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Magazines > ONLINE > March/April 2011
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Online Magazine

Vol. 35 No. 2 — Mar/Apr 2011

The New Normal for Online Research
By Marydee Ojala
Editor • ONLINE

Reading and hearing people talk about the era of “new normal” that we’re entering makes me wonder what it means for online research. When I first encountered the phrase, I thought it a euphemism for drastic cuts in library and information services, possibly even their elimination. Government actions, particularly in the U.K., with its suggestions that libraries be staffed by volunteers or closed completely, did nothing to dispel my assumptions.

However, upon investigation, I’ve concluded that the new normal isn’t just about austere budgets or the old chestnut of “doing more with less”—it’s also about new technologies. The new normal is having library patrons, users, customers, and clients who know as much (or more) about technology than information professionals, who may be constrained by their employers’ policies regarding downloading programs, upgrading existing software, and acquiring the latest gadgets. The new normal is about partnerships and transparency, new ways to develop and disseminate knowledge, the increasing importance of communication skills, and opening up access to information, data, and knowledge.

The new normal is a time to rethink and revitalize our libraries, information departments, and organizations. Enterprises that are reliant upon government funding will need to find some type of alternative funding. Within profit-making institutions, proving the value of our services will become more critical. The very nature of data is changing—information professionals need to be on top not only of where the data is but also of how to manipulate data effectively to create new knowledge.

Information professionals are amazingly proficient at revolutionizing their work environments, at understanding and using new technologies, at bringing creative thinking to problem solving, at creating order out of chaos, and at demonstrating their value. This needs to continue in the new normal era, but I’ve also seen a reaction against the changes implicit in new normal. Change is stressful, and the challenges presented are formidable. Confronted with new platforms, alternative means of arriving at research materials, contract restrictions grounded at a pre-new-normal stage, and the sheer ubiquity of information, we are tempted to throw up our hands, particularly when even graduate students in library science prefer to “just Google it.”

Characteristic of the new normal for online is a lack of knowledge (or caring) about formats and an emphasis on the personal and the collaborative. Information professionals can either blame users for their lack of understanding (not a recommended route) or work with them to open their minds to the wider world of online research. At the same time, we need to open our minds to new technologies, not accepting them at face value but rigorously examining them both for potential usefulness and fatal flaws.

Will information professionals be the royalty of the new normal? Will our innovative abilities equal those of web search engine innovation laboratories? We need to embrace the new normal and take advantage of new technologies to flourish as information professionals. The new normal isn’t about survival; it’s about transformation and creative approaches to data, information, and knowledge.

Marydee Ojala is the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to

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