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yesterday’s librarians, tomorrow’s information professionals – 8 differences

04 Mar

Buffy Hamilton posted a link on Twitter to this nice blog post from the blue skunk blog, examining what yesterdays libraries did, and what tomorrow’s libraries will have to do. I have shamelessly and comprehensively stolen Doug Johnson’s idea and applied it to us as librarians, rather than libraries generally, below.

You can view this however you like, but for my money the best way of doing so is, after you’ve hit Play (the little traingle), press the More button bottom-right, then click Full-Screen; then click the More button again and hit Auto-play – it’ll then present to you rather than you having to press the play button over and over again…

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  • thewikiman March 4, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    PS: I know some people don’t like the lurchy nature of Prezi presentations, so for the easily motion-sick here is basically what I said!

    Yesterday’s librarians were the gate-keepers of information
    Tomorrow’s Information Professionals will be the liberators of information

    Yesterday’s librarians were literary polymaths
    Tomorrow’s Information Professionals will be digital polymaths

    Yesterday’s librarians created a service and offered it to those who wanted it
    Tomorrow’s Information Professionals will anticipate and respond to the needs of their users and build the service around them

    Yesterday’s librarians were all about austerity and enforcing silence
    Tomorrow’s Information Professionals will be all about dynamicism and encouraging interaction

    Yesterday’s librarians were stagnant, able to go without change for perhaps decades at a time
    Tomorrow’s Information Professionals will have to be very flexible indeed, and adapt to new challenges year-on-year

    Yesterday’s librarians were all about books
    Tomorrow’s Information Professionals will be all about transliteracy

    Yesterday’s librarians knew what the word ‘librarian’ meant
    Tomorrow’s Information Professionals will have to accept that librarian could define anything in the future

    Yesterday’s librarians knew what they were letting themselves in for…
    Tomorrow’s Information Professionals probably have no idea!

  • Bethan March 4, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    Enjoyable and interesting as always – but I would quibble with one point.

    I do love the debates that go on surrounding how the information profession will develop in the future, and what skills/characteristics information professionals will need. However, I get slightly concerned by statements such as ‘Yesterday’s librarians were stagnant, able to go without change for perhaps decades at a time’. I understand that you are (probably) talking about the culture of the library and information world, where change may have previously been slower-paced than at present, but I feel that classifying yesterday’s librarians as ‘stagnant’ is unwise.

    In this new, exciting era of digital professionals, I think it can be very easy to forget the pioneering work and dedication of our predecessors in the profession. These were people who did not, perhaps, have changed forced on them to the extent that current professionals do, but who actively sought change and improvement, and without whom we wouldn’t be the profession we are today.

    Sorry to sound so pompous! But this is an issue which annoys me. I won’t do it again, promise :)

  • Ned Potter March 4, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    @buffyjhamilton thanks for the link to the Blue Skunk blog – great post! I wrote a response here: http://bit.ly/wikiman

  • thewikiman March 4, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    You know what? I agree… You are quite right. I was ever so slightly unsure about putting that in. But your arguments have convinced me I shouldn’t have done (at least in that form)!

    I don’t want to change it, as smothering a misjudgement might impede the learning process… and I was talking about the day-to-day role – I imagine a Librarian could turn up for work in 1950, and do much the same thing between 9 and 5 as one in 1960. But that’s probably totally naive, and discourteous to our predecessors. I should have phrased it more sensitively.
    :)

  • Paul S. March 4, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Excellent points, well articulated! But never has a presentation induced such physical nausea.

    :-)

  • Lauren March 4, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    I don’t know about the term ‘information professional’. It makes me think that maybe, it’s a bit desperate, to feel the need to have the word professional in there, as if in reaction to a (real, don’t get me wrong!) threat to the profession. It IS a profession, and I think it might be better to alter perceptions of the term ‘librarian’ than try to rename them as anything else, unless you are in a non-library but still-information area, which is different.

    This probably makes no sense!

  • thewikiman March 4, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    No, that does make sense! I am very much aware that there are three camps (that’s probably a gross simplification in itself..): the WE NEED TO CHANGE IT camp, the we need to leave it and work on the perceptions camp, and the oh do shut up and stop fussing about it camp… I gave it a lot of thought after researching my paper for last year’s New Professionals Conference, and I concluded that ‘librarian’ simply wasn’t fit for purpose anymore. Too many people do too many diverse things for the title to work – but Information Professional is able to start from scratch without preconceptions, AND by having the general ‘information’ rather than the explicit ‘library’ it allows for myriad roles and functions.

    I think the point of Professional is just to remind people that we are actually experts in information – this is our job – in the same way that a lawyer knows about the law and a nurse knows about health. We are more than just the keepers of the books.

