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|VOLUME 26 • NUMBER 6 • November/December 2002|
THE HOMEPAGE •
Rediscovering New Skills and Changed Roles
by Marydee Ojala, Editor
I think I read my first article about the changing roles of librarians before I even was a librarian. My first Special Libraries Association conference, while I was still in library school at the University of Pittsburgh, exposed me to one session on how microforms would change our lives. I recall walking out somewhat traumatized, since half the talk was unintelligible to me, consisting of acronyms and technical terms I'd never encountered. Come to think of it, I haven't encountered them since, and microforms have not changed my life. Online, on the other hand, has.
That conference was also where I experienced independent information research firsthand. The professor for my Scientific Literature class, who also did freelance research, had a client asking for some environmental/chemical information. She hired me to do part of the work. I went to every likely booth in the exhibit hall with my question, asking if their online database could answer it. I learned a tremendous amount about scope of databases and searching limitations. These were the days of print terminals, so I walked away with scrolls of teletype-like paper with search results. Back at school, we compared what I'd found with what she'd found, analyzed the data, and wrote a research report. Sound familiar? Sound like what we're always being urged to do? Analyze and summarize research results? Write an executive summary? That was the mid-1970s.
The entrepreneurial spirit, the desire to go beyond merely looking up information, the sheer gall of approaching unknown people and topics, a sense of wonder, and the overriding urge to get to the bottom of a topic shaped my professional life. I trust that today's students are gaining the same attitudes, skills, and passion.
I hope students don't become too wrapped up in finding the one proper way to do things, that they don't forget traditional values while learning new skills, that knowing technology doesn't become a substitute for common sense. It's humbling to acknowledge that online isn't wholly owned by information professionals. You don't need a library degree to be an expert searcher. Conversely, possession of a library science degree doesn't guarantee you're an expert searcher. The character of library research is changing. Everyone with access to a computer considers themselves online researchers. Subject experts may even have better bookmark lists than their librarians.
The changes urged on us may not be all that radical. Many are but an extension of our existing skills and knowledge. Stay current with search engines, data sources, information technologies, and pricing. Don't confuse value with cost. Skipping a $500 source while researching a million-dollar project makes no long-term sense. Capitalize on your strengths in critical thinking, analysis, categorization, and management. Apply both newly learned and traditionally acquired information skills wherever you end up, whether it's called content management, knowledge management, taxonomy creation, or information literacy. Strive for collegiality in your workplace, but don't' shrink from assertiveness. Grab hold of tools, techniques, and technologies that will change your professional life for the better.
Marydee Ojala (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of ONLINE.
Comments? Email letters to the editor to email@example.com.