The Changing Information Environment

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The Changing Information Environment

The phrase, "nothing is permanent except change itself" certainly applies when it comes to technology. In the past 10 years, because of changes in technology, expectations about providing and accessing information have changed dramatically. Instead of waiting to receive information from a provider or making a trip to the library, the current assumption is that information will be instantly available through the Internet. Previously, an intermediary such as a librarian may have performed the service of selecting information, but now the user is faced with sifting through and selecting the most relevant material from what frequently is an information glut. Although some individuals are comfortable with and relish the changing information environment, others may be struggling with understanding and managing the changes.

Once change was incremental and meant more of the same, only better. Today, however, we are experiencing discontinuous change in many areas of life. Discontinuous change makes it impossible to predict with any confidence what will happen, so it does not guarantee more of the same (Handy 1991, cited in Edwards and Walton 1998). The movement of information resources from internal library holdings to external, electronically accessible materials represents both an incremental and discontinuous change (Edwards and Walton 1998). The information is still available (i.e., more of the same, only better), but the new information environment places new demands on the information user. These demands make it impossible to predict whether the information sought will be acquired, how useful the information will be, and so forth. Although these same issues may have existed before, a familiar information provider could then be consulted for assistance. Many websites offer contact information for assistance or further information but the quality of this assistance, its timeliness, and so forth are unknown.

Understanding the changes that are occurring in the information environment can help reduce the uncertainty that accompanies change. From the users perspective, some of the uncertainties might be the extent to which they should become dependent on technology for information, the changes in their roles related to accessing and selecting information, and possible feelings of inadequacy related to understanding and keeping up with the technology. Rather than reacting negatively, individuals can adopt a perspective that changes are ultimately productive and beneficial. Adopting this perspective can help in gaining a sense of control over the changes, especially the rate at which electronic systems change and the fact "that some aspects of the new electronic environment are paradoxical" (ibid.

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