Crystal Ball

Defining our professional future is the new term being used for the “Big Conversation” that CILIP are having this year with their members and non-members, to establish where information professionals may be in the future and how the professional body can continue to support the changes. I’m attending a local focus group tomorrow and have been gathering some thoughts on the three key questions, but thought I’d jot them down on the blog too.

What will the knowledge and information sector look like in 2020?

This is the big question really, and although I don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future, I do have some thoughts about where I think the profession is moving. I’m pleasantly surprised by the phrasing of the question to be honest, as I personally feel the trend to move towards knowledge and information management rather than librarianship is a welcome one. Yes, I’m a librarian, and I am incredibly proud to be a librarian, however I realise that most people don’t necessarily realise that a librarian can help them (unless they want to borrow a book and need it stamping!). In today’s world of information overload though, most people understand the need for information to be managed, and that’s a side of the profession that I think will grow. I had an interesting discussion with my boyfriend earlier today about this, and we both agree that information professionals can be of great assistance to most, if not all, businesses and organisations, yet many don’t realise that we could help them. As my boyfriend pointed out, if we don’t make people aware of the skills and knowledge that an information professional can bring, we’re in danger of someone replicating this and making the profession redundant, particularly in the digital world (bit of an extreme view I know, but it could happen with some of the online enterprises like Google/Microsoft/Apple, without it necessarily being intentional).

There will always be a place for the traditional librarian skills, but personally I think we need to move away from the stigma of librarian knowing about books and not much else. My boyfriend was recently talking to a client about some of the work I do as an information professional, and they were amazed at the wealth of skills and value information professionals could bring to any organisation. I have experienced this personally too – I had no idea what an academic librarian did until I decided to research it as a possible career. The alternative view to a move in defining our work of course is to re-educate the public, but personally I feel that would be more difficult to change and could potentially lead us to miss the boat with helping to manage digital information.

I believe the information professional is strongly placed to help both organisations and individuals; I still think there is value in answering enquiries and there is evidently demand to meet that need – just take a look at the crowd sourcing going on any social network. Peer networks are becoming important for this role (I frequently ask my network on Twitter for advice or answers to problems), but I still think there is a role for an authoritative source and a hub for finding information. I imagine we will continue to move more to online enquiries rather than face-to-face, and expect that answers to enquiries will need to be quicker than currently where many services claim to get back within 24hrs – this just wont be good enough for much longer.

I think there is still a need for a library building, but as anyone who knows me in real life will I’m sure be familiar with, I personally don’t see those buildings as a place exclusively for quiet study. I think libraries should be an information hub for the community they serve – many are making moves to this with (in my opinion) the welcome addition of free wifi, relaxed seating, and coffee shops. The staff working in these will be there to help customers, and we will hopefully move away from the “shhhh” stereotypes due to heavy policing by staff in many libraries of the past and present.

Information professionals will need to be forward looking individuals interested in the new ways information is presented and organised (tagging is the new taxonomy, who knows what will be next?). They need to be truly customer-oriented, ensuring that the profession as a whole adapts to reflect changes to society and user needs (be it e-books, mobile technology, information delivery schemes, book rentals by post etc.). We will need to diversify, but stay true to our main core focus of information management.

Where will a professional association fit into this sector?

Personally, I see a need for the professional association to work to educate and increase awareness of the profession. They should partner with key organisations who may require support from an information professional, and work with them to ensure they receive the right support.

They should also look externally, which can be difficult, but is necessary from a professional association – they should help the information profession break out of the echo chamber or “singing to the choir” by widely publicising the work of the profession and working to ensure public perception of the profession reflects the true work. They should work with industries that need information professionals (even if they are not currently utilising any), as well as local and national press.

By doing these things, advocates will hopefully begin to help spread the word about the profession too.

They should also support the development of their members (i.e. the information professionals) by enabling networking, both in person and online, and progressing the field by communicating new developments via publications, events, and training opportunities.

How will you engage with this professional association?

Most of my communication is done online, so I imagine personally I would engage with the professional association through online communication means such as blogs, forums or social networking. I do also enjoy attending local events, and definitely see value in more of these. I like to attend training events and conferences, however finances and other time constraints sometimes means this is difficult – something that I think will become more common as we continue to feel the effects of the recession.

I am really pleased that CILIP is opening up conversations about the future of the profession, and this is something I’d definitely like to see continue (open debates on key topics affecting the profession, engaging with both members and non-members and ideally external stakeholders too).

Apologies for the rambling nature of this post, it has helped me consolidate some of my thoughts although I also hope that the focus group nature of the discussion tomorrow will develop and add to these – I’m sure there’s loads I’ve forgotten to mention! If you have anything you would like to add to the conversation, feel free to comment here or you may prefer to write your own blog post or Twitter posts (tagged with the term “cilipfuture” so that they can be found). You can also add your thoughts to the CILIP Communities forum dedicated to this topic, or the recently established The Conversation blog. If you’re interested in following some of the online discussion, you can use the Defining our professional future Netvibes page to help you keep track of the different communication channels.

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  • Nice post. And nice crystal ball pic!

