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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

Internet Training in the United States

Prof. Isabel A. Stirling, University of Oregon


Internet training in the United States is a topic too broad to cover in one paper or presentation. The literature on Internet training is not extensive, and what there is focuses for the most part on specific issues in training and development. This paper will attempt to generalize on the basis of similarities that exist in the evol ution of Internet training in the United States.

I would like to explore in this paper evolutionary trends in the development of Internet training in the United States with special attention to the impact on the role of librarians. Any article suc h as this will become outdated almost as quickly as fingers can type on the keyboard. Internet development is taking many avenues, and just keeping up with this development presents a considerable c hallenge to those whose role is to also teach others. The role of librarians in Internet training is predated by the role of librarians as Internet users. As the potential of some of the early uses of the Internet developed electronic mail is a good example a small self selected group of individuals functioned as a vanguard in the exploration of this new medium. At this time there was little or no interest shown by college and university library administrators in the Internet, and not surprisingly, computer equipment was inadequate even if available. In many United States coll ege and university campuses, the impetus for Internet development came from academic computing centers that set about creating campus infrastructures that would eventually result in the rapid evolution of Campus Wide Information Systems (CWIS). These CWIS provided the infra structure that would facilitate early Internet activity. Thus, the Gopher was born, as part of the campus wide information system at the University of Minnesota.

With the development of Gopher, which provided a hierarchical menu driven interface to the Internet, a few more librarians and faculty at colleges and universities became intrigued. Still many libra ry and campus administrators remained skeptical that the Internet was a development worth watching. At this point, when a select group of librarians excited by the prospects of this new medium began exploring the Internet, their lack of technical skills led them to establish a working relationship with those who possessed the technical knowledge, the staff of the campus computing center. Often , while librarians debated the value of the Internet beyond the obvious utility of e mail, the momentum of Internet development and use was already evident in the work of the academic computing cente r. With this momentum, academic computing centers together with some libraries that were a little further ahead, began developing their own Gophers that provided access to the online catalogs, local database information, and other electronic resources created by other institutions. Thus, some of the early Internet pioneers, such as the University of California at Santa Cruz, Rice University, R utgers University, University of Minnesota, Yale University, and the University of Washington, made their marks with unique gopher and Gopher like interfaces to the Internet.

The development of Gophers set off the rivalry and competition that exists among college and university libraries, and university librarianship. Talk at the regional and national meetings where libr arians gathered began to include Gopher discussions. Suddenly librarians (although not all library administrators) started to take notice of the potential of the Internet.

Along with the growing traffic in electronic mail, librarians began to show increasing interest in searching other online library catalogs. The haphazard organization of Gopher menu structures was a matter of concern to some librarians, who attended the Gopher conferences held in Wisconsin and argued persuasively for the involvement of librarians in the development of Internet resources. Indivi duals like Nancy John at the University of Illinois at Chicago were important early actors in this effort, and institutions such as the University of Nevada Reno and McGill University in Canada sought to alleviate the structural problems of Gopher by developing searchable indexes such as Veronica and Archie.

Gopher looked like something that would stay around for awhile; as a consequence, many college and university libraries began deliberations on how they would incorporate the new if somewhat still strange tool into traditional library instruction programs. In many cases, the cooperation between the librarians and the computing center staff became ever more crit ical. On many college and university campuses, it was the computing centers that realized the importance of offering workshops to the campus community, and they began offering workshops on topics su ch as How to get Connected,E mail,Telnet and FTP,Gopher,and so on.

While some academic institutions developed a more or less orderly and progressive approach to incorporating the early Internet training into already existing programs, most schools seemed to be caugh t off guard by the increasing demands on their campuses for this kind of training.

There were many obstacles to the early development of Internet training programs. Perhaps the most important of these obstacles was the lack of personal computer equipment for librarians. Commonly, several librarians (even in reference departments) shared a single computer. Simply gaining access to the equipment for e mail and the rather time consuming electronic discussion groups (bulletin b oards, listservs, etc.) was often difficult. Many librarians do not have computers at home, and even those who did often found it almost impossible to gain reliable dial in access to their campus ne tworks. As library directors and academic computing center directors became more knowledgable about the increasing importance of a good solid campus network system and good modem access, they bega n to recognize the value and need for good training programs that would include their own staff as well as the campus community.

Inevitably, the question developed on many campuses in the United States as to whom should be the Internet trainers: the computing center staff or the library staff. Early discussions provoked some understandably sensitive responses on both sides as perceptions and centers began getting reference questions, such as =ECHow do I search= for a subject on the Library of Congress gopher?=EE and librarians at reference desks began getting an increasing number of phone calls from frustrated online catalog.

The solution for some campuses, with UCLA being a good example, was to start programs for Training the Trainers on Internet use. Often these programs involved collaboration between the Computing Cen ter and the librarians. Special workshops were held to give librarians at least some degree of comfort with this new technology, and a team approach to Gopher training helped provide librarians with skills on both the content and the technical sides of Internet access.

