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Make a Difference in Your Community with Information Studies

Information studies in your community

What is information studies? Information studies cover everything from records management and data management to knowledge management and the organisation of company information. It also includes, of course, work in libraries. And the opportunities for employment in libraries are varied, from the more well-known public and university libraries to medical, law, private and parliamentary libraries.

The public library system is very important in Australian society, giving information studies professionals a lot of scope, not only in their career but also in the services they provide to communities.

In fact, the role public libraries play in ameliorating social disadvantage and increasing equity when it comes to accessing information is profoundly important, as explained by Dr Kim Thompson, a senior lecturer in information studies at Charles Sturt University (CSU).

“In Australia, there is a real sense of libraries being important to communities – especially regional communities. This notion was founded on parliamentary acts and still has a lot of state support. Even small communities tend to have a library, even if it’s small and only open part-time. And there are many service programs across Australia, in all types of libraries, that are directly geared towards meeting the needs of, for example, immigrant and refugee groups, and people whose first language is not English. And there is also a lot of work done by libraries, particularly regional libraries, in creating repositories of Indigenous knowledge, as well as in enhancing computer literacy for the elderly.”

Dr Jessie Lymn, a lecturer in information studies at CSU, outlined a couple of these initiatives.

“There are programs such as Tech Savvy Seniors delivered through public libraries that help older people with digital literacy so they can develop the skills and confidence to access information and services online. And there is the Language Café in the Wagga Wagga City Library to give people for whom English is not their first language the chance to meet and practise language conversation skills."

“Most libraries these days also have video game machines set up to enhance the sense of the library as a community space. They can attract people who might not otherwise use the library, who can then explore the other services available.”

Working with technology in public libraries

Indeed, Dr Lymn sees technology as key to increasing equity in terms of access to information in the public library service.

“The digital literacy realm will become increasingly important. Sure, Google is there for information, but librarians will play a key role in helping people access the information that they need, for example, how to best use Google’s many available features. Today, libraries also have lots of digital services available offsite, such as lending eBooks and audiobooks. So it is still about access, even if not in the physical library space.”

Dr Thompson also sees offsite access as an increasingly important part of public library service delivery for all sectors of the community.

“Lots of libraries are working to increase access to digital information from home, for geographically disadvantaged people and those with, say, anxiety and depression for whom going to a physical library is hard.” 

Maximising inclusion in accessing information

Dr Thompson acknowledges that there is still work to be done, and research is leading the way.

“There is a lot of research and training going on about what users need and how services can meet the needs and expectations for different social groups. For instance, I’m currently working on projects looking at libraries hiring people with disabilities, and one of the PhD candidates that I am supervising is looking at libraries in the context of users with invisible disabilities – like autism, Tourette’s and post-traumatic stress disorder. Prison libraries is another area where more research is needed.” 

Libraries provide many future career opportunities

For Dr Thompson, the future for public libraries in Australia – and for those who are working in them or who are seeking to join the information studies profession – is bright, particularly when compared to some other nations.

“You can look at other countries, such as the UK, where public library services are being cut by austerity and hope that won’t happen in Australia. But providing exceptional services is a way to help keep libraries relevant to communities, and expanding opportunity with things like heritage research and family and local history archives – making libraries repositories of local knowledge – will mean they retain their importance for people.”

Dr Lymn echoed this sentiment.

“In both cities and regional communities, the public library system in Australia is well regarded. But librarians and library associations have to keep advocating for their importance, and we need to keep reinventing what libraries do, responding to community and social needs. And it mustn’t be forgotten that libraries have a role in leisure and pleasure, from reading to accessing information about hobbies. They are spaces for enjoyment and librarians can enhance that for people – for all members of a community.”

This article was produced for Career FAQs by Charles Sturt University.

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