Training Library Staff to Adapt to the Internet Environment

LEI, Yan
Zhongshan University Library
Guangzhou, 510275
People's Republic of China

Needs for Training Library Staff

The main functions of a library are to identify, collect, organize, and thus make accessible information to library users. In the past, the more printed materials a library could collect and organize, the easier it would be for the library staff to meet users' needs. The quality of a library was therefore measured mainly by its holdings. Today, the development in computing and telecommunications has made it possible for the library staff to provide their users with a wide range of text, image, and sound resources from around the world. Libraries are changing from offering users a limited warehouse of information to a global gateway, leading to infinite net-distributed information resources. The new standards to evaluate a library should be its ability to provide information on demand, regardless of the source, and the effectiveness of the technical system employed to locate and retrieve from world-wide information resources.

The availability of various kinds of electronic information resources in the Internet environment has enhanced the capacity of libraries to provide services. It does not mean, however, that the library staff can meet their users' needs more easily. The reason is that the users' expectations of the library have increased in the Internet environment. For example, users now expect that libraries provide twenty-four-hour network access to a growing number of bibliographic and full-text databases as well as other electronic materials, and that information in any formats from anywhere in the world can and should be delivered in a matter of days for their use. Moreover, library users also expect that the library staff offer some kind of workshops to instruct them in an effective use of the information resources on the Internet.

As information providers and instructors, many librarians are not well-prepared for their new roles for various reasons. They have felt strongly the need to be knowledgeable of the networks and resources available on the Internet in order to serve their users. The managers of libraries have also recognized that it is essential for the library to train their staff so as to develop and deliver successful network-based services.

Aspects Library Staff Need to Be Trained in

We have recognized that the networks will bring about fundamental changes in the ways that people generate, distribute and use information. They will also impact heavily on the ways of the library staff identifying and organizing information resources and offering information to the users. In this case, all the library staff should have some basic knowledge about the Internet -- the current existing networks and know how to integrate the Internet to their jobs.

For example, acquisitions librarians should know that there is a lot of acquisition information available on the Internet -- publishers' catalogs, bookstore reviews, lists of book catalogs and book clubs. They can also place orders on the Internet. Catalogers should know how to access other libraries' online catalogs via the Internet for downloading or uploading cataloging records. Besides these, libraries should pay more attention to the training of reference service as well as technical services staff.

Reference service staff are usually responsible for information retrieval and user training. In the Internet environment, they will play important roles in providing library users with advice about electronic information and in helping them develop skills in accessing, using, and managing this information.

Nowadays, few would dispute that the Internet is a good tool for reference service staff. However, a universal problem seems to be that it is difficult to find the right information at the right time, because the information resources in the Internet environment are dynamic and volatile, without much systematic control.

The emergence of various network navigating tools makes it easier to locate and access information resources. It is not enough for reference service staff to have some awareness of the scope of information available on the Internet and some basic skills to access the Internet. They should know how to use such tools as telnet, ftp, archie, gopher, WAIS, and WWW most effectively, and then, teach library users to use these tools.

To make successful use of the Internet, reference service staff also need to possess a modicum of technical expertise and troubleshooting skills, and be able to interpret various error messages which might be encountered in a course of connection.

System services staff will take responsibility or at least take part in the design work of interconnected menus, the "look" and contents of local information systems, the subject grouping, online interactions and user-friendly language, and the unseen links among documents and databases that enable individuals to navigate in this new world.

To fulfill their new tasks, system services staff need new skills and competencies in the Internet environment. In my opinion, they should have:

Methods in Training Library Staff

Most libraries in developed countries have taken steps to provide their staff with various levels of training in Internet use. The methods they have adopted are:

One of the significant characteristics involved in the Internet training is hands-on practice. The more practice is integrated into the training, the better the result will be.

Using the networked information is another feature of the Internet training. There is a good number of Internet training materials on the Internet. For beginners who want to learn the basic skills to access the Internet and develop some awareness of the scope of resources available on the Internet, the following information resources will be a good start:

Note: This is the "EFF's Guide to the Internet," v.3.16 (Dec.4, 1995), formerly called "The Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet."

For advanced learners who aim at a better use of resources on the Internet, the following resources will be helpful:

Note: This is a tutorial on how to find useful resources and valuable information on the Internet.

Note: This is an excellent source for coverage of European resources, and also excellent for users of commercial services like CompuServe, Genie, and MCImail.

URL gopher://
Note: This is a collection of Internet guides and resources.

Note: It is named (John) Decembers' Internet Guide. This is the most comprehensive resources that lists and describes the tools available for use in network information retrieval and computer-mediated communications. It is also a useful guide for advanced trainers.

For reference service staff who are to teach users how to use the Internet, the following materials will be helpful:

URL gopher://
Note: This is a guide for designing effective Internet workshops.

Note: This is a collection of resources useful for Internet trainers. Many tutorials, RFC's, and FAQ's and other materials.

Note: Named as "The Internet Hunt (Rick Gates'), this is a great tool for trainers to use to involve learners in a productive and entertaining encounter with the Internet.

The training and education is fundamental in helping the library staff to become knowledgeable about the Internet environment. Training sessions cannot be a one-time activity, because the Internet is changing constantly. The library must commit necessary resources to an ongoing process of training and retraining and incorporate time in librarians' schedule to gain experience and competence on the job.


1. Benson, Allen C. (1995). The Complete Internet Companion for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

2. Bonk, Sharon C. & Adams, Judith A. (1995). "Information technologies and the changing university libraries meeting faculty expectations." Library Issues: Briefing for Faculty and Administrators, 15, 1-4.

3. Dougherty, Richard M. & Dougherty, Ann P. (1993). "The Academic library: A time of crisis, change, and opportunity." Journal of Academic Librarianship, 8, 342-46.

4. Kinder, Robin. (Ed.). (1994) Librarians on the Internet: Impact on Reference Services. New York: The Haworth Press.

5. Kovacs, Diane K. (1995). The Internet Training Guide. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

6. Mcclire, Charles R., Moen, William E., & Ryan, Joe. (1994). Libraries and the Internet/NREN: Perspectives, Issues, and Challenges. Westpoint, CT: Meckler.

7. Oberg, Larry R. (1995, May/June). "The library of the future: Tales from cyberspace: Automation & the library." Library Mosaics, 10-12.

8. Pritchard, Sarah M.(1995). "Librarians: Real expertise for a virtual world." Library Issues: Briefing for Faculty and Administrators, 15, 2-3.

Copyright © 1996 LEI Yan.
Submitted to CLIEJ on 4 April 1996.