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Interactive interfacing intermediaries - the role of librarians in IMM?

John Frylinck, Public Services Librarian
Paul Katris, Graduate Assistant
Curtin University of Technology, Perth


This paper consists of three parts, and moves from the general to the specific.

Firstly, there is an overview of the real and potential role librarians and libraries can play in the interactive multimedia arena.

Secondly, we report on a recent survey of the Australian tertiary library community, canvassing their views, opinions on and plans for the introduction of IMM in their institutions.

Thirdly, we cover a research project at Curtin University of Technology Library, dealing with end user expectations, experience of and satisfaction with the extensive CD-ROM network installed in this library.

Part I: Role of librarians and libraries in IMM

Librarians and libraries are in the business of acquiring information and organising this information for use by their clients. Librarians are adept at helping clients find their way through the morass of information sources now available. The format in which this information is packaged is irrelevant. Consequently, the multimedia idea has been a reality in libraries for many years. We have happily housed a variety of materials ranging from maps to film loops, slides, film, microform, microfiche, audio tapes and the now ubiquitous video m its various formats. Information and entertainment contained in these widely differing media have been accepted into the mainstream of library activities. Librarians have worked out innovative methods of housing, indexing and making these materials available for use. Within our profession there is a substantial subgroup which specialises in so called "non-book" librarianship. These groups organise regular meetings, seminars and so forth and have built up a substantial corpus of knowledge through research and publication in newsletters and journals devoted to audio visual librarianship.

Vanguard of information technology

In the information technology (IT) arena librarians have also proven themselves as enthusiastic early acceptors of technologies that can help them in providing information to their clients more effectively. Thus, librarians have been involved with networking, communications, document imaging, the electronic transfer of information and so forth from their inception. We worked our way fairly competently through microform technologies, the computerisation of internal library functions and the now widely available Online Public Access Catalogues (OPACS).


An IT field in which librarians led the way, which is closely related to the IMM revolution, is the field of Compact Disk - Read Only Memory (CD-ROM). The uptake of this optical disk technology by libraries can only be described as phenomenal. Our library, for example, installed its first CD-ROM in 1987, a few months after the product was released. Four years later we have an integrated CD-ROM network running with 21 CD-ROMs instantly accessible and many more on standalone applications. We have plans to double the network this year. The enthusiastic embracement of CD-ROM technology by librarians has been a world wide occurrence which shows no signs of abating. We have held a variety of seminars, workshops and even conferences on this theme and several professional journals are devoted entirely to the theme of CD-ROMs in libraries.

Infrastructure exists

These developments are significant as we see distinct similarities between the eager uptake of CD- ROM technology by librarians and that of IMM. Many libraries already have substantial elements of the hardware required to successfully run IMM products. The IMM products that are going to succeed in the library marketplace will probably be those that can run on existing equipment or on equipment which needs little enhancement. We see little hope for products requiring dedicated hardware.

Libraries have shown that they are able to house successfully a large variety of information products and make information sources such as IMM available for use. The infrastructure to provide training and support for these products also exists. Librarians have built up expertise to act as highly successful intermediaries in introducing new technologies to their clients and helping them in making the best use of these technologies.

Logical home for IMM

Given the background sketched above, we would argue strongly that libraries, be they public, special, or educational, offer the logical home for both the software and the hardware associated with IMM. Many sound reasons support this. Let's take universities as an example. The following are some of the characteristics that make university libraries desirable settings for A further point favouring libraries as the setting for IMM is that for many years we have run our operations on the equitable basis of free access to information. Although IT has much going for it, one well known danger is the creation on the one hand of a class of information rich, with access to the expensive hardware and software normally associated with IT, and on the other hand, the not so fortunate information poor. Some big ticket IMM items may even be too expensive for the information rich. We have had the experience with some videos, for example, which cost $1000 and up. There will also be a fairly large percentage of consumers who do not require daily access to IMM. The logical source towards which these occasional users of the technology will turn to obtain access is libraries.

Role in the marketplace

We believe that libraries will be a major consumer of certain IMM products, particularly the more expensive applications that are beyond the reach of individuals. At present the IMM market seems to be split into a few segments, such as home entertainment, education and training, information/reference products. The last two categories clearly fall into the traditional area of interest for many libraries, while the provision of non-book entertainment packages by progressive public libraries is nothing new.

Applications spanning teaching as well as providing information, such as interactive encyclopedias, will prove particularly successful in the library marketplace. Librarians have shown that, as a consumer group, they are fairly astute at conveying their needs to the producers of CD-ROM applications. These needs cover both the content of the products being offered and the level at which they are priced.


