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Magazines > Searcher > July / August 2003
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Vol. 11 No. 7 — July/August 2003
SEARCHER'S VOICE
IPI? Yippee!
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

A year ago, Searcher magazine ran a special issue on "The Third Millennium Information Professional: Tasks, Tools, Triumphs." We are still rather proud of that issue. (To scan and read several major articles from that issue, go to http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/jul02.) But a year later, the issues of challenges to the library and information professions continue. In fact, by the time you read this editorial, one of the major associations serving our profession — the Special Libraries Association — may have changed its name to Information Professionals International.

That same association — a rose by any name — commissioned me to conduct a virtual Web seminar on May 21st as part of its professional development program. It certainly enhanced my personal professional development. I had managed to live a very happy and productive life without ever using Microsoft's PowerPoint, but no longer. For an essentially adlib speaker to have to submit their thoughts in advance ("How do I know what I think until I've heard what I have to say?") and package them in regimented, 1-minute-one-slide order is torture. In fact, I now refer to PowerPoint as The Borg software, since it — like Star Trek's nemesis species — attempts to convert living intelligence into canned cells. On the other hand, I think the session went rather well. Listener sites extended from British Columbia to Brazil ("bq: queen of the Western Hemisphere??").

As usual, my topic tended to wander — in this case, it became musings from my life as an information professional. (Notice how I slid in that plug for my own vote as to the association's name change.) After the session, I received several e-mail messages from people struggling with career decisions. One correspondent bluntly asked whether I thought the profession would last 20 years (or was it 10?). The most shocking aspect of this question is that the questioner described her own performance as a special librarian and it was world class — technically sophisticated, client-oriented, aggressively proactive. If people doing it right start to question the profession's future...well...how depressed can you get?!

Bottom line, I continue to see three areas for information professionals in the future: Headset Honchos doing virtual reference in 24/7 settings; Right Hands serving executives and other privileged persons as the ultimate efficiency; and System Leprechauns building content services, then stealing away with the dawn, leaving only happy users as a sign that they were ever there. Oh, yes, I guess there is one more area that will persist in our employment future — Print Protectors, the last bastions of traditional librarianship, even in untraditional settings. The problem is that the public will probably only identify careerists from the fourth category as "real" librarians.

It's not just a matter of name and branding and image or even of simply how others perceive us. It's a matter of our own perceptions of ourselves, our own definitions of our professional identity. Once we have defined ourselves as information professionals, rather than librarians, that opens up opportunities to expand our collegial community to people with different backgrounds from the M.L.S.-only one. We could see Webmasters and "Contentmeisters" expand our collegial community. But how would we distinguish ourselves from IT or "info techies" then?

The Association of Independent Information Professionals has faced many of the same issues over the last few years as its membership has changed and expanded from freelance librarians. Discussions of certification have resurfaced over and over, but, frankly, the very changes in membership characteristics reduce the likelihood of defining practices in the field well enough to permit certifiable standards. On the other hand, one thing has remained firm and clear through all the years — the AIIP Code of Ethical Business Practice [http://www.aiip.org/AboutAIIP/aiipethics.html]. Whatever you're doing, do it right!

And there's something to be said for professional ethics as a defining force in professional development. In the future, the colleagues who inhabit our profession may not share many of the same traits, backgrounds, or even education. Those of us who went through library school may find ourselves doing tasks that don't look much like what we thought we were getting into. The library schools we went to may have changed their names and morphed into information studies centers.

But some things should remain crystal clear, whatever paths our profession takes us. We serve clients. We serve them with truth. We preserve and archive it. We distribute it. We stand between our clients and error. We won't work for fraudulent spammers. We won't design e-commerce services that promise turkeys and deliver chickens. We will produce services that get the maximum value out of the information content, including recipes for roast chicken that will make turkey cooking a thing of the past, but we will not promise what we cannot deliver. You hire us and you hire people who can keep your institutions in business across decades, even centuries. But if you just want to grab the money and run, all we can do for you is supply a list of countries without extradition treaties.

"Know thyself," as ancient Greek philosophers advised. Once we know ourselves, then we can introduce ourselves to others. We must take charge of our future. We must define ourselves and what we intend to do in that future. We certainly cannot let outsiders, the laity — even that portion of the laity that employs us — tell us what we are. Nor can we allow them — even our employers — to confine us into dead-end careers with "Do-Not-Sell-After Dates" already expired. We should not merely hang onto colleagues who have expanded their careers outside traditional settings, we should tell those colleagues to stay on the lookout for more people like us — the right sort, the people who want to do the job right.

Do information professionals have a future? Hell, yes we do! Eat our dust!!

...bq


Barbara Quint's e-mail address is bquint@mindspring.com.
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