3 Chapter 3: Technology Innovation and the Information Professions

3.1 Introduction

Technology innovation has changed the way people access and use information. The continued advances in computers and mobile devices in terms of speed, portability, functionality, multitasking, and ease of use have made our life easier, faster, and more informed. At the same time, advances in technology created certain types of variabilities and challenges in terms of privacy, security, and long-term archiving and preservation of digital information. The advent of the Internet and social media paved the way for the creation of new dynamic and interactive social media applications, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. A wide range of personal communication channels, such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Telegram, allows people to have instant personal communications in both synchronous and asynchronous mode. The impact of technology, the Internet, the web, and social media applications on the information professions are profound. They have not only changed the types of jobs, functionality, and characteristics, but also have created jobs that did not even exist before.

3.2 Information Technology: Web 2.0 and Beyond

3.2.1 Web 2.0

As discussed in Chapter 2, while the Internet revolutionized the concept of wide area networks and public networks, the initial implementations of the Internet were limited to e-mail communication and file transfer. The advances in information technology had the largest impact on the information profession landscape. At the beginning of the web in the early 1990s, users focused their activities on retrieving information. Knowledge creation was limited to those who had the HTML skills needed to publish or create information. At the start, content creators were few on the traditional web, which was then called Web 1.0, as the vast majority of users simply acted as consumers of consent (Cormode and Krishnamurthy, 2008). Web 1.0 only allowed for unidirectional communication through static websites.

As Internet users increased their sophistication, so did the technical ability of web tools. Soon, web tools became more interactive, and users created, collaborated, and distributed their own content. Tim O’Reilly wrote that as the new interactive tools of the web became a part of everyday life, the term Web 2.0 was first conceived in a brainstorming session by himself and Dale Dougherty and was defined on the web in 2005.

O’Reilly (2005) further explained that Web 2.0 is more than tools and technology on the Internet. Web 2.0 is also a way for individuals to connect, communicate, and collaborate in ways that were limited with Web 1.0. Web 2.0 is characterized by the shift from Berners-Lee’s static WWW environment to a create-and-share one. O’Reilly explains Web 2.0 as

The network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an ‘architecture of participation,’ and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences. (p.13)

Although some of the concepts O’Reilly used to define Web 2.0 are more focused on the back end that users rarely see, many of them shape the Internet as it is currently known. Later, O’Reilly and Battelle (2009) updated their definition to include more recent developments: cooperating data subsystems, the IoT, infinite high-resolution images, and the rise of real-time applications.

However, these concepts merely give a vague definition to Web 2.0. More specifically, Web 2.0 technology facilitates these concepts and has earned the more contemporary title “social media” because of its high level of interactivity and connectedness among users. Such technologies are usually platforms where users gather and share content among members of the community. Though the term “social media” is commonly used in conversation to describe Web 2.0 technologies, the term “Web 2.0,” while antiquated, is likely to be better known across wide generational and geographic borders.

The web is no longer a one-way street of expert users providing content. It is now a place for users to be interactive, creative, collaborative, and participate in real time. Blogs, wikis, podcasting, social bookmarking, RSS feeds, and collaborative tagging are all Web 2.0 terms becoming more familiar to online users and mainstream society. Social networking websites, such as YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook, show us an environment where users can easily contribute content.

3.2.2 Web 3.0

John Markoff of the New York Times first coined the term Web 3.0 when he suggested it as the third generation of the web in 2006. Web 3.0 includes several technologies to arrange and structure data you can find on the Internet to make it available and usable by programs and software thanks to a metadata system. That is, the purpose of Web 3.0 is to make the web readable by machines and humans. Such technologies include artificial intelligence, automated reasoning, cognitive architecture, distributed computing, knowledge representation, ontology, recombinant text, Semantic Web, Semantic Wiki, and software agents. These terms coined in literature represent the use of semantics and artificial intelligence to make for a “smarter web.”

3.2.3 Mobile Technology

Mobile technology encompasses an assortment of instruments that can be carried in the palm of one’s hand to perform a wide variety of tasks, including accessing information through the Internet, downloading books, and talking to others through mobile means. Mobile technology is not just mobile phones but can include laptops, pagers, video gaming systems, GPS devices, iPads, e-readers, and more.