A reason for the rapid acceptance of Compact Disks, both in the audio format and in the ROM format (which rode on the back of CD Audio), was early agreement by manufacturers on one standard. One assumes they learnt a hard lesson from the video standard wars. Unfortunately history seems to be repeating itself with IMM and we are faced with a variety of standards and formats as you are all aware. (For example, optical videodiscs, digital video interactive, compact video disk, compact disk-interactive, Commodore Dynamic Total Vision, CD-ROM and varying multimedia platforms such as Amiga, NeXT, Apple and IBM. There are also several standards aimed at specific multimedia and related areas, such as archiving still pictures, telecommunications and television broadcasting).

Astute information professionals (and astute consumers for that matter) should tread warily in the IMM marketplace until the inevitable shake out occurs. Librarians, we feel, are unlikely to spend heavily in this area until a substantial degree of compatibility emerges, both in IMM product formats and in the requisite hardware.

Library applications

Most librarians provide some sort of guidance for their clients on the services they provide and on the physical layout of their establishment. This includes information brochures, guided tours, formal tutorials, computer based information terminals and the like.

With the introduction of Hypercard a few years ago, librarians used this to complement their existing methods of introducing libraries to clients. IMM offers obvious advantages over Hypercard for this purpose and at Curtin we are working on producing an interactive Mac based introduction to the library with all the bells and whistles associated with this technology. We hope to incorporate realistic interactive tutorials and scenarios that explain our services and provide an armchair guided tour of our facilities. The medium also has countless possibilities for producing materials that can increase the efficiency, enjoyment and speed with which library users can assimilate information on our services and products.

Libraries with large collections of pictorial matter (slides, maps, drawings, photographs etc.), which are notoriously difficult to control, will also benefit from developing IMM and imaging technologies. By transferring these information sources to optical disks many of these problems can be solved. Preservation of fragile material, in print form or on film and videos, is also feasible. Value can also be added by providing interactive pathways and links through the resultant information maze. Libraries have a fine record of inter-library cooperation and subsequent electronic transfer of material of this nature between libraries and to clients will also be possible.

Part II: Acceptance, awareness, attitudes

When we introduce some IMM products to our library service at Curtin we will begin surveying end user reactions to these products. Further research on the acceptance of the technology by Australian tertiary libraries will be undertaken towards the end of the year. A project covering acceptance of and attitudes towards IMM by the wider Australian information community will also be useful to local planners, manufacturers and suppliers dealing in IMM.

Meanwhile, we can report on the existing attitudes of some Australian tertiary libraries to IMM and the next section is devoted to this.

The Committee of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) has a mechanism of round robin correspondence to survey opinions of its members on a variety of topics. Towards the end of October we used this method to circulate a survey titled Interactive multimedia in academic libraries to the 34 members of CAUL. We received 17 responses. The survey consisted of seven questions. We will look at summarised responses to each question in turn and do not intend revealing the identities of the respondents.

Q 1. What future role (if any) do you see your library playing in the IMM field? (e.g. developing products, acquisition and storage).

Responses ranged from those who pleaded ignorance of the evil, such as "... University Library is almost entirely innocent of Interactive Multimedia at this stage. Our users are still hooked on CD-ROM", to the other end of the scale: "We see the Library playing a central role in providing access to this new publishing and learning medium."

Most respondents regarded IMM as just another information, teaching, learning and research medium to be acquired, housed and made available for use. The development of products was given lower priority, but not entirely discounted. Some foresaw the possibility of using IMM for reader education and library staff development and training.

Perhaps the ideal answer sketching the role of University Libraries was:

"Acquire materials; equipment and manage facilities for widespread access; maintain relations with producers, suppliers, educational technology and academic staff to maintain knowledge of developments; cooperate in authoring products and evaluating them."
Some libraries have established IT working groups which are evaluating a range of issues, including IMM.

Multimedia also featured prominently in certain university IT Plans and in some library strategic plans.

Plans to establish multimedia learning laboratories in libraries were also mentioned.

Q 2. Do you plan to introduce IMM equipment and products (for user access) in your library? If NO, please explain why.

We received only one definite negative answer: "I don't know. The culture of the University is against its rapid development, at least on a broad scale. I suspect that most developments will be departmentally based."

Other respondents were considering their positions, most had plans to acquire IMM products or already had them in stock. One indicated that IMM equipment and products "Have been part of library stock for some years".

Q 2.1 What sort of products do you plan/expect to acquire? (e.g. interactive tutorials, encyclopedias)

The general answer here was along the lines of '"Titles which support the teaching and research needs of the university" while one respondent, obviously realising the potential of IMM, answered: "Our expectations are unlimited". Most had plans to acquire the materials quoted in the questionnaire. In addition, "other reference tools, hypermedia, examination/assessment modules and vade-mecum materials " were mentioned as potential acquisitions.

Understandably, a preference was expressed for IMM products that were at the appropriate level for a tertiary audience.

