by Barbara Quint
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
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
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.
information professionals have a future? Hell, yes we do! Eat our dust!!
Barbara Quint's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.