The most significant moment in the recent history of the Internet was the arrival of the “smartphone,” a mobile phone that can access the Internet. Mobile phones have been in production since the 1970s; Motorola invented the first mobile phone in 1973. However, it was not until mobile devices began intersecting with Web 2.0, along with advances in wireless communication technologies (e.g., 3G), that mobile phone use began to grow exponentially (Ciaramitaro, 2012). By 2019, there were over 8 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally (O’Dea, 2020), which has made the mobile phone the most ubiquitous device in history and is likely to have permanently changed the way people communicate. Mobile technology has become the primary method for individuals to communicate, access, and retrieve information. It has been the fastest growing and most widely adopted type of information technology today.

A major contributing event to this history occurred in 2007 when Apple released its first iPhone. By 2008, 19% of Americans reported using their cell phones to go online (Pew Research Center, 2014). Today, 97% of American adults own a cellphone of some kind and 85% own smartphones. Moreover, 15% of American adults report using a mobile phone as their primary source of Internet access (Pew Research Center, 2021). The most frequent mobile phone activities for Americans include social media, GPS navigation, entertainment (e.g., music, audiobooks, videos), taking photos, and texting (Statista Research Department, 2021). American adults use their mobile devices regularly to access news, search for information, or look for a job (Anderson and Vogels, 2020). In particular, a growing preference for consuming online news and information by a mobile device has impacted the publishing industry.

3.2.4 Digital Publishing

The history of digital publishing is very short compared to traditional forms of publishing, but its impact has been huge. The first electronic publications came out in the 1980s in the form of plain-text e-mails. They were e-mailed to subscribers or made available through FTP in strict plain-text format. Later, the CD-ROM format was used for distribution, but it soon became obsolete as electronic publishing emerged. The period from 1985 to 1995, referred to as a period of digital revolution, brought a shift from analog to the digital treatment of information.

The development of electronic versions of printed books, or e-books, can be seen as part of the whole e-publishing phenomenon that began in the 1960s. The term e-book was coined by Andries Van Dam while working on a Hypertext Encoding System and FRESS project at Brown University in 1960. In 1971, Michael Hart, who was widely credited with creating the first e-book when he typed the Declaration of Independence into a computer and in doing so, laid the foundations for Project Gutenberg. As Hart (1992) put it,

Once a book or any other item (including pictures, sounds, and even 3-D items) can be stored in a computer, then any number of copies can and will be available. Everyone in the world, or even not in this world (given satellite transmission), can have a copy of a book that has been entered into a computer. (n.p.)

However, the Project Gutenberg library was built slowly as e-books had to be typed; in 1989, the project added its tenth book, the King James Bible. In January 1994, the project celebrated its one-hundredth book by publishing the complete works of William Shakespeare. In 1985, one of the United States’ largest publishers of encyclopedias published a text-only version of the Academic American Encyclopedia, which it renamed The New Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia. This encyclopedia has the distinction of being the very first book published on a CD-ROM. Libraries and well-funded projects, such as the Library of Congress American Memory project, which grew from a pilot digitization project that ran from 1990 to 1994, were uniquely positioned to develop e-book collections. In the academic world, e-books started with NetLibrary in 1999. NetLibrary’s key innovation allowed readers to search the full text of an entire e-book library at once (Galbraith, 2010). Three years later, in 2002, OCLC (a nonprofit organization that provides shared technology services, original research, and community programs for its membership and the library community at large) took over NetLibrary. In 2004, Google Book Search was launched as the Library Book Project with a goal of making it possible for users to search on Google through millions of books written in many different languages (Google, n.d.), including books from a dozen major research libraries, such as the New York Public Library, University of Michigan, Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford. The program was an expansion of the Google Print Library Project, which offered digital excerpts of books in copyright.

The very first e-journal came from Syracuse University’s Kellogg Project with a mission to provide broader access to the university’s adult education materials and to facilitate the exchange of information and learning using the latest technologies where possible. In fall 1987, the project initiated an electronic journal, New Horizons in Adult Education (Hugo and Newell, 1991). In 1990, Postmodern Culture, the oldest surviving e-journal, arrived as a groundbreaking experiment in scholarly publishing (Amiran and Unsworth, 1991). The following year, Elsevier started to experiment with a project called TULIP, The University Licensing Program, which distributed the electronic text of journals to libraries via computer tapes mounted locally. The Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials (OJCCI), the first biomedical e-journal and the first pre-web electronic journal with a graphical user interface (GUI), arrived in 1992. OCLC developed an online journal system that combined a centralized database server and full-text search engine with Guidon. This intuitive client software product controlled communication with the server and offered a near-print-quality display of selected articles. It also served as a model for some of the later web-based electronic-only journals. In 1993, JSTOR (the Journal Storage Project) began as an experiment to scan back volumes of journals to ease the storage problems libraries faced. In addition, the WWW, which changed everything, came into being and created a powerful opportunity in electronic publishing that not only enabled more individuals and small organizations to participate but also made small market publishing economically viable.