Titles quoted as in stock, or that have been ordered, include: Cell Biology, Advanced Matto Workshop, Now You're Talking, Finance for Non-financial Managers, Antiquities in the Louvre, Multimedia Birds of America, Chateaux on the Loire, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on CD-ROM, De Italia, Aussie Barbie, and the Comsell interactive video based training packages.

Q 2.2 How much do you plan to budget per annum for IMM?

Not many respondents were specific, generally saying expenditure comes from the normal acquisitions vote according to need and not according to the type of media being purchased.

Those who were specific mentioned amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 initially.

Q 2.3 How many workstations do you plan to install initially?

Of the ten respondents quoting figures, the average number of initial IMM workstations to be installed was just more than 6 per library. (It's important to note that this question only referred to user access to IMM and would exclude figures for large scale IMM laboratories that may be housed in the library).

Some respondents indicated that they intended upgrading their existing CD-ROM workstations to handle IMM products.

Q 3. When will IMM facilities be available for use by your clients?

Responses ranged from now to 1993.

Q 4. Where will the IMM facilities be housed? (e.g., part of Audio-Visual Section, Electronic Publications Centre)

Eight favoured the Audio-Visual section, two the Electronic Publications Centre (or similar) and two were unsure.

Q 5. Who will be directly responsible for this service? (e.g., AV Librarian, Reference Librarian)

Six favoured the audio-visual librarian, three the reference librarian and two "other".

Q 6. Why are you introducing/considering IMM for you library?

Most saw it as a natural extension of their services and answers like "It is our function", "To improve our level of service" and "To improve access to recorded knowledge" reflect this belief.

Another common theme was that "The library has always acquired appropriate and relevant technologies to meet the needs of its clientele."

Enthusiasts spoke of IMM as "an excellent teaching/training/learning resource which can present materials in unique ways." Pragmatists, on the other hand, pointed out that "It is also relatively easy to get special funding for it".

Q 7. Is there a close relationship between the library and other support services (eg., computing service, educational media service) on campus in the area of IMM and, if so, what is the nature of this relationship?

Encouragingly, twelve said yes and one "not yet". We interpret the latter as "not yet in the area of IMM".

Several institutions reported that these three support services formed part of the same administrative unit on campus.

Q 8. Any other comments?

These were wide ranging. A few positive examples:
"There is enormous potential for enhancing the productivity of academic staff through the use of multimedia."

"We are currently awaiting the result of a submission for DEET (Department of Employment, Education and Training) funding to set up a multimedia development facility in the library."

"There is a need for DEET to provide something like the Computers in Teaching Initiative launched in the UK in 1984 to provide funding for specific applications in designated subject areas."

A few negative examples:
"The major problems at present are the fragmented nature of the initiatives taking place, the need for multimedia's importance to be recognised by senior administrators and the cost of multimedia workstations."

"...development will be slow while the major platforms for multimedia remain in flux, workstations are fairly expensive and support by suppliers marginal."

We feel the survey shows that many Australian tertiary libraries are aware of IMM developments and have a positive attitude towards IMM. They are willing and able to participate in the IMM revolution when it happens. Meanwhile, plans are being made to introduce this new IT on a selective basis as appropriate products emerge and where needs for IMM are identified. Some early acceptors have already taken the plunge and many will follow this year. By 1993 there is little doubt that something completely different will be rearing its head to keep information professionals occupied.

Part III: CD-ROM survey

During the months of October and November 1991 an attitude survey was distributed around the CD-ROM network at Curtin University of Technology Library. The aim of the survey was to discover how much and what help, if any, is needed by our clients to get the best out of CD-ROM. The ultimate goal was to feed back findings into the reader education program design initiatives and to assist librarians to provide improved information services. The CD-ROM network consisted of 10 work stations from which users were able to access any one of 10 databases relevant to the teaching divisions of the university.

Two hundred and seven questionnaires were completed by students and used in the analysis. Most of the respondents (42%) were from the Division of Business and Administration, which corresponded highly with the result of 50% of the sample using ABI/INFORM (a business related database) when completing the questionnaire.


Users of the CD-ROM network were asked questions concerning satisfaction with CD-ROM. 86% of students said that CD-ROM saved them time and 73% found it easy to use. 82% felt that their CD-ROM search produced useful references and 81 % were satisfied with their search technique. These overwhelmingly positive responses towards CD-ROM technology are comparable to other similar studies [Miller, (1987); Halperin and Pagell, (1986); Schultz and Salomon, (1990)]. It clearly appears that students are embracing the new technologies with enthusiasm, primarily because of the great reduction in time to receive relevant information when compared to using printed paper indexes.


