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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies

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Time for Information Professionals to Lead
Volume 44, Number 6 - November/December 2020

To say that 2020 has been a difficult and challenging year is an understatement. The words “unprecedented,” “changed,” “new normal,” and “uncertain” seem inadequate to describe the turmoil we’ve experienced. We have a raging pandemic, natural disasters, racial unrest, and election uncertainties, with accompanying disinformation, misinformation, and conspiracy theories. What a time to be an information professional!

Since March, we’ve learned how to support (or provide) distance learning at all levels, from our own home schooling to our student constituents. We’ve mastered remote working conditions and re-learned how to attend and present at professional conferences. We’ve moved quickly to meet—and, in many cases, anticipate—the information needs of our communities.

Technology has both helped and hampered these endeavors. It’s great until it fails. Issues with connectivity, software compatibility, power outages, employer restrictions on adding new programs, and misplaced language banning make our information professional lives difficult. A webinar I recently moderated worked fine with Chrome in rehearsal, but for the actual event, only Firefox worked. Librarians at several defense-related companies reported being unable to access an SLA event platform. A colleague couldn’t attend a Zoom meeting because the power company cut electricity in his neighborhood. The platform for a virtual meeting of paleontologists banned the word “bone,” among others, from the Q&A discussion because it was considered naughty.

In the midst of forced digital transformation, libraries are rapidly adjusting and helping others to meet the demands of our new environment. Recognizing the importance of online searching underpins this. The trickle of misinformation and disinformation has turned into a flood that is difficult to ignore or turn off. Too often, it reinforces racist, misogynistic, and anti-science attitudes.

Racism is one menace that information professionals should confront head on. Librarianship is a predominantly white, female profession—with an unfortunate history of not facing up to the stigma of racism. Our information infrastructure has not treated minority groups particularly well. Thus, we need to be hyper vigilant about identifying and eliminating rac ism in our communities, our workplaces, and our online searching behaviors.

It’s clear we will not return to the normal we experienced prior to 2020. Whether we think of a “new normal,” a “next normal,” or something so different it’s “abnormal,” we, as a society, need information—not misinformation or disinformation—to be prepared to thrive in whatever the future brings.

We should continue to espouse the value of finding credible and reliable information. But we need to do more. We need to take our message of the value of good searching skills out side the walls of our libraries and reach those not already predisposed so they can hear our plea. We need to inspire others to join us in supporting diversity, inclusion, and equity and in advocating for access to and understanding of information. We need to become the champions of critical thinking. Be out in front, educate, collaborate, build communities. Don’t let a crisis go to waste. Looking ahead, it’s time for information professionals to lead.

Marydee Ojala is Editor-in-Chief of Online Searcher (the successor journal to ONLINE) and writes its business research column ("The Dollar Sign"). She has contributed feature articles and news stories to Information TodayEContentComputers in LibrariesIntranetsCyberSkeptic's Guide to the InternetBusiness Information Review, and Information Today's NewsBreaks. A long-time observer of the information industry, she speaks frequently at conferences, such as WebSearch University, Internet Librarian, Online Information (London, UK), Internet Librarian International, and national library meetings outside the U.S. She has adjunct faculty status at the School of Library and Information Science at IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis). Her professional career began at BankAmerica Corporation, San Francisco, directing a worldwide program of research and information services. She established her independent information research business in 1987. Her undergraduate degree is from Brown University and her MLS was earned at the University of Pittsburgh.


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