Libraries are in peril, with threats coming from reduced resources, competition from clients who think the web is the equivalent of a library, and legal challenges regarding privacy, copyright, and licensing. This doesn’t necessarily equate to the profession being in peril. True, job descriptions are in flux. With rapid changes in technology come new job requirements. Librarians must invest in their professional development—perhaps through MOOCs, conference attendance, or reading about new developments in librarianship, online information, and technology.
Librarians are also finding jobs outside the traditional library building. Information professionals embrace technology to craft new positions as data scientists. Big Data should hold no secrets for the library and information profession as it’s been integral to the world of online searching for decades. Information professionals can take their organizing skills to become taxonomists and their knowledge of search techniques to manage enterprise search projects. They can move from HTML programming to Hadoop with ease. They can leverage their people skills in areas of customer service and customer relations. Understanding social media opens up jobs in marketing. Search engine optimization techniques that make library websites more findable can transfer to websites not connected with an information function.
If information professionals find jobs outside of libraries using their librarian skills, are they still librarians? Are they still information professionals? My hope is that they remain committed to the principles of the profession and consider themselves part of the information and library community, merely working in a different capacity. You can still be a librarian at heart even when you have a different job title and work outside the traditional information structure.
Come to that, just what is a library? When we have librarians embedded within departments, whether in academia or a corporate setting, the individual becomes the library. Research done by an information professional on behalf of someone else is key to staying relevant and visible. Our clients may begin to think in terms of John/Jane Librarian in place of John/Jane Library.
To paraphrase Spock’s comment to Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek, “It’s libraries, Jim, but not as we know them.” (Yes, I realize that’s a transmogrification of the comment, based on the 1987 song by The Firm.) Libraries do not have a monopoly on knowledge, nor can they honestly be advertised as the repository of all needed information. Nor, I hasten to point out, does the internet, even though many people think that all knowledge and needed information resides in electronic form there.
Information outstrips both the internet and libraries. Information is not just exploding, it’s bursting out of every boundary we know. Big Data allows for the repurposing of known data to create new information. Open access encourages the reuse of data. Knowledge continues to be elusive, as it lies in assessing, evaluating, and analyzing information. The process of collecting, curating, and critically thinking about information happens because of human intervention. Let’s call it “librarianing” as we think about repurposing our information professional skills and reusing the knowledge we’ve gained from the library profession.