Experience at the University of Louisville during the past several years indicates that users want access to electronic information wherever and whenever possible. They need state-of-the-art computing equipment and strong, supportive networks to make this possible. They also need much training and professional advice to be successful information users. These findings based on library surveys and interviews conducted at U of L are similar to information presented at library conferences and discussions with colleagues around the country. Computers and software products can make information use difficult. Librarians need to provide assistance and make information more usable. Librarians already provide value-added services such as instructional tools, teaching sessions and reference assistance to create a layer of intervention between the user and the products. Librarians are concerned with user needs and provide a user-centered environment. As librarians build good web sites it will help them provide more user-centered information by providing attractive, easy-to-use sites, intuitive navigation, currency and appropriate text links. Librarians facilitate information retrieval, helping users avoid aimless information surfing.
Librarians have been utilizing the Web and electronic information while working with vendors for several years now to provide their users with the best possible access to online information. They need to work with vendors and providers of electronic information to ensure consistency, and user control. They must also work with electronic information providers to utilize feedback from users. Vendors of electronic information and databases should work with librarians to create better common interfaces to electronic databases, and consistent statistical reporting. Such statistical reports should include number of logons, number of actual searches of a particular database, number of actual users of full text articles, type of subject searches completed, and how many users were unsuccessful. Such data will enable librarians to assess actual use of particular databases and specific journal articles so they can make electronic material selection decisions based on actual user needs.
Librarians need to assess the use of digital collections in terms of comparisons to print use; previously underserved populations; change in usage patterns; value of the collections for campus information support; change in and preservation of scholarly communication; and finally, the effect on overall expenditures.
Furthermore librarians need to regularly assess the impact of electronic information on library operations and services. Already operations have been and are in the process of changing, especially in terms of cataloguing, processing and collection building. More outsourcing of processing to obtain shelf-ready monographs is becoming the norm. Use of approval plans is increasing. Networking in cataloguing facilitates faster and less expensive cataloguing.
Services are similarly changing in terms of electronic information provision, reference, instruction, reserves and document delivery. Academic libraries have been implementing electronic reserves to facilitate access and faster document delivery. They have been implanting software packages such as Ariel and Illiad to improve interlibrary loan processes. Academic librarians have energetically made electronic information available through their libraries and they are beginning to rethink reference in an electronic environment.
User studies are beginning to indicate that the following factors statistically influence the use of electronic information: form of access; available technology; available guidance and instruction; full text availability. Librarians need to work closely with teaching faculty to assess the impact of digital information in terms of learning outcomes for students and with researchers to assess the effect of electronic information on research results.