  • Bethan March 4, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    oh, I do get what you mean about the day-to-day role – and I know that there’s no way you can qualify these generalisations without distracting from your impact! It’s a fine line to walk, and I think generally you manage it very well :)

  • Bobbi Newman March 4, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    yesterday’s librarians, tomorrow’s information professionals – 8 differences http://bit.ly/byDS0c

  • thewikiman March 4, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    You are too kind Bethan…

    Paul – welcome to the vomitorium! I think possibly Prezi works better when you’re actually doing a physical presentation, so you can linger on each bit and talk about it, rather than lurch from one to the other with waltzer-esque momentum…

  • lynnstrandmeyer March 4, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    RT @librarianbyday: yesterday’s librarians, tomorrow’s information professionals – 8 differences http://bit.ly/byDS0c

  • MCLS March 4, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    RT @librarianbyday: yesterday’s librarians, tomorrow’s information professionals – 8 differences http://bit.ly/byDS0c

  • Monica March 4, 2010 at 4:20 PM

    RT @librarianbyday: yesterday’s librarians, tomorrow’s information professionals – 8 differences http://bit.ly/byDS0c

  • Christopher Rhodes March 4, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    Ned.
    I think this is interesting. But I think you over state the lack of contiunity. Although clearly the roles performed now are different, its not correct to think of ourselves as serving fully different functions. A lot of your distinctions seem to be semantic in nature, rather than hinting at deeper divisions – gatekeeper and liberator, for example, express the same concept to me, its just that the former is pejorative whereas the latter is far more freindly and positive.

    I think the different tools avaliable to us enable things like ‘interaction’, although, actually to suggest that we did’nt enable this in the past ignores the interactive nature of scholarly communication that librarians have long been experts in.

    Your point about knowing what ‘librarian’ meant is partciluarly interesting. I concur with your implication that we don’t now, but to me it seems unlikely that the existential doubt that surrounds us today (not a bad thing), sprang into being with the advent of the computer, or the internet, or whatever it is that is usually cited as the begining of our troubles. Serving the role of conduit I think determines a certain amount of doubt about our actual value or role. This cannot be avoided and never could be.

    And I really liked the presentation thing. Reminded me of this brilliant thing
    http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/begin/cells/scale/

  • METRO March 4, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    Interesting post about tomorrow's librarians (via @hbraum) http://bit.ly/axDEql

  • Heather Braum March 4, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    #23thingsks pple, any thoughts? RT @librarianbyday yesterdays librarians, tomorrow’s info professionals – 8 differences http://bit.ly/byDS0c

  • thewikiman March 4, 2010 at 4:40 PM

    Cor, this is comment-mania…

    Mr Rhodes! The phrase ‘a lot of your distinctions seem to be semantic in nature, rather than hinting at deeper divisions’ could be an epitaph for this entire blog… but allow me to explain myself.

    I didn’t mean we serve fully different functions from librarians of old, I just meant we serve fully different functions within each library organisation. So to use examples which you personally are familiar with me citing – a cataloguer has almost nothing at all in common with someone from the VLE Team, but often both are employed by the library. So I don’t think librarian has enough scope to capture all that, but Info Pro does (better).

    Personally I see the difference between gatekeeper and liberator as much more than pejorative versus friendly. Previously, when the gates of the library were literally closed, then the information was not available. Librarians literally and metaphorically controlled access (to a certain extent) to information. Nowadays, the information is always there – we in the library will increasingly be called upon to liberate it specifically for our users (be that via online subscriptions in a literal sense, or sorting legitimate info from bogus info in a more hands-on way). There is now officially Too Much Information, so our value and role has changed here.

    I take your point about interaction. I was hinting more literally at encouraging group-discussion spaces etc, but you are right in that scholarly communication has long been fostered on our premises.

    About not knowing what librarian means – I just meant the profession changes more quickly now, really. If someone decides in 1850 they want to be a librarian when they grow up, their first real job in 1905 might not be too disimilar to their imaginings. If someone decides now to become a ‘librarian’, God knows what they’ll find in 2025… It’s a familiar hobby-horse you’ve seen my ride before… :)

  • thewikiman March 4, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    Oh and “Serving the role of conduit I think determines a certain amount of doubt about our actual value or role. This cannot be avoided and never could be.” is an excellent point and one we’d all do well to remember…

    And that excellent thing you linked to is indeed mint.

  • Christopher Rhodes March 4, 2010 at 5:48 PM

    At the heart of it VLE editors and cataloguers serve a pretty similar function – enabling people to get at info. The tools clearly differ, although what probably seperates them to a greater extent is to do with theoretic assumptions (cataloguers have some). I agree ‘librarian’ is not a suitable a word, but I’m not sure it was ever a suitable word really.

    The point about the contiuity of role over time is, I suppose, the crux of my objections. Although we have no idea of the tools we will use, or what our roles will be called, I’m pretty certain we could list some core functions that we will be performing in 2025. The list would include enabling info interaction (as did in 1950), easing the location of info (as they did in 1950), providing some kind of quality hallmark for info (as they did in 1950), responding to demands for info of different sorts and in different formats (as they did in 1950), demanding money from people who have dropped their book/reading divice in the bath (as they did in 1950)………..

