SLA Biomedical and Life Sciences Division

1997 Contributed Papers

From Reactive to Proactive: Substantive Approaches to Incorporating the Internet into Biological, Medical and Life Sciences Libraries

...It is likely that librarians are the only group with the professional qualifications, experience, and track record to make them capable of bringing quality, structure, and bibliographic control to the global rats’ nest that is the Internet. Librarians have the professional training and experience; many have specific training in the technological environment; and they have simply done a better job of organizing the world of knowledge and information than anyone else. Despite all this, librarians are routinely castigated for being technologically retrograde. The facts belie this accusation. Librarians have been using computers effectively to provide real, but never total or permanent, solutions to incredibly complex problems since the early 1960’s.... Librarians have done better at making sense of massive quantities of disparate information than any other group. It is a proud record; one to build on, not one to forget. (1)

These words from Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman serve as an acknowledgment of what most of us already know - that librarians have a long history of professional involvement in issues of information organization and access - a history that has earned the profession its rightful place at the Table of Electronic Information for the coming century.

Nonetheless, this recognition that librarians are players who should be consulted when businesses or governmental bodies make decisions on information policy is by no means widespread. For every tale of a librarian who has been brought into the process of shaping future information strategies, there are many more of librarians who have been shut out of the process. Indeed, there is a widespread belief that electronic access to information will one day do away with the need for libraries; the popular image of piecing together a term paper from bits and pieces of information culled from the Internet without leaving one's home is not one that is going to go away. The television commercials of Internet providers will see to that.

What, then, is the role of the librarian? He has, as stated before, earned a right to a place at the table, only to find that that table is all too frequently the "kids table" the table set up by the grown-ups so that the children will be able to take part in the overall dinner, but far removed from the adult table, where the important discussions and decisions will take place.

The answer may be found in the recent SLA publication Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century. Among the laundry list of competencies listed are ones such as "...Anticipates trends and pro-actively realigns library and information services to take advantage of them....Willing to take on different responsibilities at different points in time and to respond to changing needs....Always on the lookout for new ideas. Sees and uses technology as a enabler of new information ideas, products and services." (2) It is this emphasis on a proactive approach to new technology like the Internet that will, ultimately, not only foster an acknowledgment of the past and present contributions of librarians but forge a future leadership role for librarians in the information revolution.

The four papers in these proceedings represent well this positive, forward thinking approach that will define and shape the role of librarianship for years to come. All four librarians have taken novel and challenging risks to find new ways of using the Internet to provide information access for their users. Rather than sitting back and complaining about lack of funding or lack of cooperation or lack of vision, they took a leadership role in planning and creating and implementing their dreams of new information services. For their justifiably impressive efforts, they deserve our acknowledgment and appreciation for a job well done.

  1. Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman. Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness, and Reality. Chicago: American Library Association. 1995.
  2. Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century: Executive Summary. Washington, D.C.: Special Libraries Association. 1996.

GALILEO: Using the WWW to Access Biomedical and Life Sciences Resources
Susan C. Curtis, Science Library, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

The Virtual Journal Reading Room
Elizabeth Winiarz, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

INFOMINE: The First Three Years of a Virtual Library for the Biological, Agricultural and Medical Sciences
Steve Mitchell, Bio-Agricultural Library, University of California, Riverside

The Internet in the Library/Classroom: Genetics at the University of Florida
Michele R. Tennant, Health Science Center Library, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL


Comments should be directed to Tom Turner.

Rev. July 2007