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What's At Stake for Libraries in the Digital Age


Libraries in the Digital Age

Table of Contents

What's Going On Putting It In Perspective What's Working Key Players

Libraries and librarians may be our best antidote to information overload and the threat of privatization of information repositories, but first they must assume a position at the forefront of the digital revolution. Crucial public interest values are at stake: Free access for individuals to the Internet and advanced telecommunications technologies. The polled resources to test, showcase, and make widely available the latest telecommunications and information technologies. Having trusted information professionals as guides who help us navigate a sea of information that otherwise may overwhelm us, and as validators of information standards.

What's Going On

FCC approves full funding for second year of universal support for schools and libraries (28 May 1999). Follow the E-Rate Debate. Benton's Communications-Related Headlines' Extra on Libraries (20 May 1999) summarizes mainstream and industry press concerning libraries in the information age. The Future's in the Balance: A Toolkit for Libraries and Communities in the Digital Age updates the research done in Buildings, Books, and Bytes (see below), and provides hands-on material to help libraries communicate their role in the digital age. (1998) 1998 National Survey of U.S. Public Library Outlet Internet Connectivity, by John Bertot and Charles McClure, American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy (November 1998). Major findings include: more than 83 percent (up from 72 percent in 1997; and 44.6 percent in 1996) of all public libraries have some type of Internet connection; more than 73 percent (up from 60 percent last year) of all libraries provide some level of public access to the Internet; only 45 percent offer graphical public Internet access at speeds of 56kpbs or higher; rural libraries are 16 percent less likely than urban libraries to have access (down from 20 percent in 1997); and public access is about equal in poverty areas (72.8 percent) and nonproverty areas (73.2 percent).


Putting It In Perspective

Local Places, Global Connections: Libraries in the Digital Age: (1997). Libraries have long been pivotal public spaces where people can come together to learn, reflect, and interact. But today, information is rapidly spreading beyond books and journals to digital archives, databases, and a flow of electronic images over computer networks. Will libraries lose their role as lending institutions? And what will happen to libraries as physical places where diverse people can gather to pursue knowledge individually and collectively? Published in cooperation with the Libraries for the Future. Buildings, Books & Bytes: Libraries and Communities in the Digital Age reveals what library leaders and the public have to say about the future of libraries in the digital age (1996). Current Cites, an email newsletter and web site run by the University of California, covers current trends in information technology as it applies to libraries and librarians. IITF: Putting the Information Infrastructure to Work -- Libraries and the NII, Draft for Public Comment, 1994 and the subsequent IITF: Putting the Information Infrastructure to Work -- Libraries and the NII, Summary of Comments, 1994 Charles R. McClure, John Carlo Bertot, and John C. Beachboard, Internet Costs and Cost Models for Public Libraries: Final Report. (Washington, D.C.: National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, 1995


What's Working

Benton's profiles of libraries and sample library programs offering public access to technology, divided according to type of program offered in order to show the diversity of technology available in public libraries. From the Benton/LFF report, "Local Places, Global Connections:   Libraries in the Digital Age" (1997). Michigan Small and Rural Libraries & the Internet: Three Case Studies, by Cynthia Terwilliger, examines the challenges of providing significant electronic network-based information and library services to citizens. Three Michigan small and rural libraries were interviewed for this study. See also her Librarians as Change Agents. Public Space in Cyberspace: Library Advocacy in the Information Age (1999), written by Doug Schuler and Jamie McClelland for Libraries for the Future, outlines the importance of preserving a public space in the digital world. It includes profiles of innovative public libraries operating computer centers, community computer networks, cable access TV centers, and satellite TV equipment. The booklet also includes a beginners policy primer on our legal right to the affordable use of telephone networks, the Internet, and TV services.  San Francisco Public Library, in its effort to provide free and equal access to information, knowledge, independent learning, and the joys of reading, spearheaded the development of a citywide electronic information resource, using powerful search and retrieval mechanisms that include multimedia technology and networked systems that are easy to use. Traditional Library Catalogs with "Webbed" Interfaces is intended to demonstrate how library catalogs can be made available through World Wide Web clients. It is not intended to be exhaustive. U.S. Public Libraries on the World Wide Web is an annotated list of over 400 of the U.S. public library World Wide Web sites listed above and provides a critique of these sites, listing their best features.


