Librarians: unsung heroes of the digital age

(BPT) - There has been a substantial increase in students taking online college courses, changing significantly how modern learners access information, and librarians have adjusted to keep pace with an ever increasing demand for knowledge in the digital age.

Recent data on college attendance show that, through the fall of 2012, 7.1 million students, or about one-third of all enrolled students, were taking at least one course online. Sixty-three percent of chief academic officers at the nation's colleges and universities believe it very likely that within five years the majority of students will be taking at least one course online, according to a survey conducted in 2013 by Babson Research.

Given this anticipated growth in online learning and that anyone, not only college students, can access information on just about anything via the Internet, some may think that libraries and librarians are becoming less relevant in the digital age. The truth is that they are needed now more than ever.

Libraries and the professionals who staff them have risen to meet the needs of a constantly changing digital environment, shifting from gatekeeper of information to educator, a role that extends well beyond the college campus.

Today's librarians support users by providing access to electronic resources and instructing those who may be unfamiliar with how to use the varied formats in which these resources may exist. As they experience more new forms of technology, librarians have to stay on the forefront of how these technologies work and how they impact the flow of information.

'Libraries continue to be epicenters of knowledge,' says Anita Norton, director of the online library at Excelsior College. 'Online students, for example, rightfully expect and should have access to the same resources and services available as their peers at brick and mortar institutions. It has always been a responsibility of librarians to ensure that everyone has equal access to information and in the digital age libraries have to be creative and proactive in their outreach to all users.'

In the modern library, users will find opportunities for self-paced learning through video tutorials and professionals who tailor resources for different proficiency levels. They also need to address the varying needs and preferred learning styles of users from all walks of life. The Internet has erased geographical boundaries so librarians have to meet their clients wherever and whenever they are, all over the world and at all times of the day. In helping users navigate the plethora of resources available, such as Excelsior's online writing lab or OWL, librarians must be able to help them discern the best possible resource for the intended purpose and, once the information is found, help evaluate the obtained information critically.

In an online education environment, like Excelsior College, librarians often collaborate with faculty members in the development of courses to incorporate the research and critical thinking skills most employers say are highly desired and needed. As managers of information across all disciplines, librarians are essential partners in preparing students, both academically and professionally, by helping to provide a much more robust learning experience. This collaboration benefits everyone and is in keeping with the results of research conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2013. In this online survey of employers nationwide, 93 percent of those responding said that a candidate's ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than the undergraduate major potential employees had earned.

Underpinning all of these skills is the ethical use of information along with the ability to interact with others in the virtual environment. In doing so, the modern library gives users the ability to become both consumers and producers of information. Libraries continue to serve as gateways to learning more and librarians still provide the keys to unlocking the potential knowledge that can be obtained. Librarians are the unsung heroes of information in the digital age.

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