The number of e-journals grew steadily in the 1990s. A large part of this increase has been in scholarly or academic e-journals. The Association of Research Libraries’ Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists, published annually since 1991, indicates this growth. The number of e-journals listed in the 1991 directory was 27; by the 2000 directory, that number had grown to 3500 (Association of Research Libraries, 2000). The popularity of the WWW helped to stimulate the growth of electronic journal publishing in the mid-1990s. Still, much of the growth since 1996 can be attributed to the electronic debut of many commercial publishers. The growth in parallel publishing, which may be defined as the publication of an electronic version of a traditional print journal, has dramatically increased the number of scholarly journals available electronically and may have affected the acceptance of journals in this format.

Along with this new publication format, such as e-books and e-journals, open access (OA) publishing has emerged as a global movement to reestablish a knowledge commons in scholarly communication. In reaction to the constraints of the current system and leveraging the opportunities afforded by the digital revolution, open access advances a vision for scientific communication in which knowledge flows without restriction between the research community and the wider public (Borgman, 2010). The movement for open access to scientific research expanded in 2001 with the Public Library of Science (originally PLoS, now simply PLOS), a nonprofit library of scientific literature licensed for reuse and redistribution. Describing themselves as a “nonprofit publisher, innovator and advocacy organization,” PLOS now publishes OA biomedical journals, including pioneering the model of the OA “mega-journal” with their publication PLOS ONE, a large-scale, broad-scope OA journal (Spezi et al., 2017).

3.2.5 Internet of Things (IoT)

The development in Web 3.0 has opened the door to new types of applications and services knowledge as Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is a network of devices, appliances, and other objects equipped with computer chips and sensors that can collect and transmit data throughout the Internet. British visionary Kevin Ashton first documented the term in 1999. IoT is defined as a system of interconnected computing devices that permit interaction between people and machines, people and people, machines and people, and machines and machines. The “things” referred to in the IoT world are physical devices that send data to and get controlled by the virtual controllers that run over the Internet, and they are the core of the system. Devices like heart monitoring implants, electronic chips that monitor water pollution, and sensors that trace the movement of humans and make corresponding actions are all real-world implementations of IoT.

IoT holds great promise in cognitively transforming the way people interact with technologies. However, there remain grave concerns about the privacy and security of the extensive data collection required for these interactions to take place (Vermesan et al., 2017). The most important aspect of this definition of IoT is responding to users’ needs in real time and reacting to the users’ physical world. IoT technologies link the real world and virtual worlds, allowing consumers to have connectivity anytime and anywhere.

3.3 Impact of Technology on the Information Professions

The information and knowledge professions can be defined as those dealing with the acquisitions, capture, processing, storage, and retrieval of information. It also deals with extracting insights and knowledge from data and information. It includes different people from different disciplines coming together to work on common issues and problems. Marcia Bates in 1999, in an article entitled “The invisible substrate of information science,” argued that information science is different from other disciplines in the fact that it cuts across other disciplines and professions. The work in information retrieval in the seventies and eighties is a good example of the interdisciplinary nature of information science when scientists from other disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, biology, math, and computer science, came together to develop theories, models, and algorithms in the areas of information storage and retrieval. Such collaborative efforts formed the basis for current modern search engines.

3.3.1. Impact of Technology on Information Institutions

Technology has had a substantial impact on many aspects of an individual’s daily life. This impact also extends to the configuration of and services provided by information institutions. In fact, technological advancements have existed in some form throughout the history of libraries. This technology evolved from mass publishing to microfilm to electronic resources to evolving circulating systems featuring advanced integrated library systems (ILS), to name just a few. The idea of the “digital library” was popularized in the early 1990s. Prior to that, libraries that maintained collections of electronic resources and digitized materials did not refer to them as digital libraries. The rapid development of digital libraries in the mid-1990s was spurred not only by the expansion of distributed networks and digital technology but also by government-sponsored research initiatives and large-scale collaborative projects. Now the term “digital library” is almost synonymous with the library itself.

