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Automating Library Instruction

An area of automation that would reduce the amount of work for librarians while increasing the ability of the patron to effectively use the computer and the Internet resides within the world of video instruction. These videos on CD can teach basic techniques in web navigation and software use. Instruction on at least the following would be desirable and are, in fact, available: Windows XP, PowerPoint, Excel, FrontPage, Word, and the Internet. These specific topics are all available through The Video Professor for under $100 each. The CDs allow the student to watch the program perform on the computer monitor while receiving verbal explanations from the Video Professor. Research should be done (preferably a cost-benefit analysis) to find out if patrons learn computer-use better through classes with real live teachers or through interactive video training. Teaching computer literacy requires a unique environment that should be conducted with the aid of the software or computer in question.

An area of needed research is in the method of video delivery for teaching. The CDs could be behind the counter, which would require a check-in/check-out procedure. The CDs could be stored on a CD/DVD server in a back room, which would alleviate the burden and risk of physically checking the disks out to the patrons. Another method of delivery could be a Video Server, which would allow hundreds of hours of video to be stored while serving hundreds of users simultaneously. The latter suggestion would help make the process of learning a new computer skill easier to initiate by placing a navigable menu of instructional videos within the range of the computer desktop. While many libraries use their resources to help teach young people to read, libraries should also be places to teach computer use and promote computer literacy. This is an area of education in libraries that may turn out to be a big part of what libraries become. This is an area that could bridge the gap from those who have the privilege of learning computer literacy in school and those who are not in school. Studies could be done in the area of computer education and the best environments for non-students to learn these skills. If computers become our societys main reading material source, an enormous amount of information will be lost to citizens who cannot effectively navigate a computer the way most people today are able to navigate chapters in a book or isles in a library or bookstore.

In a survey question category of which group is most underserved at your library? a tally of only 9.5% was given for the disabled. However, a unique situation exists with the disabled in a simple survey like this. When a college student, for example, is underserved at a public library, the implications are nominal. If a person with near-blindness needed to read a document from the Internet and the technology to do so was absent, the implications for that individual would be strong. Although the number of people inflicted with disabilities such as this are in the great minority, the hill required to climb by the individual with the disability is major. This is why further studies on this topic should be done qualitatively (value of the technology to the individual patron) rather than quantitatively (number of patrons served by the technology).

An area of library technology I would like to see future studies done on is which types of adaptive technologies would be most beneficial to the population with disabilities. It is likely that this group of citizens is the one group who needs access to computers and the Internet the most. A simple magnifying glass can be used for reading while a more complicated system of software programs that reads aloud while scanning and highlighting words could be implemented. Other techniques include height-adjustable furniture and speech-recognition software. Of potential importance are the touch-screen monitor and the Braille translation software with a refreshable Braille display for people with visual disturbances.

Computer-time availability is an obvious issue with library patrons and will continue to be a major concern as long as libraries insist on keeping the amount of floor space dedicated to personal computers at a minimum. Although the library is independent of typical for-profit information vendors, it cannot avoid the fact that people are shifting their primary sources of information from print materials to electronic forms. If libraries ignore the trend towards electronic formats, they risk being left behind. It would be to the librarys benefit (and survival) that it views itself as a member of the information business rather than the book-lending business.

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