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Paper no 23









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A view of the Information Online Conference 2003 Part 1

by Paul Bentley


Article originally published in Online Currents, January/February 2003 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd. Part 2 was published in April 2003. .


Four years ago, at the 1999 Information Online conference, rapporteur Neil McLean concluded that librarians were doing business in a period of uncertainty and, to sustain professional relevance, they needed to find a new centre of gravity, think long term, re-think paradigms, form new alliances, rethink information architectures, examine intermediate roles and match people with new opportunities and resources. 

In 2001, his assessment was that librarians were more comfortable about this uncertainty, but were only just beginning to respond to the challenges of doing business differently. 

Information Online 2003, presented by the Australian Library and Information Association’s Information Specialist Group, provided a welcome opportunity to track the mood and trends, explore the latest information tools and strategies, and decide whether nettles had been firmly grasped.  

This article is about roles.  Part 2, on tools and strategies, will appear in the next issue of Online Currents.


Ross Dawson, CEO of Advanced Human Technologies and author of Developing Knowledge Based Client Relationships, set the scene with a metaphorical update on the changing flow of online information.  The explosion of information has created a  jungle, which is being tamed with ‘cultivated gardens’.  The ‘weightless economy’ has created a global brain.  Connectivity, with XML as a foundation for all information standards, is reducing six degrees of separation to three. 

In business, boundaries are disintegrating.  Work processes span organisations. There is high value in collaboration – illustrated by the $US200 billion Joint Strike Fighter Project, involving 80 companies, 40,000 professionals, all tightly networked with 90 software tools. 

The individual has unprecedented power – reflected in the half a million online Blog sites and journals, the alternative medium that, apart from adding dross to the information ecosystem, helps pinpoint what’s interesting, creates meaningful patterns, and sometimes influence public policy. 

These changes provide opportunities for information professionals to position themselves as leaders of the new environments, providing they understand and take advantage of the new relationships between customers, suppliers and partners.  He urged delegates to lead their industry to information standards, enable distributed processes and workflows, show customers and partners new ways of creating value together and build a culture of transparency. 

The challenges for governments are ensuring equity of access, appropriate standards and infrastructure, and a modern approach to a national information policy. 


Zenith’s Garry Conroy–Cooper, in Can You Cut the Mustard?, reflecting a library and records management recruiter’s view, reminded us that professional prospects are driven by industry and enterprise needs.

The marketplace is much bigger than we may think.  Around 50% to 60% of jobs are not generally advertised in the print media.  If you have combined experience in library and records management you are in an excellent position.  The convergence of these areas is slowly growing and prospects will probably continue to strengthen as organisations consider the application of knowledge management.  The government sector is the largest sector for recruitment via Zenith – offering up to 80% of jobs. Roles with service providers, information vendors and suppliers and systems vendors continue to slowly increase.

Some job labels are changing but the fundamentals remain constant.  The current essential skills, as recorded in Conroy-Cooper’s list, are based on traditional functions and attributes revolving around information management, organising and finding information, service provision and basic IT competency (Web management, library management software and office applications).  Original cataloguing skills still jostle with metadata tagging and thesaurus creation on the job board.  Specialist skills in areas like children’s & youth librarianship are prized.  But, somewhat alarmingly, cleaning up the messes of previous professionals is the main reason for some contracts.

Paul Shea, principal consultant of the e-management consultancy, amsAccess, in Information Leadership – Avoiding the Perfectionist Trap, focussed on leadership opportunities.  ‘A window of opportunity temporarily exists for information professionals to re-position themselves as natural leaders of the information revolution and achieve wider recognition, application and compensation for their skills’.  The IT industry has hit the wall, he said, and KM still has a long way to go. The current disaffection with IT means that information professionals have an opportunity to become champions of a balanced approach to information through informatics or info-skilling, comprising core information skills, information capability, information action and information benefits.  In developing opportunities, though, information professionals must be aware of a hidden risk called the Perfectionist Trap.  Quality alone is not enough.  Simply practising is not enough.  Skills need to be made visible to be fully appreciated.


