Libraries, Academic Reading, and Access to Learning and Knowledge

By Ivana Curcic
Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Libraries nowadays collect items that are both physical and digital. The technology of the print book, first implemented in China and then developed in Western Europe, has been with us for centuries and it is not obsolete yet. Public libraries, while purchasing some digital content, are continuing to stock print books, especially where the tactile and visual experience is important and superior to the digital medium, such as for children’s books and art books. And some people, including myself, still prefer to hold a print book when reading cover to cover; it can be easier to go through the pages and visualise paragraphs.

A shelf of books.

Academic reading is different. When we read a textbook, for example, we rarely read the entire book; instead we look for the relevant chapters or sections, so searching for key words and phrases is a very useful setting (what indexes do for print publications). Also, when researching, we tend to use many sources, which can be cumbersome if using physical books – not surprisingly, publishers of bulky medical books lead in digital publications.

Finally, easy access (24/7) is very important for the academic community, where a trip to the physical library is easily exchanged with a click to the online library.

UWTSD Library and Learning Resources

The library online resources may “reside” on the Internet, but most of them are not free – almost all of a library’s e-books are purchased, as well as most journal titles. The titles are often part of databases, purchased by the libraries. Some databases are named after their publisher (e.g. Springer Journals and SpringerLinks Book Complete), but some have a completely different name (ScienceDirect is published by Elsevier).

Library collections can include databases published by the government (e.g. Office for National Statistics or OAPEN -- Open Access Publishing in European Networks). Therefore, online library resources are curated in the same way as print collections – by librarians with a collection development plan. While both print and online resources are searched through the catalogue, it is advisable to search the individual databases.

More about the online resources: Library Resources | UWTSD

Both the online library resources and the Web are accessible through the Internet. Online library resources are selected and approved, while the information on the Web needs to be evaluated and often sorted. The role of an academic liaison librarian, along with other academic library staff, is to help students find and evaluate the best academic resources --whether these resources are on the Web or in the library, print or digital. Therefore, as an Academic Liaison Librarian, I teach Information and Digital Literacy Skills.

Information literacy has always been about how knowledge is organised, presented, and accessed, but in the past thirty years, the set-up has changed drastically because of the Internet and the shift to the digital. When using the Internet, populated by many sources of information, we need to discern which ones need to be evaluated: which ones bring cited and proven statements from those who make claims without evidence. This process is not intuitive, even for digital natives born in the 1990’s; instead, it requires instruction and practice – like all types of literacy it requires skills.

Visit the InfoSkills Programme: InfoSkills Programme 

The claim that now that we have the Internet, we don’t need libraries (and consequently librarians) shows poor understanding of how knowledge is organised, what skills are required, and the scope of different types of libraries. Indeed, even if “everything” were on the Internet, it does not mean the information is all vetted (authoritative), free, or easy to find. The job of a librarian continues to be related to how knowledge is selected and/or organised, presented, and accessed. And the preference for a medium depends on the purpose of our information.