An examination of librarian education in Italy related to the evolution of public library services; how the use of multimedia applications and Internet services is changing the role of the librarian. Libraries as the backbone of communication with citizens. The university degrees in librarianship and similar qualifications; the need for continuing education and the upgrading of library staff. The experience of the Lombardy Region.
Among the most demanding tasks the Italian Association of Libraries has set for itself, is the defence of the librarianís profession and its necessary evolution, which is accomplished through a number of activities, including education and the sensitization of the public institutions that are responsible for the management of libraries, with reference to the quality of services which is necessarily correlated to the quality of the professional staff operating in the facilities. On the occasion of several meetings - the latest of which was in Brescia, in Lombardy, in 1995 - the issue of the education of librarians has been at the centre of the public attention, and it was a recurring theme also at the last 1996 conference, which was devoted to the relationship between the library, the town and the citizen. How to interpret the role of the library today and in the near future, and how the role of the librarian should consequently develop, is a topical question that applies to all the situations where there exists a facility that is called a library, independently of the administrative authority it refers to. The main problem of the librarianís role is however still unresolved at the national level, as a national outline law on libraries is as yet absent.
The profession is fragmented because of the absence of a legislative revision with regard to libraries on the one hand, and because of the administrative decentralization of vocational training and post-high-school professional education on the other. A further contribution to the confusion prevailing in this sector, was given by the advent - about four years ago - of university diplomas for "cultural property operators", which are active in a few Italian universities (Pavia and Brescia in Lombardy, and shortly in Bergamo and Milan), require three years of study, and have also been instituted for the profession of librarian, documentalist and archivist.
The type of qualification required to participate in public competitive examinations for librarian posts may vary; for state libraries, the professional selection is entrusted to the specific tests of the competition, while there is no special requirement as concerns the type of university degree, even though a university degree is still required. Only recently, in some situations which have been criticized in the absence of relevant legislation, in certain competitive examinations emphasis has been placed - and thus preference has been attributed - to graduates of the courses of cultural property conservation who had written a degree dissertation in librarianship. A separate position is that of library assistants, who would elsewhere be defined as paraprofessionals, that is, the experts of cataloguing and indexing, who constitute the majority of the staff in a library, particularly in public and local government libraries, with the exception of directors.
In this situation, in which the Region is responsible for monitoring municipal libraries, the preparation of professional personnel has always been one of the pillars of the planning and funding policies. Statistics and annual assessments show that library personnel - though insufficient in number - is everywhere satisfactorily qualified and permanently committed. This has been made possible in the course of time mainly by the education programmes crated both by the Region and by the provincial governments. The university has hardly ever produced professionals ready to be employed in libraries. In this connection, it is meaningful that - at least until the early 90s - the regional legislation concerning libraries established that in the libraries of towns with over 100,000 inhabitants the librarian had to be a graduate, while in municipalities of 5000 people or more the post had to be covered by an undergraduate.
Regarding the University Diploma, the following general considerations may be made. This qualification - which was conceived for the purpose to introduce intermediate professional figures specialized in the field of cultural property management into the labour market, is not yet taken into consideration in the context of public competitive examinations, because it is not specifically correlated to any of the professional roles included in the personnel of local governments: this causes a basic discrepancy in the labour market demand/supply relationship. At the national level, no effective action has been undertaken to change this situation of weakness of the professions of the library and archivistic world; there are no professional registers, the associations are not very effective and they have no negotiating power.
The current curricula of university diplomas in this sector have shown to be very academic in nature, too strictly related to the curricula of the graduate courses of humanities, lacking any integration with the more modern aspects of library and archive management (technological applications, management techniques, etc.), and missing the necessary support of stages at significant libraries and achival institutions (see, for example, the curriculum for the Brescia diploma).
As is obvious, a teaching approach that is not sufficiently sensitive to the innovative processes under way, and is thus incapable to develop innovations, is liable to become prematurely obsolete, and inevitably has very limited margins of time to assert itself. That is why it is fundamental to redefine the contents of the curricula of university diplomas. For this purpose, the Lombardy Region in particular intends to establish a close form of cooperation with the universities of the region, in order to tackle this problem, also in consideration of the specific competences managed through the structure of the Library and Integrated Cultural Systems Service, the highest technical body that oversees the development of libraries and the protection of libraries and archival goods. Since the early 80s, the Region has activated two-year courses for library assistants at the regional Schools for Social Operators. The most significant experience in Lombardy has been that of Ial-Cisl, which in the last three years has also instituted a post-graduate degree in librariaship, in cooperation with the Catholic University of Milan.
If we observe how the services of our libraries have developed in the last five years, we notice a constant increase in the presence of non-book materials; after a period characterized by a high demand for audiovisuals, we are now heading in the direction of a massive presence of CDs and other supports, with highly diversified contents. Electronic publishing, already present in Lombardy, is expected to experience a boom in the next few years, and will put on the market quality products capable to substitute for, or at least interact with, traditional paper books. Particularly with reference to the periodical press, electronic publishing is already proving to be of interest for our libraries, including public libraries.
