The New Role of School and College Librarians


Emphasis ontechnology and its function in education has helped bring renewedrespect to the role of the librarian and has increased the number andvariety of skills required by the librarian and media specialist. Inmany academic institutions, librarians are responsible for trainingthe students, faculty and staff in identifying, collecting andmanaging information.

They helpindividuals become "information competent" &emdash; equipped withskills to find, evaluate, use and communicate information efficientlyand effectively. New responsibilities are undertaken. For example, atDowling College, a liberal arts college on Long Island, N.Y., thelibrary staff members have taught World Wide Web search techniques tohundreds of public and school libraries, public library patrons andspecial interest groups, including career counselors, scientists andengineers.

Emory University inAtlanta, Ga., has joined the growing movement on U.S. campuses tocombine library and computer services with the opening of its newCenter for Library and Information Resources (CLAIR), a 65,000 squarefoot addition to the university's conventional six story library.CLAIR's major feature is an "Information Commons," which is not somuch a place as a new desktop computing environment where faculty andstaff can:

  • Look up books in electronic resources and databases (in addition to the Web); and
  • Use software such as Word, Excel or PowerPoint to create a final product.


Librarians, withtheir expertise in search strategies and evaluation techniques, seemto be very enthusiastic about new services they can provide. I spokebriefly with Helen Seagraves, a librarian in a K-6 school district inOregon. She recognizes the greater assistance she can providestudents and teachers as they acquire many new skills. Though itmeant setting different priorities and undertaking new directions,the noted benefits to the students made it worthwhile.

A similar positivereaction was expressed by Jean Farrington, Van Pelt Library,University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa. Her new role is stilldeveloping as electronic resources and capabilities expand not onlyin the library itself, but throughout the campus and anywhere in thecampus network as well. Responsibilities have increased and it isessential to keep current.

Forming a consortiaenables educational institutions to expand library services andresource sharing while cutting costs. One such consortium is theWestern Governors University (WGU). Comprehensive library servicesare furnished by the University of New Mexico, which provides thestudents with access to typical library services such as interlibraryloans, a help desk and an electronic reading room.

I was fortunate toattend the conference, "Technology Standards for Global Learning,"held April 26-28, in Salt Lake City, Utah, hosted by Governor RoyRomer (Colorado) and Governor Michael O. Leavitt (Utah). The purposeof the two-day conference was to identify the current state ofstandardization relative to functional and technical aspects ofdistance education and to include consensus among educators, publicofficials and representatives from industry.


Seventeen westernstates have pooled resources and start-up costs; these include a$100,000 commitment from each of the states, private foundationgrants and gifts and investments from the business community(Participants include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho,Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma,Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming). California is not amember.

WGU's innovationthrusts include its value added brokerage of courses through anongoing catalog and its unique sharing of criteria forcompetency-based credentials. The courses focus on certifyingdemonstrated competencies rather than time spent in class sessionsthrough a network of learning centers. The WGU offers thefollowing:

  • Competency-based certification and degrees;
  • Brokered courses and degrees; and
  • Clearinghouse services.

The meeting providedfor working sessions on issues, such as two-way communicationscapabilities, instructional management standards for onlineinstruction, and policy challenges and opportunities for promotingdistance learning. A report of the discussions and recommendationscan be found at

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.