The Changing Landscape of the Information Profession

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.


2 comments on “The Changing Landscape of the Information Profession

  1. Hi! I’m going to comment, on all that stuff you said.

    Having been sent on a bunch of actually very interesting Leadership & Managament courses (well – one course, with several workshops across the Semester, on different themes) I think if I *had* to choose, I’d side with the guy saying you need the business, communication and leadership skills. (Actually not neccessarily leadership – it’s subtly different from management, and not needed until you get very near the top of the chain, in most cases.) Of course ideally you’d want both, but if you have a *difficult* team of people, you’d want a proper manager in there. If everything is hunky-dory and going well, you could probably get away with someone who just has knowledge of the information world etc. Clearly the latter type could learn on the job in the right circumstances. But management is a whole set of skills without which certain aims of a Service may not be met at all.

    With e-books, I think the concerns are largely technologcial and as you say they will be sorted – but the problem we (as in us lot over the age of 5) have is one of adapting and adopting. The generation who comes along in a few years’ time will presumably see e-books as the norm, so will neither have to adapt to or adopt something new. That makes all the difference, in my opinion. (I don’t ‘miss the feel of a typewriter’ because I’ve never used one – I literally don’t know what I’m missing…) Traditional Paper Books will continue to exist alongside e-books, but as a whole area unto itself, rather than as an alternative / compromise to the technology. Not such a niche area as type-writers; I think loads of people will want paper books – just as loads of people still like vinyl even though MP3 is seven million times more convenient (FACT).

    And I totally agree with everything in your last paragraph. It goes back to my worry that people can’t call themselves Information Professionals if they’ve not done the degree – it’s dependant on financial circumstances, rather than talent or ability or dedication or whatever, and that just seems slightly wrong and elitist. Being a proper member of the ‘Information Profession’ ought to be enough to earn the tag, you shouldn’t *have* to pay for body membership or a Masters as well.

    In my humble opinion, as the kids say today. 🙂

  2. (sorry, my comment is almost as long as your post! 😮 )

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