Virtual Librarianship

Virtual Librarianship:  
A Non-Slackacademic Approach

Dr.Mohamed Taher

The Role of the Librarian in Cyberspace - Is There One?
Richard Kleim, 2/20/2002
The issue of the role of librarians in the new world order referred to as "cyberspace" has been debated at great length for a number of years. This paper is a brief attempt to examine the history of how librarians have viewed their roles from the traditional to the modern, the changes which have brought us 'cyberspace', current attitudes towards librarian's roles in cyberspace, and my opinion of these issues.

In 1931, S.R. Ranganathan proposed five laws of library science. They are as follows: (1) Books are for use, (2) Books are for all, (3) Every book it's reader, (4) Save the time of the reader, and (5) The library is a growing organism. For many years librarians have accepted these principals as core tenets to their profession, defining the libraries' and librarians' role in society. Ranganathan's laws reflect the ideas of respect for information sources (books), service to the patron, and the knowledge that libraries will grow and change. These fundamental ideas have stood the test of time.


What is Web Librarianship?

  • Any traditional library activity that is now practiced in the virtual space known as the World Wide Web
  • New and emerging forms of librarianship practiced in the Web environment [source: The Journal of Web Librarianship]

    The Future of Libraries: Beginning the Great Transformation,
    By Thomas Frey, Executive Director of the DaVinci Institute [published in 2005?],
    Trend #1 - Communication systems are continually changing the way people access information
    Trend #2 - All technology ends. All technologies commonly used today will be replaced by something new
    Trend #3 - We haven’t yet reached the ultimate small particle for storage. But soon.
    Trend #4 - Search Technology will become increasingly more complicated
    Trend #5 - Time compression is changing the lifestyle of library patrons
    Trend #6 - Over time we will be transitioning to a verbal society
    Trend #7 - The demand for global information is growing exponentially
    Trend #8 - The Stage is being set for a new era of Global Systems
    Trend #9 – We are transitioning from a product-based economy to an experience based economy
    Trend #10 - Libraries will transition from a center of information to a center of culture
    Recommendations for Libraries
    1) Evaluate the library experience
    2) Embrace new information technologies
    3) Preserve the memories of your own communities
    4) Experiment with creative spaces so the future role of the library can define itself

    The last decade has posed momentous challenges and opportunities to libraries worldwide, dramatically recasting the future for traditional institutions and presenting complex choices for new organizations. The rapidity of technological innovation and the quickly expanded importance of electronic information not only forced libraries to update their technical capacities, but to rethink their institutional purpose. Their traditional function remains unchanged; in most countries, libraries remain institutions dedicated to preserving and collecting the written word, to facilitating public access to diverse sources of information and interpretation, and to providing a resource for the education of future generations. Around the world, libraries have emerged strengthened by this period of transition, with a renewed sense of civic mission, social responsibility and public purpose. More at "Libraries in the 21st Century 23-30 October; Salzburg, Austria, [source]

    More concerned voices:


    Internet (or "Net") historically began as a medium for defense information system in the 1960s. Today the boundaries  of Internet have extended from mere defense information to civil lines,  from free to priced paths relevant for all walks of life--assumes the position of an essential resource for the academics, as well as, business and entertainment world. It offers a) access to finding out current news and events, b) means of easy ordering and/or buying goods and books, c) facilitates downloading free software's, games, and full journal articles, d)  connection to any one across the world, and of all e) promoting the true spirit of distance education and open university system. These advantages have made networks indispensable. The excitement of being hooked is a fashion and using the universally free email services a trend.  

    A detailed study of how Internet contributes for development of the  society is inevitable. Survey of the Web has been done by many, and one such is by  Andrew Fernandez .  It is a descriptive survey,  focuses on development of the Internet, impact on society (in terms of individual, relationships,  politics, economics), the future (information overload, Internet access, and network usage). Such theoretical and observation based studies are  necessary for a balance image of the virtual reality.  In fact there is one more interesting and valuable piece on "Building an Internet culture", by Phil Agre, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, University of California, and available via his Website: Internet . His article on "The end of information and the future of libraries is a real page making us ponder on how alternative thinking can be also possible. Though this paper is published in Progressive Librarian, some may view the journal itself in a different perspective, this diversion is not intentional and should not be taken as diversionary attempt by me.

