With the emergence of the information age and a knowledge-based society, we are witnessing radical social change. Social institutions --- universities, record companies, businesses, etc. --- have had to transform themselves and their services in an effort to meet changing social needs. It has been no less of a challenge for libraries.
Technology has revolutionized the way information is created, stored, and disseminated and information technology has been the engine of social change, a development that still has many years to maximize its impact. Eventually, from a utopian perspective, the world will become a networked, connected, and wired world of individuals and organizations maximizing their use of information technology in an informed, educated and empowered manner. While managing the impact of information technology, libraries continue to play their historical role in the formation of informed, educated and capable members of society.
Indeed, libraries have benefited from information technology as witnessed by the replacement of the traditional card catalogue with an automated, integrated library system for cataloguing resources as well as circulation, acquisitions and other library functions enhanced by information technology. More and more information can be accessed by an end-user without regard for geographical location by way of the p.c. and the Internet. While this is conceivably a long-term threat to the viability of the library as a physical and social institution, libraries themselves provide Internet access and access to online-information services and often provide instruction in their use. Libraries themselves have been instrumental in the development of digital or virtual libraries that will ensure access to information regardless of the future development in the commodification of information.
Educated and skilled access to electronic information resources is one means of coping with information overload --- and libraries play a fundamental role in the acquisition of appropriate search skills --- but the staggering amount of information available today is problematic. Patrons need help with traditional print collections as societal levels of literacy diminish but also need assistance with the new forms of literacy demanded by information technology.
The librarian profession itself is becoming more specialized in response to the breadth and specialization of information and knowledge. Law librarians, medical librarians, academic librarians, school librarians have distinct contextual knowledge and specific skills. While information itself is exploding in quality and quantity, access to high quality information is problematic on the Internet while the innate filtering and selecting process of the library virtually guarantees access to high quality information. Similarly, despite the demand for distance education, the need for on-going, life long learning and the increasingly specialized nature of knowledge and information has resulted in heavily used public libraries.
Finally, society itself continues to expect more of libraries in the form of comprehensive library collections, competent library services, the capacity to deal with homelessness and other social problems, the provision of first-class reference service and adult literacy classes, the provision of facilities for public meetings and yet there can also be resistance to expanding library budgets. Conversely, though, where the library community's voice is clear and articulate, widespread support for libraries does exist and has resulted in library institutions that continue to meet the public's need for library services.