Just as librarians began to feel comfortable with Gopher, along came the next explosion in the Internet World: the World Wide Web. At many institutions, where librarians assumed that Gopher was som ething fairly stable, many new Gopher browsers appeared and were religiously ignored because the technical desire to try new things was still absent. So when graphical Gophers started to appear libr arians were again not likely to be among the first to load Winsock Gopher and other Gophers into their machines. Some simply didn’t have machines capable for higher levels of Gopher access, and some felt that the original Gopher version was all they would ever need. The stereotype of the librarian being quite conservative manifested itself in all too many campuses. While librarians were quick to point out that they were the ones who could spread the Internet word to new users, they were quite content with the plain vanilla gopher. New and more refined Gophers were, more often than not, beyond their skill or interest. While librarians were busy developing their handouts and their Gopher training programs, the graphical browsers to the Web started to appear on the scene. By late 19 94, many librarians found that preparing handouts was a very time consuming task, and even worse they would be outdated after perhaps one use.

By this time, many librarians in academic settings were paying more attention to Internet developments. In actuality, however, staying abreast of developments was not a trivial task. The Internet w as developing so rapidly that the literature could not keep pace. If one waited to read about new developments in a library journal, the developments were often already history. This situation gave non scientists some appreciation of what the science researchers have been saying for a long time: scientific developments are verified and archived by the printed journals. If a researcher were t o wait for the printed journal to give him/her the newest idea to pursue, (s)he would be in bad shape.

Understandably, electronic discussion groups for librarians became a mechanism for keeping current as well as a device for sharing experiences. Discussion groups enabled librarians to stay one step ahead of others on campus in developing effective and efficient training programs. By early 1995, there were over 160 electronic discussion groups on library and information science topics. (9th Rev ision Director of Scholarly Electronic conferences, 1995, Diane K. Kovacs and The Directory Team [diane@kovacs.com]. One of the largest and most useful of these was (and still is) the PACS L discussion group [listserv@uhupvm1.uh.edu bit.listserv.pacs l].

Beginning in the spring of 1994, and certainly bythe fall of 1994, librarians were having to scramble to keep up with the graphical and hypertext aspects of the Internet. Training programs were need ed for many different types of groups. There were librarians who were gearing up to teach the Internet to others; library staff who didn’t want to be left out; and faculty who were still new to the Internet as well as a mish mash of other library users at various levels of Internet expertise. At this time, collaborative frameworks that involved both library and computing groups were being ham mered out. Joint teaching worked fairly well, at least for the Internet basics, so by the fall of 1994, some libraries began to move ahead into more substantial teaching of the Internet by offering courses for credit or specialized workshops.

With the evolution of the World Wide Web, graphical browsers to the Web became an integral part of teaching about the Internet. The previously distinct services of the Internet such as electronic ma il, ftp, telnet, and news could now all be done using a single Web browser. The hypertext capability of the World Wide Web and the use of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) was a new (and largely unfa miliar) capability. This development again caught librarians and even the computing centers off guard because the effective use of the Web required a substantial upgrading of machines and connection s. As a transition, a text browser called Lynx was developed (at the University of Kansas) to allow the exploitation of hypertext linking available on the Web without the need to have a high end PC or Mac for image data. But the text only Web is not a very pretty sight.

Browsers such as Mosaic (available in December 1993), with their graphical capability generated an astonishing growth of Web sites, and librarians prepared themselves to teach users about the definit ive Web browser, Mosaic. Indeed, Mosaic had little competition to begin with other than a browser called Cello. So with Mosaic virtually synonymous with the Web, many librarians were quite happy to settle down with an Internet tool so dominant that a modicum of stability seemed assured. Unfortunately and often too late librarians discovered that new versions of an evolving Mosaic quick ly outdated their Internet training materials. Despite the experience with Gopher, librarians were still not attuned to the rapid change of the Internet. With the appearance of the dramatic Web bro wser Netscape in October 1994, librarians by and large were forced to come to grips with the constantly evolving nature of the Internet.

Internet training programs have continued to be an important need on campuses, and many colleges and universities have started to adapt their programs to a new level of technical sophistication. Thi s level is one of learning to build World Wide Web pages in HTML, learning to teach others how to use HTML, and learning how to find resources on the World Wide Web in a more systematic manner. Again, obstacles confront us: the shortage of classrooms on a campus that are hardwired into the campus network; the lack of sufficient numbers of high end computers for classes of normal size; a nd the availability of librarians and computing center staff to teach classes ranging from =ECIntroduction to the Internet to Advanced Web Publishing. Some campuses, such as the University of Oregon , are even preparing courses for credit for the Fall of 1995 called The Contours of Cyberspace, which combines all aspects of the hands on approach with nontechnical topics and issues such as Interne t culture, copyright, security, electronic publishing, the dissolution of time and space, and so on.

Quite unlike the more sedate years of yore, today when librarians involved in bibliographic instruction programs meet at regional, national, and international gatherings, they discuss the problem of how to keep one step ahead; the problem of how to persuade library and campus administrators, in a world of diminished budgets, to invest scarce funding in equipment upgrades that would benefit all; and the problem of how to simply find the time for exploring mushrooming numbers of World Wide Web sites.

