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Accessing information in the digital age has become much easier with the advent of technology, especially the Internet. Having the swiftness and accuracy would ensure that the process of retrieving information would be effective and efficient.

A library is also the place where people would commonly go and meet for the ambience to study and conduct small/short discussions (where permissible). Whatever the intention may be, it still serves as the venue for knowledge retrieval for many, as it has been intended since the first public library was established in England in the 1850s.

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Such views were shared by the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dr. Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah in his keynote speech at the International Conference on Libraries 2017 (ICOL 2017) which was held recently. He touched on how libraries can be transformed to become leaner and more relevant for future communities.

In addition, he emphasised on the optimisation of operations by the libraries, where they should strive to be more efficient, more cost effective and offering higher standards of service that would surely be appreciated by the customers.

“In view of the looming Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) together with the current digital age, libraries need to know and understand what kind of customers they are serving.

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“At present, the customers can be generally grouped into two, namely the younger ‘digital’ generation and the older generation. Understanding these two different groups is essential in order for libraries to serve them better in terms of their capabilities and their needs,” he said.

He added that by knowing the customers’ attributes, libraries can cater their services to the specified needs and at the same time ensure that the standards of their services would be high. When customers are offered services which could specifically fulfil their needs, they will show greater appreciation to such service providers.

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The mainstay of libraries would surely be the librarians. The question that was asked by Ahmad Farhan was whether the librarians are there to just provide information or do they add value to that process of providing information? Will there be places for librarians in the future?

Already we are seeing some libraries in other parts of the world becoming fully-digital and bookless. Here, USM hopes to ensure that libraries can fully cater to the needs of the students.

At USM, the students are moulded so that they will have HEBAT characteristics, which are Holistic, Entrepreneurial, Balance, Articulate and Thinking. Therefore, the libraries should be equipped to provide the necessary support in terms of providing a wide range of knowledge for such students.

As such, the librarians would be the facilitators to assist the students in helping them to develop their characters and potentials. The librarians thus need to understand the attributes of the students as well as to be able to match them with what the libraries can offer.

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The librarians would need to understand both the students and the matching customer relation services available. By being both introvert and extrovert, librarians would possess the required capabilities to balance between being thinking professionals and also in offering direct connections between the establishment and the students and other patrons.

Libraries also play a vital role in relation to the dissemination of knowledge to the patrons. Libraries are places where information is stored, managed and to a certain extent, analysed. E-books would be one medium where information can be kept and accessed easily by the public.  

Information on various types of knowledge can be accessed by the public through more efficient data management practices. The availability of an extensive catalogue on all types of knowledge available at the library would facilitate visitors in acquiring the needed knowledge.

Thus, having good data analytics would allow libraries to continue being the focal point in the process of seeking, procuring and even exchanging information and to function more effectively in relation ensuring the availability of such information.

Libraries therefore need to incorporate both effective data management and provision of an efficient service repertoire to its customers to provide added values, which at the same time would benefit the general public.

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Libraries still have the role to play in the future, where it would be more on providing services that promote interactive values between the people and also in ensuring knowledge is widely and equally shared.

Customer relations together with data management and analytics are areas in which libraries can continue to provide added values in serving their patrons effectively and efficiently in an optimised or 'lean' manner, to ensure the longevity of such establishments in years to come.

Text: Mazlan Hanafi Basharudin & Nur Farrah Ezlin Mohd Suhaimi (MPRC Intern)

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