I went to an SLA Europe-hosted panel discussion on the 25th November (I know, it’s taken me a while to write this up – dissertation deadline is looming!) on the future of the information profession. There is a full report of the event on the SLA Europe blog, as well as blog posts from Sara Batts and Tim Buckley Owen (very possibly others too, but those are the only ones I’ve spotted so far!) so I won’t rehash the whole thing here. I did just want to comment on a few points that caught my attention.
First of all, one of the panellists suggested that you can manage an information team without having any subject knowledge/information management skills; but can’t if you only know about information management and have no business, leadership and communication skills. I understand where the panellist was coming from here, but I’m not sure I agree: I don’t think a manager is much use if s/he doesn’t understand what their team does. I’d be interested to hear other’s thoughts about this: is anyone currently managed by non-information professionals? How do you find it?
Secondly, the e-books question. Now, I love paper books and can’t imagine ever not having them – but that doesn’t mean there won’t come a day when I will actually own an e-book reader and get most of my reading material on that. Most of the objections raised to e-books seem to come down to either technological issues (e.g. wanting an e-reader that can survive being dropped in the bath), or a vague sense that books are just nicer. As far as the technology thing goes, I don’t see why there can’t be a waterproof e-reader sometime soon, and the same goes for most other points people like to raise about the limitations of e-books and e-readers: if the only barrier to their widespread adoption is technological, I think it’s a safe bet that the manufacturers will be working on it. The latter point is harder to argue with: the tactile experience of reading a book is something that can’t be replicated with an e-book reader. On the other hand, I have a friend who makes the same argument for manual typewriters over computers. He’s an aspiring writer, and went through a phase of only doing his creative writing on a typewritier – this phase lasted for a couple of weeks, until he remembered how much easier it was to work on a computer. At the end of the day, no matter how much “nicer” something is, convenience will always win out for the masses.
I don’t want to sound like I’m evangelising here – I don’t own an e-book reader myself; I think I’ve only ever read one e-book (on my phone). I just get a bit frustrated by people who dismiss e-books out of hand because they’re just not as nice. If people are going to argue against something, I’d like to hear more solid arguments! Incidentally, I spotted this post (hat tip to Stephen’s Lighthouse) recently, debunking some of the myths about e-books – an interesting read, cleared up some things I was unsure of.
The final point I wanted to talk about was the question on whether membership of a professional body was necessary in order to be considered/consider yourself a professional. I thought it was a real shame that there wasn’t time to debate this question properly – the panellists were limited to yes or no answers, and they were all clearly itching to say more! Personally, I would argue that while it is undoubtably beneficial to belong to a professional body, I object to the idea that you can’t call yourself a professional without membership. Ultimately I think that’s a personal choice; and I don’t think that anyone who decides that the benefits they get from their professional body are not worth the fees they have to pay (which after all, are usually not cheap – especially on a librarian’s salary!) should be told that they are therefore not a professional.