Library and campus administrators are also beginning to realize that Internet training issues are of potential interest to communities broader than just the campus community. There are programs to t each elementary and secondary school teachers and students and get them wired. Programs are being developed to teach and connect people in the business community. From small training programs, Inter net training has emerged to become part of the university mission. The content of Web publications is also a hot issue now on many campuses as well as the issue of incorporating Internet technology into classroom instruction.

Building hypertext curriculums, putting special databases online, and building departmental Web servers are all part of the next step. As this paper is written in Spring 1995, (to be presented in la te Summer 1995) I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we have moved along even further by next fall. Forecasting the Internet is risky business.

I find that to give an effective presentation now on virtually any topic that I might have previously done as a Bibliographic Instruction session it simply works better to base the session on a speci ally created Web page. Web pages are a good interactive hands on opportunity for students and are something from which they can do class assignments. This approach strongly suggests that we will be guiding more and more faculty into the hypertext fold of classroom Web pages. We can anticipate that course syllabi, readings, class notes, exams, databases, and a wide range of teaching aids will be placed on campus networks.

Because images are an integral part of Web publishing, we have also added scanners, digital cameras, etc. to our repertoire of Web publishing tools. At the University of Oregon, as at many colleges a nd universities, we find ourselves (with a little surprise on occasion), at the front of a class giving a workshop on how to use a scanner or how to incorporate digital images from a camera into Web pages. Even though the technology is moving along fast, we’ve realized that we cannot plead technical ignorance. Particularly when information content is enveloped in technical issues, it is oftent imes not possible to simply refer such problems to the computing center. Librarians have also found that they cannot easily bluff their way in this unfamiliar world. Bluntly, it takes time lots o f time to explore and gather useful Internet information even with the help of additional gatherers (i.e. software agents that will search through the Internet for subjects) that are our software b ased assistants. In the United States, as in many other countries, information on the World Wide Web has been given a gigantic boost by government and government agencies committed to putting inform ation on the Web. There are excellent Web pages produced by our national libraries (National Agricultural Library, National Library of Medicine, and the Library of Congress). With fine Web pages pl aced on the Internet by many government agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, librarians are finding that teaching the Internet is easier now than before since we can demonstrate any number of Web sites that are rich in information content. Internet training is also beholden to many individuals from all countries who have spent hundreds of hours collecting resources and placing them on to a Web page. We may never meet them, and we may not even have heard of their colleges before, but we are grateful to the individuals who collect and organize discipline specific Internet resources into coherent and pleasing Web page collections. Without their volunteer efforts the Internet would be a technological achievement without an information soul. Content not hardware or software is what drives the Internet.

In summary, Internet training in the United States, as elsewhere in the world, is accelerating at sometimes dizzying speeds. Like a steeplechase, the hurdles are there, and one jumps them as best on e can at these speeds. The hurdles that lie in wait for us include ones called Connectivity, Electronic Journals, New Software, New Computers,More RAM, Local Area Networks, and More Time and Energy. The list goes on. It is important for us involved in a changing profession to reflect on where we are, to let go of what is obsolete with humor rather than reluctance, and to work with colleagues on our campuses to incorporate the best of this new environment into our overall goals.

List of References

Cavalier, Robert. “Making Mosaic Webs Work at the Course Level.” Syllabus,8(6):32 34. 1994.

Alcigno, Kathleen and Tim Green. “Home Page, Sweet Home Page: Creating a Web Presence.” Database. April/May 1995:20 28. 1995.

Langschied, Linda. E Mail and Beyond: Three Tiered Network Training at the Rutgers University Libraries. “Resource Sharing & Information Networks” 9(2):39 59. 1994.

Marchionini, Gary and Hermann Maurer. “The Roles of Digital Libraries in Teaching and Learning.” Communications of the ACM 38(4):67 75. 1995.

Page, Mary and Martin Kesselman. “Teaching the Internet: Challenges and Opportunities.” Research Strategies 12(3):157 167. 1994.

Powell, James. “Spinning the World Wide Web: An HTML Primer.” Database, March 1995:54 59. 1995.

Schiller, Nancy. “Internet Training and Support: Academic Libraries and Computer Centers.” Internet Research 4(2):35 47. 1994.

Tennant, Roy. “Tips & Techniques for Internet Trainers.” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science 20(3):22 24. 1994.

Treloar, Andrew Edward. “Classifying Internet Access Tools: A User Centered Approach.” Resource Sharing & Information Networks 9(2):19 37.1994.

Isabel A. Stirling: stirling@darkwing.uoregon.edu 5/8/95

Martin Kesselman
Rutgers University Library of Science and Medicine
P.O. Box 1029, Bevier Road
Piscataway, New Jersey 08855
Tel: 908/445 3850
Fax: 908/445 3208

Email: kesselman@zodiac.rutgers.edu

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