…describe and compare the organizational settings in which library and information professionals practice
The concept of information environments has changed dramatically as libraries have evolved. Once solely a face-to-face physical interaction, libraries now offer users virtual access to collections and other services from home or on the go. In this sense, information environments can be conceived as any place where people access information. Whether the information is transmitted through bits and bytes, print, audio or visual technologies, through asynchronous or synchronous means, libraries meet users wherever they are to facilitate access to various information resources.
Library and information professionals practice in a variety of information environments, and have evolved throughout human history to meet user needs. From face-to-face reference transactions in Sumerian temple libraries to current virtual chat and IM reference; from advising patrons about the care and use of clay tablets to teaching patrons how to download e-books from home, LIS professionals have promoted access to and instructed patrons about how to utilize information in myriad formats.
A number of library types currently exist to serve patron needs. In this competency, I will discuss the missions and user base of several library types including: public, special, academic, school and digital libraries.
Public libraries serve any individual who obtains a library card and desires access to library collections, programs or services. The mission of public libraries is to provide access to all. “Of all library types, public libraries serve the information needs of the widest variety of population groups, including children, students, professionals, the elderly, and all groups in between.” (Kane, 2008, pp. 43). As such, public libraries rely on federal, state, and local funding to serve the diverse information needs of their public. Public libraries cater to their community demographic and build collections to reflect the social and cultural needs of their communities, as well as their educational, recreational, and information needs. They also provide communal spaces for local residents to convene and connect.
In challenging economic times, public libraries have served greater populations with decreased funding, offering free Internet and computer training and access for all, which has proved especially beneficial to lower-income communities that lack home or mobile access to online employment applications and job listings. Critical community programs like Homework Help for children and teens as well as summer reading programs promote healthy relationships with information and help create lifelong learners.
Special libraries are considered “special” because they are designed to serve individuals seeking information about specific disciplines or specializations. Medical libraries, law libraries, and corporate libraries are all considered types of special libraries. Special libraries are often attached to institutions from which they receive funding; as such, their mission is to meet specific user needs and honor patron requests. “They are directly and narrowly related to the mission of the organization in which they are located, and must regularly demonstrate their usefulness to survive.” (Rubin, 2010, pp. 212) Access to special libraries is restricted to students, professional researchers, scholars, and other institutional members.
Like special libraries, academic libraries are also institutionally bound to meet the educational and informational needs of their students and faculty. Yet, academic libraries are designated to support various curricula in all college or university departments and disciplines. Academic librarians often teach either course-integrated or stand-alone instruction sessions to educate students about library programs and services in order to help them prepare for upcoming assignments and/or support general coursework. These programs and services can include how to access library databases remotely as well as efficient and time-saving methods for searching the catalog or databases.
School libraries or school library media centers (SLMCs) serve the diversified curriculum needs of K-12 students. Elementary, middle and high school librarians all share the monumental responsibility of instructing students on good library practices to help serve their learning and literacy needs. The primary goal of a school librarian (or library media specialist) is to teach information literacy skills to students. School librarians collaborate with faculty to facilitate student completion of class research assignments and also educate K-12 students about plagiarism, ways to stay safe online, and how to efficiently navigate the Internet. In addition to performing reference and reader’s advisory services, school librarians provide positive environments and critical opportunities for students to develop lifelong learning and reading habits.
Digital libraries are non-traditional information environments that often employ emerging technologies to serve user needs. Examples of digital libraries include cloud-based digital repositories like Internet Archive and HathiTrust, both of which aim to preserve permanent access for researchers, scholars, historians and any other individual with Internet access. Another example of a web-based digital library is Calisphere: an archive of primary sources designed for classroom use. The mission of digital libraries is to provide virtual access to meet patrons where they are. Some digital libraries and online library catalogs allow users to create their own tags to name and find content.
As libraries and information environments have evolved, so too have user ideas about the library as place. While users continue to frequent libraries to access both physical and virtual resources and attend library programs, many users prefer to search catalogs and databases remotely, or request or renew books from home. Libraries no longer require four walls to provide patron access to collections and other services. With the help of emerging technologies, librarian and information science professionals can serve users wherever they are.
My first piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency B is a paper I wrote for LIBR 266: Collection Management in which I compare the collection development policies of Columbia University (academic) and Brooklyn Public Library. In this paper, I explore both the similarities and differences between how academic and public libraries build collections, most notably, how public library collections are community-driven whereas academic libraries serve the curricular and research needs of the university. I also discuss how various funding sources impact collection development and how that affects library users.
My second piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency B is a short paper I wrote for LIBR 256: Archives and Manuscripts in which I describe the missions and objectives as well as the archives of the San Francisco History Center, located in the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library. I organized a tour for several classmates and myself of the SF History Center and Rare Book Room in September 2011 to fulfill requirements for LIBR 256. This paper shows my understanding and competency of information environments because it both describes the archives in terms of organization, design, storage, and preservation of historical documents, and also considers the precarious funding issues involved with an archive that is attached to a public library.
My third piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency B is a paper I wrote for LIBR 248: Cataloging and Classification in which I compare and contrast the online public access catalogs (OPACs) of two different digital libraries: Storyplace: The Children’s Digital Library and Children’s Books Online (CBO): The Rosetta Project. In this paper, I compare these two digital libraries in terms of several criteria: layout, ease of use, functionality, terminology, and feedback/help options. As both digital library environments are designed to serve children, I related these aforementioned criteria to their target youth population, and considered how each digital library did or did not meet user needs. This paper demonstrates my competency in comparing information environments in which library and information professionals practice.
The three evidentiary examples I have provided demonstrate my understanding and competency of various information environments in which library and information professionals practice. This knowledge will allow me to recognize transferable skills I may possess and use in a myriad of learning and information environments while seeking employment and navigating career pathways.
Kane, Laura. (2008). Careers and Environments. In Haycock and Sheldon (Eds.), The Portable MLIS (43). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Rubin, R. E. 2010. Foundations of library and information science (3rd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman.
apoetlibrarian by Melissa Eleftherion is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.