Library DrawingThe CONNector

January 2001Volume 3 Number 1

The State Librarian's Column

Kendall WigginsKendall F. Wiggin
Connecticut State Librarian

By my reckoning we are now officially in the 21st century. With the launch this month of iCONN, the Connecticut Digital Library, we have also entered a new era in statewide library service in Connecticut. The development of the digital library reflects the capacity for change that has marked the history of the public library movement in this country. As institutions, libraries have been able to remain relevant in an ever-changing world. The core values of librarianship have served us well through a century of great change. The 21st century will bring more changes at an even greater rate of change. If we do not loose sight of our core values, I have great confidence that libraries will endure and prosper.

Assurance of free and open access to recorded knowledge, information, and creative works is a value central to librarianship. Our free society demands unfettered access to information in whatever future form it takes. I don't worry as much about the form information will take, as I do attempts to restrict access to information, especially information that isn't in familiar forms. The Internet has revolutionized access to information. The Internet and the World Wide Web are making it possible for us to provide library resources more equitably than we have been able to in the past. That is one of the great values of the Digital Library. iCONN will provide students and residents throughout Connecticut with access to thousands of full text periodical articles and other information resources no matter their public, school, or academic library situation. Just as the Internet is making it possible to equalize access to information, it is also opening doors to information and material not everyone is comfortable with. This has incited calls for greater control over the flow of information. Calls for filtering Internet access in schools and libraries are growing. Congress has now enacted legislation mandating filters for schools and libraries that use various federal funds for Internet access. Federal funds for schools and libraries never had these kinds of restrictions when the money was being used to purchase print resources or library automation systems. Now, however, fear and misunderstanding about the Internet has resulted in federal censorship. Censorship, particularly in the guise of protecting others, will be one of the greatest challenges facing libraries in the early years of this new century.

The 21st Century library must find a way to provide access to information in such a way that an individual's health and safety are protected without thwarting individual rights. Libraries must continue to work with the communities they serve to create a better understanding of the new information resources. Libraries have always been involved in literacy, but haven't necessarily taken responsibility for basic literacy. 

We have left that to the schools. In today's complex information rich environment, a librarian's skills are more important than ever in helping people connect to information and ideas. Libraries in this new century aren't just for people who can read. Information literacy, that set of abilities enabling individuals to see when information is needed and to locate, evaluate, and effectively use information, is a growing responsibility for libraries of all types. Information literacy is the basis for life-long learning and life-long learning is something libraries have been involved in for more than a century. With online resources like those available through iCONN libraries will continue to be an important center for life-long learning well into this new century.

Throughout this year I will use this column to look at other issues and challenges facing libraries in the 21st century. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

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