    Information scientists and Librarians, apart, there are a host of others who are interested in training people on how to use the Net, either online or via e-mail, visit for instance the web page of Begum Ibrahim working at MARA Institute of Technology, who has an elaborate online training program. She specializes in language teaching and has focused the training program also for those interested in learning English as foreign language, English as second language, English for special purposes, English for Business purposes.  


    Librarians need to master the Web in more than one way. Mastery here includes not only speed in access, but also comprehending the routes that the Web takes all along and participating in making our own parent organizations entry in to the Internet, as well as, in Intranet.  

    What roles librarians have to play in the wake of the emerging new information source, that is the Net? The answer is they need to improve their skills in areas such as:  
    a) organizing, filtering, sorting the vast resources that lie scattered and unclassified in the Net--that is the continuation of the age old classificatory systems to help find information in easy ways;  
    b) analyzing and re-packaging Net materials suitable to the specific information needs of the users--that is continue to play the role of mediator;  
    c) develop skills of Web--that is learn how the data is stored and accessed thro'''' the Net, learn the basics of html, gifs, jpgs, http., ftp., etc. and matters relating to cataloging the digital stuff and the related issues of using the MARC field 856, along with the associated Z39.50 and other OCLC and LC updates in this regard;  
    d) Develop instructional skills necessary to mediate between the WWW and the novice as well as the advanced user, it is this role that is going to be long lasting as both the new and advanced users will need to get help for easy and faster access to the constantly growing world of the Net.  A detailed analysis of the utility of html for librarians, is cited in the links given below.  

    Apart from continuous literature that emerges on searching and accessing shortcuts, by librarians as well as cyber specialists, cataloging of internet resources has also caught much attention, and agencies as well as universities are all engaged in it, including some of the following:  

    An interesting venture in this regard has been of student's own work, in cataloging electronic resources, as a part of the course components for example at Sheffield University, this is a list of projects relating to areas, such as, database design, cataloging in the electronic age, practical computing work, etc.  


    It is hoped that the profession will balance its role in adding an additional responsibility in its four fold tasks and make itself a key role player in the virtual domain. We had hoped to undergo a paper less era, but did not imagine of a digital library that may run parallel to the printed collection library! Major libraries and institutions are all into converting the printed matter into machine readable format, as for instance the digital library project of LC, and the various electronic magazines and parallel (print/electronic) published scientific journals.  

    A recent article in Information World Review, (Feb 1998, p. 16), raises issues that have confused the minds about who can be called as professionals, and who are information professionals. I quote: "Recently, the propounding of the concept of knowledge management has arisen. This has transformed information management from being an issue for lowly library and information departments to being one of strategic corporate importance. It seems somewhat ironic that this recognition of the importance of information finds the information in the midst of its greatest crisis. The idea of what constitutes an information professional has been lost". 


    This is to introduce the profession with a simple and easy way to talk and walk in the Net, and be one with the Information Technology (IT).  Internet has raised pertinent issues which are more relevant to us than to any other group or individual in the world wide wet net, if we are to continue surfing the Net. The new role for the profession is to intensify its use of media and learn how to learn and unlearn the past conservatism above staying aloof from technological innovations, see  Jose-Marie Griffiths  in ASIS Bulletin (Feb/Mar 1998), writing on this topic.  

    It is appropriate for the professions of librarianship and IT to unite, as both have same objective of using a common media for information processing and delivery. Librarianship uses this technology at a secondary level only for storage and retrieval, as accessing and delivery of documents are its primary tasks. For the IT professionals, storage and retrieval are the primary concerns for using technology. (More about this, unity in diversity, is available at infostructure and infrastructure 


    See also:

    A few links are provided in the following to enable librarians get a feel of how and where the profession can move on in terms of coming to grips with the virtual libraries: 

    Cyber Worship: Webliography

    How to cite this article:
    Taher, Mohamed (1998),"Virtual Librarianship: A Non-Slackacademic Approach," Available at]. A note about alternative title: This article also carries a title in the header: "Librarianship and Virtual Reality"
    Who is citing / indexing this article:
    See Google's Scholar
    See also: Google's search
    Note: has moved to:
    Page updated May 31, 2011