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photo Bill Mickey
Associate Editor
ONLINE Magazine

For this special issue on

changing roles, we've

selected several areas

where adaptation and the

ability to build up from

traditional roles is critical.

Thrive or Survive

ONLINE, March 2000
Copyright © 2000 Information Today, Inc.


Even the smallest advances in technology can be catalysts for change. Take operating systems, for example. The developers work in a few bug fixes, bump the version up, and suddenly millions of people are faced with at least a day's worth of work installing the upgrade. Apply this to a larger scale and you have entire industries either chasing after or staying ahead of the endless learning curve of certain technologies. I say "certain technologies" because not all new technology affects everyone. But, once you commit to it, you stay with the development process or fall behind.

As a common technology races ahead, popular opinion and discussion within an industry that relies on it runs alongside on an invisible wavelength of collective and continual examination of where it fits in the big picture. Every once and a while there's a spike--maybe you've noticed it--a sudden proliferation of articles, mailing list discussions, and trade show buzz about how patterns in technological development have affected product availability, pricing, customer service, and a host of other things, especially career status.

Technology has always inspired change and adaptation in the information industry. And over the last 10 to 15 years, the Internet and its adjuncts, intranets and extranets, have had an incredible impact on information professionals, the products they use, their work environment, and their formal education. "Yeah, so what else is new," you say. Fair enough. But it's the spike in the wavelength we're interested in here. This is where discussion and analysis meet, where folks are inspired on a large scale, and it's a can't-miss opportunity to tap that spike and record the collective wisdom. Indeed, it's a trade publication's responsibility.

So, for this special issue on changing roles, we've selected several areas in the information industry where adaptation and the ability to build up from traditional roles is critical: info pros, vendors, resource centers, and education. More often than not, these adaptive roles develop from a willingness or need to branch out to areas created by technological progress.


Info pros are faced with the sobering, but exhilarating, prospect of evangelizing their contributions and fighting to remain the intermediary between their organization and vendors who, despite lip service to the contrary, are salivating over the end-user population. Mick O'Leary, in "New Roles Come of Age," p. 20, interviews nine leading librarians and deduces that ...it will never be sufficient to define 'new roles' as specific technical or administrative skill sets...'new roles' must be understood as attitudes, aptitudes, and approaches, as a set of capabilities that can be quickly and effectively applied to whatever new need or opportunity arises." Yet we must still pay attention to those skill sets, which, when expanded, can lead to continued success. Mary Corcoran, et al., in an Outsell benchmark report excerpted on page 28, examine new and old skills in an attempt to measure where info pros are particularly successful and where they might look outside their traditional roles to achieve greater success.


Vendors, after facing puzzling competition from the Internet and its one-two punch of the "free stuff" bogeyman opposite the very real, very low barrier of access, now find themselves playing catch up. And if that weren't enough, they're predicting shakeouts, and fighting for a grip over a landscape of increasingly empowered and proactive information professionals who can pick apart an aggregator faster than you can say "unified interface". Take a peek into today's vendor strategies in Thomas Pack's article, "The Changing Roles of the Information Vendor," p. 36, where "in the end-user market segment and many others, traditional vendors are facing new categories of competition."


Schools have long recognized the potential technology and the Internet have opened up for students and have adjusted their curricula accordingly. Even the names of the schools have changed--School of Information Sciences, School of Information Studies, etc.--which reflect a deemphasis on "library" and an emphasis on a wider category of professions ("Curriculum Changes in LIS: I Never Learned about That in Library School," by Carol Tenopir, p. 42). Whether the new directions in library education ignore or contribute to the traditional librarian functions--some have said that we need an old-fashioned librarian revival--may be a moot point. New hires straight out of library school frequently still need extensive training before they're truly up to speed. Keeping up in this field is a classic case of adult continuing education.


For physical libraries, change in collections and service has always been a constant. The challenge exists, according to Walt Crawford in "Principled Libraries:Finding Stability in Changing Times," p. 48, in providing a stable environment where change is effectively managed. It's important not to let technological change define the library. Libraries and librarians are in a position to pick the right technology for the appropriate job. "As librarians╔your job is to recognize that technology offers tools, that those tools interact in complex ways, and that tools aren't ends in themselves."

Regardless of the market segment--libraries, schools, librarians, or vendors--the message boils down to the same fundamental rules for survival and success. Pay attention to the changes, stay flexible, and be proactive about the role you play in the information environment.

This issue was inspired by the constant industry buzz that accompanies technological change. We encourage you to continue the discussion and invite you to voice your opinions and concerns in the Letters department of this magazine. Changing roles in the information industry is a massive topic, and we've only covered certain points in this special issue. We'd love to hear other perspectives.

Letters to the Editor should be sent via email to editor@infotoday.com.

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