Rob McEntyre and Ruth McIntyre fantasized about evolving information professional roles and qualifications from 2003 to 2010, influenced by likely international trends affecting business and government environments and continuing convergence of business, IT and information management roles, involving expertise in innovation and strategy, e–information supply chain management, global e–learning, risk minimisation, competitive intelligence, business simulation, programming and database management, language mapping, stakeholder communication, advanced statistical methods and other business imperatives.  Information professionals with a personalised vocational one-year masters degree in Entrepreneurial Information Management will become Business Information Architects.

Sue Myburgh, Program Director, Knowledge Management and Internet Communication Strategies, University of South Australia, in Education Directions for NIPs (New Information Professionals) posed the question: If knowledge is power why don’t librarians rule the word?

In her provocative paper, highly relevant in the context of ALIA’s LISEKA project and well worth downloading from the conference website, she argues for a fresh approach to library and information science (LIS) education and a shift away from a document management perspective to an information management perspective, which ‘locates users, technology and information professionals within a socially constructed complex context’.

In a changing information profession, influenced by social and cultural forces, ever-expanding information, increasing use and convergence of ICT and a range of other factors, ‘survival of the LIS sector will almost certainly not occur in its present form or paradigm.’  Because of the multidisciplinary nature of the new information jobs, LIS education (and associations) no longer have a monopoly on controlling entry to the profession or to the jobs.  80% of her students end up working outside libraries.

Perhaps the most dangerous threat to the profession, she said, is the ‘librarian mindset’, driven by habitus, a system of dispositions determined by past experience. The characteristics of the LIS habitus include a focus on the library as the location of the profession, a view of the profession which legitimises this stance and a resulting emphasis amongst LIS educations (partly in order to meet the association’s accreditation rules) on programs that are library-centred and tied to institutions and tools, rather than abstract observations and analysis of information as a whole.

There is no doubt, she said, that the situation LIS now faces is complex.  Anomalies have accrued.  Most educational programs both here and internationally have dealt with such anomalies in an incremental, piecemeal way.  There have been more setbacks than gains: those who teach in Australia have become fewer and fewer and ALIA is battling to keep up membership figures.  Many of our problems are associated with our own lack of clarity in knowing exactly what our cultural niche actually is. ‘’We are not sure what game we are playing’.

She concluded that we need catastrophic change - or collaboration, convergence and diversification. There is too much discussion on what is core: we should be looking at the boundaries.  There should be more comprehensive initial training.  A post-bachelor Master’s degree should become the basic pre-professional training. The Graduate Diploma is not enough. ‘We don’t need more superficialists, who train within a one-year time frame and have a smattering of bits and pieces of knowledge across a discipline area that is too wide to capture in whole year’.


The traditional on-the-spot executive summary provided by Neil McLean, the essential distillation of many conferences in the past, this time found form in a panel of keynote speakers and others representing different professional perspectives.

The session mirrored a current Senate Inquiry by exploring the role of librarians (as distinct from libraries) in an online environment in which information technology and the Internet now provide a brilliant and economical infrastructure, and consumers now benefit from being able to search the World Wide Web.

The playful Steve Coffman was Senator and agent provocateur, who attempted to draw from each speaker the differences between librarians and other kinds of information workers and their justification for spending on libraries over other services and sources to enable Australians to have access to good quality relevant easy to find information.

Factiva’s Anne Caputo emphasised the importance of professional as an inherent concept.  It is possible to work in the sector without working in a library – as she had done – but what distinguishes librarians from other information workers is their code of ethics and values.

Carole Tenopir, Professor of the School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee, said the information professional is now more important than ever. Their key roles are as selector to ensure access to the highest quality resources and ensuring preservation for the future, as teacher, as super searcher and as advocate.

Dialog founder Dr Roger Summitt, whose John Huston-like presence permeated the conference, urged delegates to distinguish between different types of information needs, from broad public needs to the needs of the commercial workplace, and to ensure that professional schools are adequately funded to attract students of quality.

