A little bit about information and society

Librarians and e-Government: Mixed Feelings?

e-Government track HICSS-42

e-Government track HICSS-42

Good papers were presented at the eGovernment track at HICSS-42. One particular paper that attracted my attention was the paper of John Bertot titled Emerging Role of Public Librarians as E-Government Providers. According to the paper libraries are becoming a central place for certain populations to access e-Government services. Some of these services you can see in the following figure taken from the article:

e-Government activities in libraries
e-Government activities in libraries

One of the main findings of the article is that, the demand for e-government services in libraries pose challenges. Suddenly librarians are requested to do things they were not trained for. For example, help filling up a driving license form, a birth certificate, helping with medical records etc…  Add to that the belief that many librarians share about their “neutral” role, and consequenly the article shows that librarians in some cases may serve as an obstacle to e-government deployment in Libraries. I thought one way to interprete their reluctance can be through Network Gatekeeping Theory . Gatekeepers have different rationales for gatekeeping and so librarians – it looks like one of these is the attempt to preserve their culture, the librarian’s culture. E-government activities may be grasped as a threat to their training, to their neutral professional stance. Also, from a power perspective, some of them do not have enough skills to help users/patrons. That makes them feel uncomfortable and maybe afraid to be reflected externally as non-professionals or technically not-competent.

BTW – It was nice to learn that there are 17,000 public libraries in the US (which is more than the number of McDonalds branches in the US).

Finally, Jochen Scholl and I presented at this track our paper about the differences and similarities between e-Commerce and eGovernment. This paper was nominated as the best paper of its mini-track. In this paper we pay attention particularly to 5 domains: process management, information managemen, digital divide/s, stakeholders relations and cost/benefit analysis.

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  1. Aaron Bowen says:

    That’s a great thought in your second paragraph. I get asked questions that fall outside the traditional academic curriculum all the time — some involve e-governance, many involve technical computer operation, and others involve using Chico State’s learning management software. I don’t mind people asking (though as you suggest, I must admit to occasionally feeling useless if I am unable to provide a useful answer to one of these non-traditional questions), but these kinds of questions range pretty far away from the models of reference service we learn about in LIS programs.

    From a patron perspective though, there isn’t necessarily any differentiation between these different types of question. From his/her perspective, s/he has an information need. S/he may not be able to, and shouldn’t necessarily be expected to, classify this need into one category of question or another. This situation leads to the open question of how much intellectual classification of different kinds of questions the library profession can or should expect patrons to do before approaching a reference desk vs. how much non-traditional material librarians should become familiar with in order to (hopefully) meet patron needs. No easy answer to that question.

    As an aside regarding the computer and learning management software issue, one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of is combining a campus computing help desk with the reference desk. If a student has a computer-related question, the campus computing staff member is there to help. If the student has a research question, the librarian is there to help. And the student doesn’t have to get confused about which desk to go for a certain type of assistance, as there is only one desk.

  2. karineb says:

    Aaron – great comment.
    One should not think of gatekeepers only in the negative sense of it. So, gatekeepers can serve as access point, but also as a linking point (which is the traditional role of librarians). Here there is an interesting situation where librarians become not only a reference point but also producers of information. The are requested helping patrons to work with the content. And it is the latter part that is difficult for them. Getting out from the neutral stance.

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