  • Bethan March 4, 2010 at 6:14 PM

    Have to say that I completely agree with Chris – I think many of the core skills for librarians remain the same as they were 50 or 100 years ago, and will continue to be needed in the future.

    If I may put it in a rather trite way, *how* we do our jobs may change, but *why* we do them won’t…

  • Valerie Carullo March 4, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    RT @tweetMETRO: Interesting post about tomorrow's librarians (via @hbraum) http://bit.ly/axDEql

  • thewikiman March 4, 2010 at 6:52 PM

    No I don’t think that’s trite Bethan – that’s exactly what I was going to reply to Chris! (Who, by the way, is never satisfied with replies to his comments…)

  • thewikiman March 4, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    … I feel I should add, seeing as this is getting a lot of views, that this isn’t supposed to be The Definitive Manifesto of Tomorrow’s Information Professionals! It’s just some thoughts I had at lunch-time… :)

  • taxonomylady March 4, 2010 at 8:15 PM

    I wanted to read your post and disagree, but I don’t! It’s nearly impossible to argue the evolution of the profession, when we have “computerized” card catalogs that utilize a standard from the 1960′s – so old that we don’t call it HARC – H for Human, but instead M for Machine.

    To say that we have more to do, does not dismiss the accomplishments of those who came before us – unless we choose to do nothing to build on that legacy (or pretend to do something by debating it in a committee until the future has passed us by).

    I think your point about being user centric will be the key to our future success.

    I’m proud to be, and call myself, a librarian. You (meaning anyone) can call me by whatever name you want, just as long as what I do still matters.

  • thewikiman March 4, 2010 at 8:51 PM

    w00t! I heart taxonomylady! :)

    I do worry about the ‘debating while the future passes us by’ bit, though… Debate is great for energising a community but it needs to have a legacy that people can really feel/see/experience/engage with.

  • Robin Cicchetti March 5, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    Great job on a very nice interpretation of Doug’s post. Library professionals would be well advised to take this as a tool for self-reflection on their practice, professional development and preparedness for increasing demand for change.

  • thewikiman March 5, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    Thanks Robin! Incidentally, I really enjoyed your blog post about format/books etc. I tried to express a similar(ish!) sort of thing in this one

  • woodsiegirl March 5, 2010 at 2:51 PM

    Ha, looks like I’ve turned up late for the party! Great presentation, and some really interesting comments. the only thing I really wanted to add was that I think this:

    “Yesterday’s librarians created a service and offered it to those who wanted it
    Tomorrow’s Information Professionals will anticipate and respond to the needs of their users and build the service around them”

    is, for me at least, the most interesting point you’ve made. That’s something we’re really focussing on in my organisation (and I think corporate libraries in general tend to make this a priority) – reaching out to the fee-earners, marketing team, etc, and finding out what they’re doing and how we could help, rather than waiting for them to come to us.

  • thewikiman March 5, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    Yeah I agree that’s very important – I couldn’t quite think of a way to elucidate it, I’m sure there’s a phrase that’s appropriate. But (and I hesitate to say this unequivocally in case Chris Rhodes is still reading :) ) it seems to be me that libraries began originally by responding to a need – a place to collect manuscripts and, later, for people to go and read them. And that stayed more or less the same for literally millennia. Tomorrow’s libraries need to shape themselves based on the new and changing needs and demands of users, which of course they are trying to do, hence the mass reinvention the library is going through.

    So for us as Infromation Professionals, I guess an analogy would be – previously we just showed people a range of off-the-peg suits, and now we need to offer a more bespoke service… Actually even that doesn’t really hold up, as a metaphor. Never mind. It’s Friday afternoon, and all that.

  • thewikiman March 5, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    …although just to add one more thing – it is no longer the case that we can respond to the new and changing demands of our users, and that’s it. I think it’s very unlikely that this sort of noughties rethink of libraries and their uses will result in a blueprint that lasts for any great length of time – the whole point is that the changes from now on will be ongoing. Change will be the constant. So our default position can’t just be – let’s anticipate and respond to the needs of our users and build the service around them. It has to be, let’s continually anticipate and respond to the needs of our users, and continuously rebuild the service around them accordingly…

  • [...] libraries from Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk blog (you know, the one I totally ripped off for my last post! ) the one that struck me the most was: 9. Yesterday’ libraries were all about organizing [...]

  • [...] one is the first one I ever did – for this blog post on tomorrow’s information professionals. It’s had loads of views because it struck a chord with people (plus Prezi.com made it a [...]

  • Kelly Brannock July 30, 2010 at 5:40 PM

    Great post: Yesterday's librarians, tomorrow's info professionals – http://thewikiman.org/blog/?p=502

  • NCSLMA July 30, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    RT @kellybrannock: Great post: Yesterday's librarians, tomorrow's info professionals – http://thewikiman.org/blog/?p=502

  • JeffieLibrarian July 31, 2010 at 6:07 PM

    RT @kellybrannock: Great post: Yesterday's librarians, tomorrow's info professionals – http://thewikiman.org/blog/?p=502

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