Te telematic infrastructure network is increasingly spreading in our city, and almost invariably, libraries are among the first organizations to be involved in the use of community telematic information systems, together with schools of all levels. The activation of municipal networks, parallel to the spreading of the Internet, has caused a greater demand for access to information, which can only be met by a service organization designed to serve a local community, such as the community of the traditional users of a library.
What should the qualification level of the personnel supplying these services be, in order to meet the new requirements of a general group of local users, as well as of a group of remote users, who do not physically go to the library? We are witnessing an increasing "fragmentation" and specialization of services in the world of information. The Internet is a global phenomenon, as are local municipal networks in general; from the viewpoint of the services a library can or should provide, this changes the traditional role of the librarian completely. Of crucial importance is the direct contact with the public, in what used to be defined information or reference service, and increasingly important is the inter-library consultancy and lending service; today, however, in order to do research or manage services in the net, it is necessary to possess a specific technical know-how. Does this require the use of technical personnel only, or could the new profession be similar to that of the traditional librarian in terms of the cultural and academic background? A certain degree of multidisciplinarity is now undoubtedly necessary for a person working in a library, with specific functions depending on the type of library and on the type of activity within the library. The use of multimedia systems generates new needs for knowledge which can hardly be improvised, unless there is a very strong personal motivation. In the Italian education system, the gaps are filled or the existing knowledge is integrated and systematized by various forms of updating programmes, of different content and quality levels. Both the private sector and the universities, particularly polytechnic schools and scientific departments, offer the possibility to update a person's knowledge in the field of multimedia information technologies and management. The programmes specifically designed for librarians, are usually launched by the Region, the Provinces, the A.I.B. and other professional associations of the documental world. The problem is how to maintain a constant level of updating, adequate to keep up with the evolution of services that is driven by new technologies. We are faced with the problem of understaffing and the reduction of the financial resources allocated to libraries; in the current situation, the ordinary activity of libraries is in a state of emergency, or surviving with difficulty.
The examples of libraries which can provide modern, up-to-date services, adequate to the needs of today's users, are unfortunately very few. While the cooperation between structures has been one of the factors incentivating the creation of large automated projects at the national and provincial levels, today the Internet phenomenon is again making this prospect uncertain. There is no longer an easily recognizable community of specific professionals, i.e. librarians, but we move in an increasingly extended and variegated context, gathering different types of activities and users, for different purposes and interests. The user is increasingly remote and less and less known, so that it is difficult to anticipate his/her needs by proposing standard services. We are more and more frequently pursuing a response to the specific personal need to retrieve information fron the network, no longer just the information and documents that can be found in the reference library. Furthermore, the documental context is more frequently involving multiple media, and the basis of technical knowledge a librarian needs is becoming increasingly specialized. The new technologies give rise to new professional figures, which are no longer specific to library work, but become indispensable in a library willing to adopt advanced technological means and to organize increasingly sophisticated telematic services. With the advent of automation - two decades ago - the main problems for a library were to be or to have an interface with the world of information technology, to have personnel capable to understand the technical jargon and capable to translate the needs of the library into a language comprehensible to the world of data processing. This type of requirement has given life to groups of computer-literate librarians, trained in the field, who are now being replaced by other professional figures who know the final products, or definetely move from the world of the library to the world of the net. The problem of managing a local area network as autonomously as possible, and the abandonment of mainframes, more and more frequently forces small and medium-sized organizations to make recourse to self service, in the absence of greater investments in human resources or in harware and software for the libraries.
What services should a library provide today? First of all, it should allow an integrated access to information resources both digital and written, by means of catalogues and standard indices, based on documents structured in the most diverse formats (Marc, HTML, etc.). The electronic library contributes to establishing a culture which is consuption-oriented, rather than product-oriented. But the new librarian cannot and should not lose his/her function as an intermediary of information, on the contrary, he/she should renew it completely; maybe that involves being less in control of the organization of data, which is increasingly delegated to mechanisms that are inherent in the software.
The development of the digital culture causes the spreading of electronic texts, and of the simultaneous reading of texts by multiple users in different locations, in addition to unlimited possibilities to manipulate original texts: these resources are viewed as almost uncontrollable by the librarian.
Librarians will still need the traditional knowledge of cataloguing rules, classification systems, semantic analysis and exchange formats, as well as of the selection criteria for collections. However, they will have to learn the new languages that are necessary to handle the new technologies: the new electronic reality cannot be ignored.
If the Internet is to be seen as a strategic resource, it is necessary to be in command of its navigation routes, and to select the ones that best respond to the specific demands of users.
The course of studies leading to the "cultural property operator" diploma lasts three years. The curriculum includes fifteen disciplines based on one-year courses. It also includes two short courses, laboratory and field-placement activities, and a separate teaching cycle devoted to a second foreign language for each branch of the diploma.
Two further courses of Introduction to Theology are peculiar of our University.