Libraries Transform into Information Technology Centers

Increasingly shrinking budgets and lack of physical space, along with the rise of information technology, led libraries to begin refashioning themselves into information technology centers where patrons could access repositories of information in various digital formats.

Summary of Event

From their inception, libraries have always been primarily repositories of information. Libraries, both public and private, provide patrons with access to information in various formats from myriad sources. With the advent of the Internet, electronic publishing, and digitized catalogs and databases, which came about in the 1990’s, libraries began to transform to meet the new needs of patrons in a digital world. This new focus required libraries to concentrate on providing access to digitized information through personal computers and dedicated servers as well as to balance the maintenance and acquisition of both traditional and digital library collections. Library professionals introduced library patrons to new technological tools and helped them make the transition to using the new information technologies. Libraries
Information technology
[kw]Libraries Transform into Information Technology Centers (1990’s)
[kw]Information Technology Centers, Libraries Transform into (1990’s)
[kw]Technology Centers, Libraries Transform into Information (1990’s)
Information technology
[g]World;1990’s: Libraries Transform into Information Technology Centers[07540]
[c]Communications and media;1990’s: Libraries Transform into Information Technology Centers[07540]
[c]Computers and computer science;1990’s: Libraries Transform into Information Technology Centers[07540]

With these changes, libraries were transformed in every sense of the word. Physical space in library buildings was reorganized to include banks of personal computing resources, and many buildings were renovated to accommodate high-tech wiring and broadband connectivity. Library collections themselves underwent tremendous changes as more and more reference volumes were supplemented or replaced with electronic materials. Many journals and newspapers went from being print sources to electronic. In some cases, brand-new collections were created that consisted of only electronic-format materials; for example, many publications of the U.S. Government Printing Office became available strictly in digital form.

In addition, libraries’ traditional reference desks were replaced with information desks staffed by personnel trained in computing resources as well as the standard print library sources. Perhaps the most striking change concerned the mainstay of the library, the card catalog. In a transition that took a considerable amount of time, libraries replaced their physical card catalogs with electronic ones.

The transformation of libraries into information centers required new training for library staff and a retooling of the entire library science profession. Staff had to be trained to use the new digital tools and to provide assistance to patrons needing help with technical issues related to electronic resources. The advent of the technology age required changes in cataloging and classification practices to account for electronic materials, indexes, and digital catalogs. Library schools met these needs by revamping their curricula, working in close collaboration with computer/information science departments, and recruiting information technology professionals to join their faculties. Many leading library schools changed their names to incorporate the term “information science.” The library science graduate degree also experienced a change, from “master of library science” to “master of library and information science,” indicating the ideological shift in the discipline.

With the arrival of the Internet and the World Wide Web, librarians took the lead in teaching patrons how to make use of these new tools and how to evaluate the overwhelming amount of materials found online. Librarians changed the ways in which they provided instruction in order to incorporate the new digital materials and products. One of the foremost challenges librarians faced was reassuring technology-fearful patrons that the new library services were an improvement and that they could make use of those services. This opened up a whole new avenue of instruction for the library professional: information literacy.


The transformation of traditional libraries to information technology centers had a tremendous impact on library collections and holdings. Electronic sources paved the way to increased cooperation between libraries and research institutions in resource sharing. It became possible for libraries to share collections more easily and thus increase their holdings. Partnerships and consortia were created to facilitate this activity, and seemingly overnight the resources available to patrons multiplied. This ease in sharing electronic sources led to new complexities in the realm of copyright issues that are still being addressed in the twenty-first century.

The rise of electronic publishing forced library collection managers to face decisions regarding what to purchase in print, or hard copy, and what to purchase access to electronically. As vendors of electronic resources began to organize their many different products and titles into various types of packages, the librarian’s job of selecting materials became even more complex. Titles were increasingly bundled with other titles, products, and services, so that it became difficult to purchase specific items à la carte without paying staggering prices. This change in the publishing industry led to new budgetary considerations for libraries.

Libraries have always played a vital role in their communities as multifunctional institutions with the primary role of providing access to information. With the rise of technological innovations such as the Internet, the World Wide Web, and electronic publishing, libraries responded by transforming themselves to provide their patrons with information in a variety of formats as well as access to the hardware necessary to use electronic resources. The instructional role of the traditional library increased as the library profession led the way in teaching patrons how to use new technologies and how to evaluate the wide range of digital information available. Libraries
Information technology

Further Reading

  • Bazillion, Richard J. “Academic Libraries in the Digital Revolution.” EDUCAUSE Quarterly, no. 1 (2001): 51-55. Discusses how libraries have met the challenges of the digital revolution and adapted it to their mission. Not just specific to academic libraries.
  • Buckland, Michael. Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto. Chicago: American Library Association, 1992. Outlines how libraries need to transform to meet the demands of a high-technology age. Includes specific guidelines for libraries.
  • Hardesty, Larry, ed. Books, Bytes, and Bridges: Libraries and Computer Centers in Academic Institutions. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000. Presents an excellent history of the evolution of libraries, both public and private. Details the merging of the disciplines of library science and computer science.
  • Lorenzen, Michael. “A Brief History of Library Information in the United States of America.” Illinois Libraries 83 (Spring, 2001): 8-18. Provides a historical overview of the evolution of libraries, particularly the academic library. Includes an excellent bibliography and several examples of cooperative endeavors in the move from library to information technology center.
  • Lowry, Charles B. “Converging Information Technologies: How Will Libraries Adapt?” Cause/Effect 13 (Fall, 1990). Offers brief discussion of the transition from library to information center. Valuable for its predictions for the future and for speculation on how information technology centers will continue to adapt and evolve.
  • Spencer, Mary Ellen. “Evolving a New Model: The Information Commons.” Reference Services Review 34, no. 2 (2006): 242-247. Discusses the newest innovation in information technology centers, the information commons, which transforms the traditional organization of library space and reference services into a blended system of information reference and technology help desk.
  • Toth, Susan Allen, and John Coughlan, eds. Reading Rooms. New York: Pocket Books, 1991. Collection of essays addresses the role of the institution of the library and its place in the American imagination.
  • Weise, Frieda. “Being There: The Library as Place.” Journal of the Medical Library Association 92 (January, 2004): 6-12. Provides background on the role of the physical library in society and addresses the impact information technology has had on that role. Includes discussion of the change in scholarly publication from print to digital.

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