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Information Professionals as Technologists
by Marydee Ojala, Editor
Say to the general public that librarians are the technologists of the present and the future, and you're likely to be greeted with derision. Say the same thing to a group of information professionals, and they'll nod their heads. When I speak to school groups and tell them that the magazine I edit is in its 26th year of publication, the children gasp. They can't imagine an online world without the Internet, and they know that the World Wide Web isn't 26 years old. Actually, they can't imagine a world that's not online—and online equates to the Internet, which in turn equates to the Web. This is true whether they're using the Web to research a school project, play games, or chat with friends.

The visionaries of our online past, people like Dialog's Roger Summit, Orbit's Carlos Cuadra, ISI's Eugene Garfield, and Online Inc.'s Jeff Pemberton, perceived the power of the computer to streamline the library research process while introducing new knowledge-creating techniques previously impossible. Technology became the touchstone of modern progressive information professionals.

The technologies we now use are an outgrowth of early, computerized information retrieval programs. However, if we are to truly be the technologies of the present and future, we need to have many technologies in our toolkit. It's not just the Web: It's data files, traditional online databases, chat groups, even books and the telephone. To believe that all research can be accomplished via free Web sites is to diminish the quality of that research and to walk away from the professionalism that we proclaim. To say that we know the answer is in a fee-based service to which we don't subscribe and can't or won't access is to relinquish any hope of being taken seriously. To think that if the answer isn't in our computerized archives, it doesn't exist is to live in a fantasy world.

Technology by itself is just one tool for information professionals. What we bring to the table beyond technology is a focus on people. Technology can answer many questions, but if they're not the questions people are asking and if the answer isn't presented in a fashion that people can use, the process results in failure.

I've noticed that attendees at Web Search University, InfoToday 2002, Internet Librarian, and other library meetings flock to listen to search engine experts. They want to learn the intricacies of how the engines work, the size of their databases, the freshness of the information, and the new bells and whistles. Highly appropriate behavior for the technologists of the present and future, I suppose. I think, however, that there's more to the information professional's world than Web search engines. There's subject expertise, the ability to interpret retrieved information, the understanding of people's information needs, and the skills to deliver answers appropriately for the given situation. It's the combination of people and technological knowledge that will further our success as technologists.

Marydee OjalaMarydee Ojala ( is editor of ONLINE

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