Mary Ellen Bates, Bates Information Services, asserted that the role of libraries and librarians are different.  Library funding alone is not going to increase the impact of the profession.  The Web is not yet truly a global information resource.  Much of the best information is still not available electronically.  The librarian is typically characterised as ‘a helping profession’ and the challenge for librarians is to make sure people realise that they are more than information finders.  It would be better for the ‘L’ word to disappear in order to enhance their image.  Librarians need to permeate the workplace, become ubiquitous.  They should ‘go forth, be fruitful and multiply’.

Maxine Brodie, acting University Librarian, Macquarie University, pinpointed context as the currency of the information professional.  ‘Content is important, but context is all. Information professionals understand contexts’. She also wanted some emphasis to be given, in these discussions, to the importance of place (facilities) in the information landscape.

ALIA President Joyce Kirk pointed to the values of cultural diversity and Australian content.  We need to ensure more Australian content appears in databases and other sources.  Indeed, there should be protection of Australian content at a time when 80% of internet contents originates and is accessed from US.

The conference convener, Elisabeth Swan, Director of Information Edge, picking up the Australian content issue, lamented the loss or downgrading of AESIS, STREAMLINE and other local databases due to funding cuts.  In response to Steve Coffman’s question on how we can improve funding for the development of content, Swan called for better planning to manage resources and make databases globally available.  Information professionals, she said, have a unique selling proposition and are well placed in a wide variety of contexts inside and outside libraries.  They, more than others, she said, are better placed to understand the information landscape.  LIS education needs strong support.  We need to encourage partnerships with vendors.


Swan’s points neatly turned our minds back to the real Senate Inquiry whose deliberations are due to conclude in March this year.  Better planning – perhaps in the form of a more comprehensive national information strategy - and the development Australian content are things that governments can legitimately support.

Despite the strength and the validity of the panellists views, though, my feeling and that of the person sitting next to me was that Steve Coffman’s probing questions had not been fully addressed.

During the conference – as in previous conferences - the generic term information professional continued to be used as a synonym for librarians.  Views on the scope of the information industry fluctuated from speaker to speaker.  We continue to be ill-served by woolly terminology and poor industry data.

Librarians and Library Workers

The prospects for librarians into the foreseeable future actually don’t look too bad. 

According to the latest census figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 24,852 librarians, library assistants and library technicians in Australia in 2001 – an increase of 9% since the previous census in 1996.  Librarians increased by nearly 8%, library technicians increased by nearly 12%.  These figures seem to contradict the recent analysis of Australian Job Search, before the release of the Census figures, that employment of librarians had ‘declined in the past five years’ and ‘employment to 2007-08 is likely to fall slightly’, depending on government funding, the main salary source.

The raw figures prompt the need for further survey work and analysis.  How many people were employed fulltime and part-time?  There is anecdotal evidence that some major libraries are preferring people with attributes and qualifications outside the library world.  How many of these people are employed in the sector?  Do the above figures include teacher librarians?  And what are the figures for records managers, archivists, intelligence officers, curators, conservators and other types of information workers?

Changing roles within the library sector are implied in a survey of the American Research Libraries in 2000.  Between 1990 and 1998, there was a 7% increase in reference positions, a 10 % increase in subject specialists and a 54% increase in functional specialists (positions relating to personnel, finances, systems, preservation etc).  Cataloguing positions declined by 25%.  In the big growth area, functional specialists, 61% were hired for systems-related jobs, only 55% had library degrees, 44% were males (compared with only 28% in other categories), they had less experience than workers in other categories (65% less experience), but only slightly less pay (91% of the average pay. despite the disparity in terms of experience).

IT Workers

Librarians tend to be one-eyed about IT workers.

They are in more demand than librarians.  According to the 2001 ABS census data, IT Managers, computing professionals and computing support technicians increased by over 60% to 187,939 workers.  Male IT managers increased by 80% to 21.098. Female IT managers increased by 87% to 6088 workers.  But, since the Australian Computer Society says there are 680,000 IT professionals in Australia, we are left holding water in our hands when we attempt to support arguments with current statistics.