    For me the ’24hrs won’t be good enough for long’ thing is key. At the moment asking your network has three big plusses off the top of my head – you trust them; if there’s lots of them they are diverse and have a wide range of knowledge and opinions accordingly; and, again if there’s sufficient numbers and they are spread across different time-zones, they’re more or less always available with an instant response.

    Hard to compete on all those levels but the time thing particularly so. Woodsiegirl and I were discussing this idea of some kind of collective library presence (on Twitter or elsewhere) recently – could you have a system where many people staffed the same ‘service’ continuously, to allow libraries instant reponse-times? It would be hard within a specific organisation, but for librarians generally it might be possible – not with a hard-and-fast rota, but with a ‘whoever is qualified and online, chip in’ approach.

    • Totally agree, and it’s why I personally support the idea of collaborative virtual reference support. QuestionPoint offer this as an added option, and work across time zones – so for example we could work with the US to support longer hours for all our users. This sort of idea is something I think the profession will need to adopt in future.

  • So do I, but I’m getting the point where I’m sick of thinking things are good ideas, but am impotent to actually make them happen… Is there some kind of hub of collaborative virtual reference support discussion? How can we help to advance the process of adopting this idea, rather than just acknoledging its aceness?

  • Sheila Thomas

    Thank you for some interesting ideas about the way forward. One aspect I would like to expand on is what I see as the role we information professionals can and should play in helping everyone to help themselves. I am thinking of use of semantic web concepts and taxonomies behind search systems so that the simple one, two and three word web search query is handled intelligently behind the scenes so as to improve the results displayed to the user.
    This is the part of our area of expertise that excites me most at present. It has overlap with IT and I would like to see CILIP embracing this side of the profession more obviously in future.

    • Thanks for your comment Sheila. I agree, this is something that could become very interesting in the future and something that I hope information professionals will be involved with. Do you know of anything like this happening at the moment?

  • Great post Jo – and especially helpful for me as I’m talking to Research by Design about this tomorrow! It’s good to know what things others are thinking about, and it will help me to contextualise my responses 🙂

    Ned – librarians are taking the 24 hour service straight to users through Yahoo Answers. Enquire have a good presence there (http://www.oclc.org/uk/en/news/releases/200923.htm), and I know there are librarians on there providing reference services on thier own initiative (but Yahoo are having isues atm, so I can’t find any examples).

    I just discovered this: http://answerboards.wetpaint.com/, which is a group of librarians who get together to ‘slam the boards’ :

    ”’Slam the Boards” is an attempt to get reference librarians to provide answers on popular “Answer Board” sites like Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, AskVille, etc. We also make it clear that the questions have been answered by librarians. This gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our question-answering skills to users who may not realize that librarians provide reference services. ‘

    There’s quite a few people signed up, and it’s still going in 2010, having been founded in 2007. I might just sign up!

    • Thanks for the info Bethan, this is really interesting! I had heard a while ago that public librarians in the US had started to answer some of these sorts of queries, and had heard of Enquire but didn’t realise this sort of thing was currently happening.

      Clearly it’s not publicly known though, typical case of more marketing required – in this case it hasn’t even reached others within the profession (such as myself!) who are interested in this sort of support.

  • There has been a service in health for some years making use of time differences with colleagues in Australia to offer an out of hours service
    http://hii.rsmjournals.com/cgi/reprint/54/1/9.pdf
    Chasing the Sun
    It uses Question point
    http://www.questionpoint.org/crs/servlet/org.oclc.home.TFSRedirect?virtcategory=10748

  • Lynn Loudon

    Totally agree with all you said in your blog. I too had no idea this profession even existed unitl I started my degree a few years ago. I thought librarians put books back on the right shelves! Now I find myself wanting to establish myself in the information industry. I think info pro’s will have to be able to cut through the vast amount of information available digitally and extract the value. I also think they will have to gain access to valuable information sources that most won’t be able to find through their web browsers. I think info pro’s will have to learn how to promote their services and to demonstrate their worth to organistaions and individuals. I also think info pro’s will have to be able to show organisations and individuals how to efficiently manage their information to gain full advantage from it. I think info pro’s will have to be adept in the use of modern communication tools, particularly social computing tools, and be able to demonstrate their worth to organisations and individuals as platforms for information sharing and collaboration. Furthermore, I think info pro’s will have to stay “bang on trend” with new technologies and communication methods as new digital devices are being introduced all the time and the next Facebook or Twitter may only be around the corner. Info pro’s must try to be at the forefront of any new phenomena in order that their services remain relevant and desirable.

  • You mentioned about information professionals / librarians needing to lead the way. I’d agree with that 100%, but I feel that sometimes our profession is not even much good at followingcurrent trends, so how can we lead? eg the discussion about “Why do we need to Twitter?” etc on CILIP blogs last year.

    I agree with thewikiman too about the need to have a central resource to develop ideas and put them into practice – there are a fair few talented techy people working in the library industry in the UK – maybe a central collaborative site for developing ideas, like the mashedibraries wiki is what we need. There are currently a few sites covering areas of library development, which are led by librarians / information professionals – maybe they need to be brought together to develop a single resource, or even just link between each one?