The Digital Shift

May 18th, 2011

In March 2011 we conducted a national survey of public and academic librarians to gather their thoughts on the Government of Canada’s gradual movement away from publishing printed documents and towards electronic dissemination of information.

Called “The Digital Shift: Librarians and Public Access to Government Information”, the survey was geared towards answering the following research questions:

We invited librarians to respond to an online questionnaire via notices posted to public and academic library listservs. We also sent e-mails to heads and directors of libraries inviting their participation.

We received 113 completed questionnaires, although not all participants responded to every question. Respondents were a mixture of library administration and staff, with approximately 15% explicitly working with government documents in some fashion. Age was fairly evenly distributed; 45% of respondents are 45-years-old or younger, and 52% are older than 45 years. Library experience was also evenly distributed, with exactly 50% of respondents having more than 16 years experience working as a librarian, and 50% having less than 16 years experience. 44% of respondents work in an academic library and 51% work in a public library. Special and government libraries were named as places of employment by some of the respondents who work outside public and academic libraries. Western provinces were overrepresented in our survey, with 46% of respondents currently working in the Western region of Canada. 22% work in the Central region, 26% in the Eastern region, and only 4% indicated they work in the Northern region of Canada.

In order to gain a sense of the key issues surrounding electronic government information, we asked respondents to provide their opinions in response to a number of statements:

Respondent opinions in relation to statements about electronic government information

We also asked respondents to tell us in their own words what they see as being the major effects of the ongoing shift from print to electronic government information on access to government information. 90 respondents replied to this question. Among a wide variety of responses, the following broad themes emerged:

The following table indicates how respondents believe the digital shift is affecting use of government information as well as demand for reference services.


Respondent perceptions of patron use of government information and demand for reference assistance.

We asked respondents what initiatives their libraries are undertaking to facilitate the process. Adding records to the catalogue and creating subject guides were cited most frequently, while creating links and promoting electronic government information via the library website were also methods being commonly used (Figure 1). Those who indicated they used other initiatives mentioned traning staff and patrons, using social media such as Twitter to announce new resources, and creating custom search engines.

Initiatives taken in libraries to facilitate patron access to electronic government information

Figure 1


As we were very interested in understanding how the digital shift has impacted librarians, we asked respondents to tell us if and how the ongoing shift from print to electronic government information has affected their professional work. We received 86 responses to this question. While a handful of respondents indicated there has been no change, the majority listed a very wide array of changes in their work as a result of the digital shift.

Some recurring effects mentioned include the following:


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