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Reiko Iriya

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Libraries in the age of searching – How to find “hidden information”

Reiko Iriya
Assistant Director of Reference Service and Information Literacy Education, Chuo University Library

Propose “change” rather than predict “change”

2300 years have passed since the Library of Alexandria was established, said to be the world’s oldest. Libraries have been undergoing great changes in the information revolution. However, universities should, to say the least, not limit themselves to being bystanders to “change,” and libraries should be the proposers of “change.” That is because, as a place to draw together knowledge and information, the highs and lows of “library strength” symbolize university strength.

Libraries starting to hold access rights without having books

The Library of Alexandria collection was made of papyrus. The paper generation has continued for the past few centuries. That has been gradually changing to electronic books in only a few decades. This is not simply weight saving, but an ultimate conversion from real to virtual.

Figure 1 shows the ratio of paper magazines and electronic journal titles owned by Chuo University Library, with over half being electronic journal. E-books also make up over one quarter of the collection. Our library’s collection boasts a history of 130 years. However, information is slowly being supplanted by virtual forms.

The IT age is the age of the information “technology gap”

For e-information, “just searching” can be done simply on a global scale, but “searching properly” is difficult. A huge amount of information can be obtained from smart phones, and Google leads the way in the popularization of searching. Just browsing and linking is enough. However, the ability to access information that can be used in academic and business circles isn’t necessarily improving.

In the time when all books were printed on paper, it was possible to come across necessary materials while walking around the bookshelves. However, at libraries in the age of searching, you can’t expect to have that fortunate meeting called coincidence. If you don’t think of the appropriate keyword when using search technology, you won’t even be able to find a book in our library. You are caught up in a mixture of good and bad and can’t get to the “good” you are looking for. Here, there is the necessity for an improvement in “information literacy ability.” In acquiring information literacy ability, first, you must know the basic whereabouts of academic information and learn the skills to access those places.

Search ability reform is required to keep up with the information revolution

For example, a search on Google won’t tell you if the book you need is in our library or not. You need the knowledge to search on CHOIS in Chuo University’s OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog). Even if you do know CHOIS, as an example, a simple search of “sekai” when search for Iwanami Shoten’s magazine “Sekai (World)” will give you 30,000 hits, leaving you with an impossible task. Knowledge of exact match search is required.

Or, what should you use as a keyword when searching the database for articles containing the word “sustainability” in CiNii Articles. A search will give you 775 hits for 「サステイナビリティ」, 248 hits for 「サスティナビリティ」, and 568 hits for 「サステナビリティ」(all have slight differences among these Japanese katakana expressions, as of February 10, 2015). For a comprehensive search, you need to use a boolean operator like “①OR②OR③.”

Libraries aiming for equal opportunity in information

You may think, “Such trivial inconveniences will be sorted out soon.” However, even if the inconveniences are sorted out, more will appear one after the other. Telling a graduate student who needs to complete an essay now that it “will be sorted out soon,” isn’t acceptable. The necessity of information literacy education, due to the nature of changing rapidly, is more urgent in terms of time than it was in the paper book era.

Searches, in terms of simplicity, are becoming reliant on individual sense. However, if access is to be denied because of a lack of sense, the strengths of a library will fall beyond the paper book era. The role of library staff is to systematically teach individual sense as a “skill” which anybody can do.

Libraries want to bring you, not only information, but also time

I am often told by some of my customers, “It takes me X hours to find by myself, but only 10 minutes if I ask you.” However, the unfortunate thing is that this is nothing to be proud of. I simpley know how to deal with Metadata, as a professional librarian.

Developing metadata is simple in theory, but for something that can hold up to professional use, you need a lot of training. Each library originally developed it, but now it uses the internet in a joint project and uploads to CiNii Books, so there is no longer a specialist in each library.

This has become a pitfall, and when the originally developed data has contained defects, there have been cases where it has gone undetected and downloaded nationwide.

One of “Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science” states, “Save the time of the reader.” For example, when even 10 minutes are accumulated, they take up a huge amount of a researcher’s time. Libraries are aiming for information administration that can turn those 10 minutes into zero. When this is pushed aside by metadata development, time-saving will not progress.

“Libraries serving the community” are in danger

I would like to touch upon selection of books. Masaru Sato joked that “The ultimate user-orientated library is the Tokyo Detention House Library.” Most of the books have been left behind by the “users” and consist of crime novels and porno magazines. Theology graduate Sato continued to entertain the guests by saying, “Being a correctional institution, I went there without the bible, assuming there would be one there, but there weren’t.” (The Japan Writer’s Association sponsored symposium “Are books really the enemy of public libraries?,” February 2, 2015)

When librarians have little awareness of book selection and only purchase books for the reasons of “that’s what the users want,” and “demand is high,” then they are likely to become like “detention house libraries”. University libraries are safe for now because researchers select books in line with their fields of research, but public libraries will attract relentless criticism when they purchase multiple copies of best-sellers and lend them out for free.

Guiding someone to the sea is not enough, you must put him on a boat

Teaching students information literacy and book selection are important roles of the librarian. However, as Figure 2 shows, there are an extremely low number of full time librarians. Of course quantity does not guarantee quality, but it is difficult to provide good quality when there aren’t numbers. Fortunately, our university doesn’t have this problem. However, as touched upon in the metadata section, in the current joint project over the internet, the danger of a mistake by one person affecting everything is high.

Information recording techniques changing to the virtual world is the trend of the times. However, by becoming virtual and creating a forest of knowledge equipped with the essentials for choosing from a vast amount of information, the mission of libraries must help users walk alone through that forest.

It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs. (V. Havel)

Hiro Arikawa’s 2006 hit Library Wars is a light novel about a library opposing censorship for “protecting the right to know.” However, I believe that the main purpose of the “right to know” today is instead becoming to help people drowning in the sea of information.

The information forest is also expanding interminably outside library walls, and the extension of highways linking information is also remarkable. Is it all right just to have our hands full in dealing with this?

Even in maintaining highways where people can properly obtain the necessary information they need, now is the time where librarians need to become book, information and literacy hubs. Whether the expertise of librarians is strengthened or abandoned will determine the near future of “library culture.”

Reiko Iriya
Assistant Director of Reference Service and Information Literacy Education, Chuo University Library
Reiko Iriya graduated from the Department of Hispanic Studies, Osaka University of Foreign Languages in 1978. She started working at the library after being employed as Chuo University staff in the same year. She became involved in reference service after being involved in book acquisitions and cataloging. She was a visiting researcher and Mortenson fellow at the University of Illinois in 1991. She was an editing Committee member of the Japan Library Association’s Nihon no Sankou Tosho (Guide to Japanese Reference Books, 4th ed.) from 1996 to 2004 and a member of Japan Association of Private University Libraries Research Grant Committee from 2007 to 2008. Her publications include Nihon no Sankou Tosho (Japanese Reference Books) (coauthor, Japan Library Association, 2002), and “Toshokan Bunka” no Keishou wo (Inheriting “Library Culture”) (The Asahi Shimbun, February 15, 2006).