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62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

Network Literacy: New Task for Librarians on User Education

Chengren Hu, Ph.D.
Library Automation Coordinator
Andersen Library, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Wisconsin, WI 53190, USA


I. Introduction

We are now in an information age characterized by Internet which is used widely and rapidly all over the world. Information literacy, defined as “the ability to locate, evaluate and effectively use needed information”[1] with “a set of skills and attitudes for lifelong learning”[2], is a product of information society. Network technology (LAN, WAN, Intranet, Internet and telecommunications) wi th multime-dia, digital storage and digital delivery, makes information as networked informa-tion and tremendously extends the usefulness of information resources and services. Information society is a networked information society. Network literacy, defined as “the ability to identify, access, and use electronic information from the information network”[3], is information literacy based on netw ork technology in a network envi-ronment. It will be an essential skill for people to live a successful and productive life in a networked information society. From schools to colleges or universities, from public libraries to academic or special libraries, from government relevant agencies to education associations or library associations, teachers, librarians and other educators have been empha sizing, experimenting and working to educate vari-ous types of people to become as “information-literate persons” to meet the society changing. While libraries function as information resources centers and are moving toward digital/virtual libraries, it becomes very critical to educate users in network literacy. There are several aspects of this new task that need to be explored : What is the ne twork literacy particularly for library users? What is the role of librarians in teaching network literacy for users? What are the differences between the traditional bibliographic instruction and network literacy education in a library? What contents should be covered in the instruction of network literacy? What teaching methods including facilities should be used by librarians to teach network literacy? What kind of curricular collaboration are needed for teachers and librarians? And, What kind of cooperation will be required between computer/network specialists and librarians?

II. Network Literacy and Library Users

Library network environment

In general, library network environment is formed by three types of net-worked information systems. The first type is local area network (LAN) systems, which focus on those microcomputer based systems such as Novell Netware, Mi-crosoft Windows NT, Apple Local Talk, Banyan VINES, LANtastic, and others. The file servers in LAN are loaded with microcomputer based applications includ-ing various CD -ROM databases. All microcomputer based workstations are linked to one or more file servers to share various applications and information. LAN is a distributed network system. In a client/server architecture, LAN is the basic level of network to link end users to networked information world. Besides information loaded in file servers, LAN can provide end-user access to remote information re-sourc es (Internet, etc.) through communications software and network connections. Library online catalog systems or online integrated library management systems are considered as the second type of network systems in libraries, and it is also catego-rized as intranet. This type of network systems handles traditional library functions such as circulation, interlibrary loan, cataloging, acquisitions, se rials control and online public access computer (OPAC). These are centralized network systems. They provide various library bibliographic information from local, regional and remote databases through a local host (usually minicomputer or mainframe based), depending on the server’s network capabilities and the system’s capacities.

The end-users interface with these systems can be hardwired dumb terminals or micro-computers through LAN. The third one is wide area network (WAN) based systems. These systems communicate with Internet through Gopher, World Wide Web, WAIS, and other Internet index tools. Various servers with different functions, such as Gopher, Web, E-Mail, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Point-to-Point Protoco l (PPP) or Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP), connect end-user workstations to In-ternet for universal information resources provided by information highways such as the evolving National Information Infrastructure (NII) and the Internet/National Re-search and Education Network (NREN). WAN based network information systems have been the most important systems for network literacy. Based on cl ient/server architecture of network systems, all these three types of network systems can be in-teractively connected so as to provide various networked information to the end us-ers.

Networked Information in Libraries

Different from the traditional print collections and AV materials, all net-worked information is in electronic or digital form. Also, networked information must be delivered and accessible using computerized and networked facilities such as microcomputers, dumb terminals or other electronic or telecommunication de-vices in a networked environment. Networked information can be categorized by thei r media types, formats, host systems, the way to approach information, usage in subjects, information providers/producers, or the target end user groups. Categori-zation of networked information will be helpful in designing educational programs for network literacy.

The magnetic media (computer data tapes, audio/video tapes, computer disks and drums, etc.) and laser optical media (CD-ROMs) are the most important net-worked information media. The formats of networked information on multimedia involve electronic bibliographic citations, text files (including fulltext) of electronic publications, data files, graphics, full-images and audio/video digital forms . All types of computers including CD-ROM devices (drives, towers and jukeboxes) are possible host systems loaded information for network access. Users can access net-worked information by microcomputers or terminals through hardwired LAN, or Internet WAN, or telecommunication data/voice lines with a voice/fax/modem to dial in/out. The networked information from LAN or Intranet is local computer based databases and/or CD-ROM based information. It can be easily protected through security systems. As for information from WAN - Internet, it is world wide information in different formats with different media, from different owners and loaded in different host systems, and it is hard to be secured. Like the traditional information, networked information covers all subject fields for various u ses to meet the need of all types of targeted users. Networked information can be provided in electronic forms by different vendors, database producers, electronic publishers in-volving government agencies, non-profit producers, professional associations or organizations, and various commercial companies.

Network literacy for Library Users

Network literacy for library users consists of two aspects: knowledge of net-worked information and skills to locate, select, evaluate and use the networked in-formation. Knowledge of networked information is:

The skills include: To acquire network literacy as defined above, users should first of all possess other basic literacy:

III. User Education on Network Literacy - Librarian’s New Task

Roles for Librarians in a Networked Information Environment

In a networked information environment, librarian’s role becomes “more ex-pansive and complex because of technological advances in information handling as well as information users’ demands for more efficient and complex information de-livery”[7]. In addition to the traditional library services based on the traditional print and AV resources, librarians are now information professionals managing , retriev-ing, analyzing, organizing and serving networked information to information con-sumers in an information-driven society[8]. Librarians are asked how to use infor-mation rather than just retrieve it, and, are asked to assist and train users to locate, evaluate and use information effectively as information navigators rather than traditional bibliographic instructors. Librarians act not o nly as “the intermediaries” to assist in connecting users with networked resources, but further as partners with teachers to educate the target groups for network literacy. To retain their professional credibility, librarians must enhance themselves to understand and manage the complexities of networked information. Librarians must assume a leadership role in educating the community about the imp act of information and network technology on teaching, learning, effectively working and productively living in an information age.

