ROLE OF COMPUTERS
As you are aware, the introduction of computers in the libraries has brought about sea-change in the various services provided by modern libraries. The use of computers has also tremendously enhanced the image of the reference service of the libraries. Presently, computer has been taken for granted as an important component of reference work. Computer searching has now become an essential part of reference work in most of the large libraries.
The use of information technology can be envisaged as a two-way process, the organization of internal information sources in any electronic format and an external tool to access information sources in any format. This helps in forming a basis for
future resource sharing and helps in skillful processing, analysis and supply of information so as to effectively use the valuable resources. The reference environment is affected by the growth of information technology. The various areas influenced are listed below:
a) Electronic Dictionaries
Several language dictionaries have been made available in CD-ROM (Compact Disc Read Only Memory) format which have made searches very easy and much more user-friendly. A dictionary in CD-ROM can combine text, images and sound in one
package and make cross - referencing a very simple process. Example: Encyclopedia Britannica.
b) Online Databases
Source and reference databases have been at the forefront of the electronic publishing industry and will continue to be there in the years to come. They can be incorporated in the library in CD-ROM format or by direct contact through a gateway with the host system itself. This is a major area of interest for the organisations which lack secondary and tertiary information sources. This is a major area of interest in our libraries for information professionals and these developments pose many challenges for providing reference services. In this field organizing compatible indexing, abstracting and indexing terms bank for multilingual information materials is essential so that more number of users can benefit from this type of materials.
Some very popular databases that can be searched online are:
Online Computer Library Centre (OCLC) etc.
c) Teletex and Videotext Systems
Libraries in the developed countries offer reference services using the broadcast teletex systems like the ORACLE and CEEFAX, covering a variety of topics such as news, advertisements, teleshopping and entertainment. Private cable television
companies can also access these systems by dialing the required codes.
Videotext services, such as the one known as PRESTEL, produced in the Great Britain by the Post Office uses the telephone network, as the access mechanism and a television set as the terminal. Systems like Prestel can also be set up in libraries to
provide information access. These types of services, if constantly updated, can constitute excellent information retrieval sources which can be an asset for any library's reference department.
d) Online Catalogues
The Online Public Access Catalogues (OPAC) supplement the existing card catalogues and can be consulted for comprehensive searches. Here the users have the choice for searching materials available in more than one place. Most of the OPACs are very user-friendly and are helpful to naive users who have no idea about searching materials in the libraries. The user after having access to these catalogues usually become self sufficient and seldom require the services or help of the reference staff while using libraries or accessing information.
The developments in information technology are greatly affecting reference services in libraries of several countries. But what is more significant is that incorporation of information technology in libraries and especially in reference environment raises other issues, like, the existence of telecommunications infrastructure, technical support for equipment maintenance and review of library science courses so that the professional can be ready to meet the new challenges. It is time now for the information professionals of our country to put into practice the techniques of reference work. And technology provides us with a powerful search and display device which will only be effective in the presence of a sound theoretical and practical knowledge of the professionals involved in the task