have left their souls behind. They need to wait for their souls to catch up."

We and our colleagues in academe and business have rushed into using technology to replace people. We are only at the tip of realizing that something is wrong. It will take several years for our souls to catch up. We and others are just beginning to realize the need to preserve our souls, values and commitments.

1 Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Disclosure in the Age of Show Business, New York, Viking, 1985, 3-4.

2 Williams, Nigel. Universities Feel the Heat of Competition, Science, 271 (February 2, 1996), 689.

3 Kotter John, P. Lifetime Learning: The New Educational Imperative, The Futurist, 29 (November-December, 1995), 27.

4 Drucker, Peter. Managing in A Time of Great Change, New York, Truman Talley Books/Dutton, 1995,13.

5 Penzias, Arno. Ideas and Information, New York, Simon and Schuster, 11.

6 Penzias, 49.

7 Martell, Charles. Editorial: Sometime Soon: A New Renaissance, Journal of Academic Librarianship, 20 (July, 1994),129.

8 Fine, Sara. Reference and Resources: the Human Side, Journal of Academic Librarianship, 21 (January, 1995), 17.

[Biographical Note] : [Synopsis]