In the information age with billions of documents available online, research organisations need the specialist skills of Librarians more than ever, says Ms Suzie Davies, Librarian, Science Technology and Information Group, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

“The recent review of the IPCC showed how easy it is to place too much weight on some published research that does not merit this endorsement and recommends the IPCC should strengthen its guidance on how to evaluate information.

Yet what we see in science organisations in the APS at the moment is scaling back of the specialist skills of librarians and a move to centralise library services. Scientists in some regional and city locations now might find themselves with a solitary computer terminal to provide the service their local Librarian used to provide.

Sure, it’s wonderful in this day and age to have so many electronic resources at our fingertips. In the old days you could only use what information you had in your building and getting information in or out of the building was a time-consuming process.

In the past the problem was getting access to information. Librarians were good at getting access. We have networks set up. For example, I work in a marine library and we participate in networks with other marine libraries in Australia and around the world. We all support each other and have always done so since the days of card catalogues – only now we can do it more quickly.

These days you can access billions of web pages and billions of documents online. So in the past people could not find information because it was hard to access, these days they can access information but still don’t know what is out there! They look at a website but don’t know if it is an authoritative website, or whether the published PDF document they see on the web has any credibility, or whether there is any peer-review process that has gone with it. They aren’t trained to know that but Librarians are.

Instead of being overwhelmed by all this information, Librarians use the same techniques and principles to identifying information that we’ve always used, whereas individuals get overwhelmed and can go for quick and immediate response that comes up, which is often not the best or the most measured response.

The thing I find disappointing is that organisations that should know better don’t see librarians as the people who have those skills. Librarians can say, ‘this is a document that is worth looking at because it has 250 other documents behind it, whereas this document was written by Bill Blogs yesterday over his cereal!’ That is the skill librarians have.

If you are a scientist and familiar with information and publishing processes, then you are a step ahead of most people but it is not necessarily the best use of your time, and you still won’t know the best options and places to find information as a Librarian does.

As far as we are concerned, we work like research assistants to scientists. We get them the information they need and they use their scientific knowledge to evaluate that information. Scientists want us to keep performing that role – whenever there is the threat of a cutback to library research services it is the scientists who always leap to our defence.

Google is a commercial information vendor and the information you find online reflects the commercial structure of online search engines. Libraries, for the most part, don’t have this commercial focus.

But I think the thing that gets completely ignored by those reducing and “rationalising” library services is the relationships that get built up by having the resources on site.

Losing this local support and the knowledge and understanding built up over time, will inevitably prove an impost on scientists’ time and the way they do science.”

Published in the CSIRO Staff Association Wavelength newsletter, September 2010.

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