Because of technology, libraries have reinvented themselves and moved away from printed resources in favor of electronic resources. In addition, libraries depended on other forms of technology to accommodate the rise of Web 2.0, which is often referred to as Library 2.0. Casey and Savastinuk (2007) defined Library 2.0 as a “model for constant and purposeful change” that “empowers users through participatory user-driven services” (p. 5). The main goal of Library 2.0 was to improve library services to meet the ever-changing needs of library users. Mobile technology also has transformed the bricks-and-mortar library into the bricks-and-clicks library. Library services made possible by the mobile web include e-books and e-readers; mobile-friendly library websites, library catalogs, and databases; mobile collections beyond the e-book, such as streaming music, movies, and other multimedia; text messaging services for notifications and general communications; and virtual reference services via chat or video conferencing. Further, many libraries and information centers adopt a social media presence as a marketing and promotional tool to reach current and potential library users wherever they are. During the COVID-19 pandemic, social media became a vital communications tool for libraries that were closed to the public as a way to reach out to library users with information about remote services; socially supportive messaging; and information about health, financial, and food-related resources (Alajmi and Albudaiwi, 2020).

All these technology innovations and changes discussed so far can be seen in public, academic, and school libraries. Public libraries did not overwhelmingly embrace computers or the Internet until after 1997. The availability of often free Internet access in public libraries was discussed as an important tool in addressing the digital divide issue. In fact, it appears the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s funding of computers and infrastructure in public libraries in 1997 accelerated the placement of public access computers in all types and sizes of libraries (Gordon et al., 2003). Public libraries have also been involved in the development of community information networks focusing on developing computer and Internet skills and serving the information needs of their community (Bajjaly, 1999).

This is still true today. The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated inequalities between those with Internet access and those without, one in which public libraries are on the front lines of service. The 2020 Public Library Technology Survey report (Public Library Association, 2020) confirms that today’s public libraries serve as digital equity hubs. According to the report, more than half of public libraries report circulating technology (e.g., hotspots, laptops, and tablets) for patron use off-site. With public Wi-Fi now ubiquitous, many public libraries also offer 24/7 Internet access by leaving on or extending their Wi-Fi signal so that visitors can log on to the web in and outside of buildings.

Association of Research Libraries (ARL), academic and research libraries were some of the early adopters of computer technology and have adapted to the consequences of technological change in scholarship and scholarly communication practices. For several decades, academic libraries have been involved in technological transformation; library collections have been automated, digitized, networked, and made freely available on the Internet. Academic libraries have provided students and faculty with instruction, technologies, and spaces supporting their digital literacy skills and developed services and infrastructure to support researchers’ data curation and sharing.

It is pertinent to note the 2021 ACRL Environmental Scan, which lists two emerging technologies with which academic libraries have adopted and engaged. The first technology is the library service platform (LSP); libraries have continued migrating from ILS to cloud-based LSP. Three major LSP products, Ex Libris Alma, OCLC WorldShare Management Services, and open source-based FOLIO, have made significant progress. The second emerging technology is immersive technologies, such as extended reality (XR), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). Academic libraries have launched initiatives that seek to incorporate XR/VR/AR into their collaborative spaces, collections, and services (Association of College & Research Libraries Research Planning and Review Committee, 2021).

Further, a report published by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), and EDUCAUSE identified the following six themes pertaining to critical emerging technologies academic libraries have adopted and used: (1) digitization and digital preservation; (2) data, data-intensive research, and open science; (3) hybrid learning; (4) digital fluencies and data literacy; (5) student data and learning analytics; and (6) the role of collaboration and trust in meeting technological challenges that transcend a single organization. The report concludes that “adoption of technologies is only ever partly about the technology—it is also about the social contexts in which technologies arise and are deployed. Attention paid to the social circumstances into which technologies emerge or are adopted has continued to reveal concerns about bias in the data and algorithms that power technologies that are increasingly ubiquitous and unavoidable” (Calvert, 2021, p. 24).

3.3.2 Impact of Technology on Information Professionals

The essential tasks of information and knowledge professionals have not changed. Regardless of their specific position, the information professional’s central mandate continues to be bringing information seekers and information sources together. However, the environment within which information professionals execute their core mission has changed dramatically. Not only libraries and information institutions are expected to provide access to information and facilitate the dissemination of information to their communities, but they are also expected to facilitate access to innovative technologies and knowledge resources. As libraries and information institutions continued to be challenged in keeping pace with major changes and trends in technology, the skillsets of the information and knowledge professionals have evolved. Today, information and knowledge professionals are expected to develop new skills and competencies, adapt to ever-changing technologies, and incorporate these skills into their works and the services they provide (Ahmed and Sheikh, 2020). The information and knowledge professionals’ competencies, knowledge, skillsets, and abilities have changed and continue to evolve. Information and knowledge professionals’ nature of work is changing, and they are no longer just called on simply to provide access to information. Instead, they are also called upon to provide knowledge services, packaged information and support technology, and productivity tools. Cherinet (2018) observed that most job postings for the library and information science profession now call for transliteracy skills, defined as a combination of information literacy, digital literacy, and information and communications technology skills. These proficiencies are essential for today’s information professionals and help bridge the gap between the user and the library.

