ROLES: A QUESTION OF MATURITY?
view of the Information Online Conference 2003 Part 1
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Shea, principal consultant of the e-management consultancy,
amsAccess, in Information
Leadership – Avoiding the Perfectionist Trap, focussed on leadership
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
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.
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
professionals with a personalised vocational one-year masters degree in
Entrepreneurial Information Management will become Business Information
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?
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’.
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.
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.
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
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’.
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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.
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..
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.
Bentley is Director of Paul Bentley & Associates email@example.com
and the Wolanski Foundation www.twf.org.au.
ALIA Information Online
Conference & Exhibition website and papers are available at http://www.alia.org.au/conferences/online2003
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. http://www.emarketer.com
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. http://www.pewinternet.org
Sophie. IT opportunities creep back. The Australian 25-26 May 2002, Weekend
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