Key Players

Access for All is a New York coalition of organizations formed to share information and resources concerning legislation and federal policy, to make this information available and understandable to the general public, and to advocate for telecommunications policy in the public interest. Participating organizations include: Manhattan Neighborhood Network, New York Foundation for the Arts, Paper Tiger TV, the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, Libraries for the Future, Deep Dish TV, and Media Alliance. American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world, and its 57,000 members represent all types of libraries -- public, school, academic, state, and special. ALA offers an extensive array of programs, educational opportunities, conferences, and publications for librarians and the general public interested in library issues. Their  Washington Office Newsline (ALAWON) follows E-rate related activities and legislation. Carnegie Mellon University's The Informedia Digital Video Library project will establish a large, on-line digital video library by developing intelligent, automatic mechanisms to populate the library and allow for full-content and knowledge-based search and retrieval via desktop computer and metropolitan area networks. Center for Technology in the Public Library is one of three centers that can shape the future of the Seattle Public Library. The Center functions as a catalyst and linking agent, bringing together the needs of the public, the skills of information professionals, and the products of high technology companies. Research and development efforts emphasize projects of special interest to Seattle, but which can also be replicated in other libraries. All library services and modes of service delivery are affected by these technological advances, as are the community institutions and groups that use library services. Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) was founded in March 1990 with a mission to help realize the promise of high performance networks and computers for the advancement of scholarship and the enrichment of intellectual productivity. Coalition for Networked Information Discovery and Retrieval (CNIDR)
primarily supported by National Science Foundation, promotes and supports the implementation and use of networked information discovery and retrieval software appliactions, and works to ensure compatibility and interoperability. Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) grew out of the 1996 merger of the Commission on Preservation and Access (CPA) and the Council on Library Resources (CLR) and continues their shared traditions of support for a national information system and a seamless web of information resources, of which all libraries and archives are a part.  D-Lib is a forum for news, information, and discussion about research and advanced implementation projects in digital libraries. These activities are coordinated by the Corporation for National Research Initiatives for the Information Infrastructure Technology and Applications Working Group of the High Performance Computing and Communications program. Funding for D-Lib is provided by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Education and Libraries Network Coalition (EdLinc) was formed to represent the viewpoint of schools and libraries in the FCC proceedings dealing with the implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Gates Library Initiative is a project of the Gates Foundations partnering with public libraries to bring access to computers, the Internet, and digital information for patrons in low-income communities in the United States and Canada. Internet Public Library, a project of the School of Information and Library Studies of the University of Michigan, seeks to build a public library for the Internet community, blending the traditions and culture of the libraries and librarianship with the dynamism of the Internet, in service of helping people to find information and to learn. JSTOR (Journal Storage Project) will develop, deploy, and evaluate a digital library capable of supporting the needs of humanities and social science disciplines. The project is run by the University of Michigan's School of Information and Library Studies, College of Engineering, and the University Libraries and the Information Technology Division, with funding from the Mellon Foundation. Libraries for the Future (LFF) is a national nonprofit organization that gives voice to the interests of active and potential users of America's public library system. Libraries for the Future initiates and supports grassroots organizing, demonstration projects, research, and public awareness activities to focus attention on the resources and services that public libraries no -- and those needed in the next century for a diverse and literate civic community and a strong democracy. MCI LibraryLINK is a national initiative to help advance the technological capabilities of the nation's public libraries. MCI has donated more than $1.4 million in financial and human resources from 1995 through 1998 to benefit 657 main, regional and branch libraries across the country. In 1998, ten library systems each received grants to fund their community's unique and specific technology project. MCI LibraryLINK grants integrate communications technology to enhance the link between local libraries, the communities they serve and the vast resources of the information infrastructure.

See also MCI Cybrarian of the Year, MCI's national awards program to recognize technical librarians or "Cybrarians" for their increasingly important role of serving the public through the use of information technology.

The Schools and Libraries Division (formerly the Schools and Libraries Corporation) is the arm of the Universal Service Administration Company that processes all applications for the E-Rate discount. Urban Libraries Council is an association of large public libraries and corporations which serve them, organized to solve common problems, better understand new opportunities and conduct applied research which improves professional practice. Its areas of program and research interest include public policy issues influenced by new technologies such as equity of access to electronically delivered information, copyright, and changing roles of state and local governments.



The Benton Foundation promotes public interest values and noncommercial services for the National Information Infrastructure through research and policy analysis, outreach to nonprofits and foundations, and print, video, and online publishing.

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Last updated: 16 June 1999 rta