The shift toward online and blended learning has influenced the teaching roles of academic librarians, requiring new areas of expertise that help guide the trajectory of the profession (Ross and Gage, 2006, p. 167). New roles with increased technological and pedagogical skill requirements have emerged. A paradigm shift in the understanding of this role may be traced to Bell and Shank’s (2004) introduction to the concept of blended librarianship. This concept is defined as “an academic librarian who combines the traditional skill set of librarianship with the information technologist’s hardware/software skills, and the instructional or educational designer’s ability to apply technology appropriately in the teaching-learning process” (p. 374). Another shift in the role of academic librarian is the embedded research librarian in research teams. The traditional role of academic librarians is to help researchers to find research information without real participation in the research context. Embedded librarians can help research teams with locating relevant information, identifying grants, information organization, archiving, and preservation (Brahmi and Kaplan, 2017). New and emerging disciplines, such as knowledge discovery, data curation, and data science, require librarians to demonstrate deeper understanding of the research process and work closely with the research team not only as information professionals but also as knowledge professionals with a better understanding of the subject matter.

School librarians are also catalysts who research, employ, and encourage others to utilize the latest technology tools designed to enhance twenty-first century instruction. Thus, school librarians are technology integration specialists capable of integrating emerging technologies in their lesson plans and offering access to electronic instructional materials that complement curricula. Educators utilize the latest technology tools as part of their instruction to model safe and effective Internet usage and collaboration for their students, and school librarians have evolved into technology leaders at their schools (Mann, 2011). School librarians’ technology expertise includes providing professional development on Internet searching and composing digital presentations, performing hardware configurations and repairs, and sharing knowledge of software programs; thus increasing their assistance capabilities for teachers.

Public librarians also play a key role in mediating users and technology, and this responsibility requires constant training and updating of their technical skills. In addition to routine operating procedures, public libraries must plan for continual change as technology updates, improves, and evolves within their communities (Ayre, 2016). Because of this, there has been ample research on the integration of technologies in public libraries and the changes made to accommodate future technology (e.g., Beyene, 2018; Radsliff-Rebmann et al., 2017). Many have noted changes to the physical appearance of the library, programming decisions, and an expanding collection of digital materials. Additional changes to their technology infrastructure include ongoing computer literacy classes, business management classes, coding/programming classes and access to 3D printers, mobile hotspots, mobile devices, and various other technologies in support of the community (Cushing, 2016).

From a management perspective, web technologies have shifted the thinking of librarians and information professionals away from seeing themselves as gatekeepers and referral services to information and knowledge professionals capable of dealing with complex tasks created by the advances in technology, such as data management and data science (Li et al., 2019). Nowadays, data is considered the fuel that drives innovations and emerging technologies. There is increased and growing awareness of the importance of knowledge management and data science skills for those working in data-rich environments where the value of a workforce with data science skills is critical for making informed decisions (Burton and Lyon, 2017). In fact, over a decade ago, Varian (2009) argued that in the subsequent decades, information and knowledge workers who have the skills to understand, curate, mine, visualize, and extract value from raw data by transforming it into information and knowledge and then communicating or disseminating it effectively will be in high demand.

3.4 Conclusion

This chapter focuses on changes that have radically transformed the Internet in the last several decades, creating what many now describe as Web 2.0, and explores topics such as Web 3.0 and the Internet of Things. The chapter also looks at how those technologies have changed operations and practices of libraries and information centers and required competencies for information professionals.

Information technology has been “the most powerful force affecting libraries” (Johnson, 1996, p. 84) with the potential to change how information is generated, evaluated, integrated, transmitted, and preserved. The application of new information technologies has dramatically altered how libraries and information centers perform their core functions. Information professionals have adapted to changing landscapes with respect to new innovations and the challenges and opportunities that come with them.


Discussion Questions

  • Discuss the characteristics of three generations of WebWeb 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0.
  • What is the Semantic Web and what are the drawbacks of the Semantic Web?
  • How has IoT improved services, resources, and experiences that libraries provide?
  • Given the increased shift to digital publishing, how has that affected your reading habits and preferences (e.g., print books vs. e-books)?
  • Identify some of the technologies used in your library or university library with which you have interacted. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each such technology and its impact on library services.
  • How has technology impacted your interaction with library professionals?
  • How does technology impact your perception of librarians?
  • Discuss some of the skills and competencies which information and knowledge professionals must have to be able to work with technology.


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