Users were asked specific questions relating to particular assistance required by them to complete effective searches. Of the 207 respondents 140 (67%) used help screens at some stage and 109 (78%) users of the sub group found them helpful to some extent. Help sheets prepared by information services librarians are available for user consultation next to each terminal and were consulted by 135 (65%) of the user sample and of them 97 (72%) reported that they were helpful.

Students also rely on friends for assistance in using the CD-ROM, 43% (92) of the sample obtained some help from peers and of these, 75% (69) found this assistance of some help.

Help from librarians

In response to the question: "How useful was assistance from a librarian?" 109 (53%) reported that they consulted a librarian at some stage of their search and of those 97 (89%) said they found this advice helpful. Users were asked what specific assistance from a librarian was required. Responses here varied greatly. Sixteen users needed the absolute basic help to get started using the network, since they were first time users. Another 17 required assistance from a librarian with functions such as downloading information onto disk, saving search results or instruction on how to print information. Technical assistance such as "hung" keyboards and screens, the need for rebooting the system, temporary faults and printer servicing, etc, was required by 18 users. A further 18 users needed advice, from a librarian specifically related to their search technique. For example, how to narrow their search results, what are the most appropriate key words, Boolean searches and when to use author, title or subject searches.

In response to the question: "Did you know how to reduce the number of references?" 20% of the sample said no. Interestingly another 20% reported that their search resulted in more than 200 references, typical comments from this group follow:

It is clear from the above results that some form of user education, to assist at least 20-30% of the users completing the questionnaire, would be warranted. However it is difficult to speculate since the survey has found that some students are quite happy to find 4 or 5 "good" articles to help them complete their assignments for the semester while postgraduate research students, who are computer literate and have access to a PC at home, are more likely to download huge sets for later reference.

Another research question posed in this study was that if students had reported that they would like assistance before using CD-ROM again, exactly what should this be? The majority of comments made here were related with assistance to improve general search strategies, Boolean logic and the use of the Thesaurus. Typical comments follow:

Effect on information desk

The introduction of the CD-ROM network has had a marked effect upon services provided by librarians at the information desk. The survey has highlighted many types of requests made by users. However, it is also interesting to consider the volume of CD-ROM related inquiries made at the information desk compared with the total number of reference questions. For the months the survey was conducted the mean total number of reference queries was 3793 while the mean number of CD-ROM inquiries was 973. This represented 26% of reference inquiries. Consequently, staff working in this area allocate time to practice and familiarise themselves with a variety of rapidly developing electronic information services.

Software for the user interfaces, together with context sensitive help screens and tutorials, are supposed to be interactive and require little or no mediation. However in reality it does. It is the role of the librarian to act as the intermediary between the user and the CD-ROM information technology.

Affective responses

Some items were included in the survey to find out affective responses of users. The survey revealed that 15% of users reported they were anxious, 16% experienced stress and 34% felt frustrated while using the CD-ROM. A further 21% did not feel confident, 22% did not feel relaxed and 18% did not feel in control using the CD-ROM. Regarding the theory of locus of control the assumption is that individuals who perceive that they are internally controlled are more likely to be less anxious, relaxed, confident and tend to learn how to use the new technologies significantly quicker. In the present study, in all but the last factor (which was not the purpose of this study), this was certainly the case.

The above information will prove useful in the design and presentation of user instruction workshops, whether in a formal one hour classroom setting of 20 students or in small group fifteen minute introductory sessions with groups of five students at a time. Course integrated CD-ROM instruction may be an option for tertiary library and academic staff. Computer mediated instruction could also be used by tailoring and fixing the goals of the program to the specific needs of the group in order to provide an interactive mode of learning for the user. Librarians could design interactive tools to help students using CD-ROM to create and organise a research topic and effectively locate relevant and timely information.

References and sources consulted

Halbert, M. (1990). Multimedia: The agony and the ecstasy for information professionals. CD-ROM Professional, September 1990, 6-9.

Halperin, M. and Pagell, R. A. (1986). Compact disclosure: Realising CD-ROM's potential. Online, November, 69-73.

Miller, T. (1987). Early user reaction to CD-ROM and video based optical information products in the library market. Optical Information Systems, May/June, 205-209.

Nelson, N. M. (1990). CD-ROM in the 80s: Multi-Media for the 90s. Information Today, May 1990, 29-32.

Oberhauser, O. C. (1991). Interactive multimedia in library and information services. Audiovisual Librarian, 17(1), 16-25.

Raitt, D. (1989). The electronic library manager's guide to interactive multimedia systems. The Electronic Library, 7(5), October, 274-277.

Schultz, K and Saloman, K (1990). End users respond to CD-ROM. Library Journal, Feb, 56-57.

Please cite as: Frylinck, J. and Katris, P. (1992). Interactive interfacing intermediaries - the role of librarians in IMM? In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 439-447. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/frylinck.html

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