Network Literacy for Librarians

As educators of library users on network literacy, librarians must first acquire network literacy themselves. That is, librarians should be conversant with course-ware and networked information resources, and possess both knowledge and skills needed in a network environment. Besides the knowledge of and skills in networked information described above as library users’ network literacy (Section I I), librarians should further be:

User Education on Network Literacy

For librarians providing instruction in user education on network literacy, there are three elements that are different from traditional bibliographic instructions.

First, librarians should organize and design an efficient teaching environment including facilities and select a suitable teaching method to provide instructional programs on network literacy to users. Networked information must be based on a networked environment. To setup physical equipment or facilities for network training should involve collaboration with computer/network specialists, and al so it should be based on the existing library network systems. In the University of Wis-consin-Whitewater, there is a Computer Lab (called Bibliographic Instruction Lab) with 21 PCs linked to a Novell Netware LAN. All computers can access CD-ROM LAN databases, Internet (both Gopher and WWW) and library online cataloging system (NOTIS, run by an IBM mainframe) through software in LAN server and c ampus network backbone. Students can follow instructor step-by-step and have hands-on practice using these networked workstations. There have been many discussions, practice models, guidelines and principles for instruction methods on electronic or networked information, such as University of Arizona Library’s Model for teaching Internet[10], RASD’s Electronic Information Sources: Guidelines for Training Sessions[11], “Five principles for effective Information literacy instruction” by Ross Todd[12], and Brandon University Library in Manitoba Canada offering new learning processes[13].

In summing up, the methods for network literacy instruction could be [14]:

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has video tapes created for how to use email on Internet and how to create Web home page, printed manuals for Internet guides, HTML format-ted CD-ROM database guides and Online Cataloging System guides in library’s web home page, and many instruction sessions offered every semester by librarians and network/computer specialists for networked information. Als o, to establish additional library communication channels is a good way for distributing network literacy such as through library newsletters, library guides, reference desk services, individual consultation and electronic information instruction combined with teach-ers’ curricula[15].

Second, librarians need to determine what course contents should be provided in the instruction. The contents for network literacy instruction differ in terms of systems, purposes, target groups and subjects of networked information. In general, the basic contents of network literacy instruction should be:

Third is to combine library information literacy training programs with other educational programs such as teachers’ course offerings in academic and school li-braries, public education programs in public libraries, and special information work-shops in special libraries, and, computer/network specialists workshops on com-puter/network literacy. The cooperation between librarians and users, betwe en li-brarians and other educators will be important. The instruction for computer literacy and network technology can be provided by network/computer specialists. Librari-ans focus on instructions on networked information. Librarians can cooperate with teachers to create network literacy programs in specific subject fields as needed in their courses. The teacher can also consult with librarians to update their courses for networked information needed.

IV. Conclusion

User education is a major task for librarians to serve users more effectively. The contents and teaching methods for user education vary with user’s needs social changes. User education on network literacy is different from traditional biblio-graphic instructions because of the high-tech based networked information. It re-quires librarians to undertake a new task, which calls for not only change s in in-structional contents and methods but more important the librarians must make them-selves network literate. Librarians must recognize this change and embrace it. With the new task in a networked information age, librarians will be also to provide greater contributions to society than ever before.


  1. American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, Final Report, Chicago: ALA, 1989. p.1.

  2. Cleaver, B. P. “Thinking About Information: Skills for Lifelong Learning.” School Library Media Quarterly 16 :1 (1987): 29-31.

  3. McClure, Charles R. “Network literacy: A Role for Libraries?” Information Technology and Libraries 13:2 (June 1994): 115-125.

  4. McClure, p. 119.

  5. Eisenberg, Michael B. and Berkowitz, Robert Z., Information Problem-Solving: the Big Six Skills Approach to Library & Information Skills Instruction Nor-wood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Co. 1991. p. 5.

  6. McClure, p.122.

  7. Reichel, Mary “Library Literacy.” RQ 28:1 (Fall 1988): 31.

  8. Foster, Stephen “Information Literacy: Some Misgivings.” American Libraries 24 (April 1, 1993):344.

  9. Lei, Yan “Training Library Staff to Adapt to the Internet Environment.” CLIEJ (April 1996).

  10. Greenfield, Louise, Gellman, Jennalyn and Beth Brin “A Model for Teaching the Internet: Preparation and Practice.” Computers in Libraries (March 1996): 22-25.

  11. Reference and Adult Services Division (RASD), ALA. Electronic Information Sources: Guidelines for Training Sessions, posted in August 1995. 8 pp.

  12. Todd, Ross J. “Information Literacy: Philosophy, Principles, and Practice.” School Libraries Worldwide 1:1 (1995): 54-68.

  13. Bazillion, Richard J. and Braun, Connie “Academic Library Design: Building a ‘Teaching Instrument’.” Computers in Libraries 14:2 (Feb. 1994):1-5.

  14. RASD, p. 2.

  15. Kovacs, Diane K. and et al. “A Model for Planning and Providing Reference Services Using Internet Resources.” Library Trends 42:4 (Spring 1994): 638-47.