In a bigger sector, driven by more unpredictable commercial forces, they tend to earn more money.  Emma Geary, using MIS’s IT Director 2002 salary survey, assessed the impact of the dotcom shake-out by saying ‘the heady days have gone for Australia’s information elite.’  But the job ads suggest that, at the top and mid level jobs, they still attract much better salaries in a more competitive marketplace.

Good corporate information strategists, usually with high level IT credentials, have been engaged for over a decade on the sort of activities that some librarians want to become involved in.  Business information architecture is the hot contract of the moment.  And it is fair to say that many IT failures have been because of human failures - poor business plans, greed, and corporate politics and culture – rather than anything intrinsically wrong with the intent or the technology.


The Internet continues to influence the way users access information and the way professional roles are performed..

The Internet’s popularity and dependability have raised expectations about the information available online – particularly in relation to health care information, and services from government agencies, news and commerce.  The recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project asserted that ‘most US citizens expect to find key information online, most find the information they seek, and many turn to the internet first’.  Over 60% of Americans now have Internet access.  About two-thirds say that they expect to be able to find such information on the Web   For information or services from a government agency, 65% of all Americans expect the Web to have the information they are seeking in electronic form.  63% of all Americans expect that a business will have a Web site that gives them information about a product they are considering buying. 69% of Americans expect to be able to find reliable, up-to-date news online.  67% of Americans expect that they can find reliable information about health or medical conditions online.

Yet, eMarketer in its report Online Content, estimates that the number of US consumers paying for internet content will rise from 15.7 million in 2002 to 21 million in 2003 and the number of US Internet users paying for online content will rise from 10% to 13%. Quoting IDC sources, it further predicts that individual consumers will pay US$3.8 billion worldwide for online content and organisations will pay $44 billion adding up to $50 billion by the end of 2002.

It seems likely that open source and fee-based sources will continue to co-exist like radio and television and free-to-air and pay television.  Internet and online database interfaces and search mechanisms will continue to become more sophisticated and will continue to be used to better effect by information professionals and end-users alike.  Users will continue to be satisfied by one form or the other or both, depending on the nature of their need..

A Question of Maturity?

I sensed during the conference that librarians are more positive about things than they were in 1999 and 2001: they were more secure about the worth of their roles and they seemed to be more optimistic about the future. Change is no longer as fearful as it was.

Librarianship is no longer an amorphous trade.  I’m of the view that prospects for librarians will be best served in the long term by getting rid of the L word and of separating the future of librarians from the future of libraries.  There is scope for some to take on leadership roles in the corporate sector providing the become competitive with the best of the IT people.

In reassessing roles, though, we need to champion the importance of libraries as information assets, as service providers and initiators of collaborative digital projects, and as major employers of information professionals. 

Dr Terry Cutler and NOIE’s David Kennedy, at the Ozeculture conference in May 2002, both suggested that rethinking business is not an easy exercise because it will be another 20 years before the dust settles on the information revolution.

As the information industry matures, digital literacy improves and best practice is more consistently adopted, it seems likely that the turf wars over roles, content and technology will give way to a more integrated approach for managing internal and external information as well as continued development of specialisations in strategy, systems and services.

This clear signs of this were in evidence in conference sessions on tools and strategies, the subject of next month’s article. 

Paul Bentley is Director of Paul Bentley & Associates and the Wolanski Foundation


ALIA Information Online Conference & Exhibition website and papers are available at

ARL: A Bimonthly report on research library issues and action from ARL, CNI and SPARC, 208/209, February / April 2000.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2001 Census Classification Counts: Occupation by Sex [Catalogue no 2022.0]. [Table supplied by ABS 14 Jan 2003]. 

eMarketer. 15.7 billion US Online Content Buyers This Year  18 Dec 2002.

Geary, Emma. Expect less. MIS September 2002: 24-35

Pew Internet & American Life Project. Counting on the Internet / by John B. Horrigan and Lee Rainie, December 2002.

Toomey, Sophie. IT opportunities creep back. The Australian 25-26 May 2002, Weekend Careers section.


Go to part 2


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