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First breakfast discussion of 2009

Despite arriving rather late (why are trains always delayed when you catch an earlier-than-normal one to get somewhere for a particular time?), it was well worth the effort this morning as the conversation around the table was interesting and stimulating.

From the starting point of "Whatever happened to Librarians?" the discussion ranged around job titles, industry groups, trainees entering the profession, and marketing 'library' services to various audiences from lawyers to government officials.

The point was made that as technology developed and IT became ubiquitous in the workplace, many tasks formerly the bastion of librarians were 'highjacked' by IT, and that the information professionals of the time (early to mid '90's) weren't expecting this and were unprepared in terms of the promotion and marketing skills, general commercial awareness or 'seat at the table' needed to be able to nip this in the bud.  This phenomena was then exacerbated by the advent of knowledge management, which again often went to IT due to the perceived primacy of the tools used (intranets) rather than the underlying principals (of sharing knowledge).

The role of library schools was mentioned, particularly the fact that in the past, new students could get lecture notes from previous years' graduates and find them little changed!  While the cycle of review of academic courses may have sped up from 10 years to 5 years to 3 years, it has never quite caught up with the pace of change in the world of work, perhaps contributing to the lack of preparedness of information professionals to the initial IT boom and then to the spread of KM, and maybe even now to the web2.0 phenomena?

This then flowed into conversation about the job titles that describe information jobs – which all used to be similar and quite predictive of the detailed content of the job description ('Library Assistant' – 'Assistant Librarian' – 'Librarian' = working with a book collection; 'Information Officer/Scientist' – 'Information Manager' = working with databases and classifying information).  Coming up to the present day, however, there are a plethora of job titles, both many different ones being used to label similar jobs and similar titles being used to label completely different jobs!  The tendency of people to only read headlines, and skim over or ignore detailed content, was also bemoaned – perhaps influenced by people's increasing reliance on internet skimming?  Is this tendency one of the drivers for ever more job titles, as people try and encapsulate their particular job into those few words?

Moving on to discussion of industry groups, the question was asked "what is it that CILIP does for its members?" Although about half of attendees were members, several of those were questioning whether to renew this.  Other more niche special interest groups were mentioned as offering more relevant training, newsletters, or other services – often organised and delivered by dedicated volunteers working without office support.  Another attendee made the point that concerns over relevance and membership services were raised 8-10 years ago, but they felt this had fallen on deaf ears.

So what has happened to librarians?  The consensus view seemed to be that they had morphed into a multitude of different roles, to keep pace with the needs of their organisations, but that the educators and associations had in some cases not managed to keep up with these rapid changes. 

One comment to this post

  •  :  I'd like to add that although we did talk about how much our roles have changed in the last ten years, I don't think any of us there would consider ourselves to be outside the profession - in fact attendance at the breakfast is proof of that. So, although 'Librarian' doesn't mean what it used to, it still means something.

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