Goodbye Librarians, Hello Information Ninjas!

We recently had the privilege of presenting at the 2011 CLA conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. On a foggy weekend, we shared our thoughts on the future of librarianship and information management with an engaging room of library and information professionals.

The title of our presentation stemmed from an ongoing joke within Systemscope. Years ago, as new employees and recent grads, finding our niche in the firm and in our field was an ever-present challenge. One day we jokingly suggested they call us Information Ninjas. The name stuck, and after a while we realized how apt it was. We bring our library skills and knowledge of the broader realm of the organization and management of information to our jobs by stealth – many clients don’t know we went to library school, but it’s often great background for the type of work we do.

The MLIS (Master of Library and Information Studies) degree remains tied to the idea of traditional librarianship, and the traditional Librarian (bun, horn-rimmed glasses, shushing and all), but there is a broader information realm within which the skills and knowledge of the librarian are not only relevant, but in high demand.

What is this broader landscape we’re talking about? Librarians are all about collecting, preserving, managing, and providing access to information resources. There is, parallel to the world of libraries, a large collection of other, similar roles and organizations doing similar activities, related to different collections of information (records managers, archivists, data stewards, etc.). To a person seeking information, the library is just one source of many for the information they need.

Traditionally, library services have been distinguished by the fact that they deal solely with published materials but, we would argue, they can be applicable to a variety of information types. We are beginning to see that information is no longer intrinsically tied to one format. It is viscous, able to change shape as required. In order to adapt and continue to manage information in the best ways possible, those of us in the world of professional information services should not limit ourselves with arbitrary format distinctions (you handling the data, me handling the official records, him managing only published materials).

Models that define information roles and information services based on content type distinctions are becoming less relevant – more likely than not, we will begin seeing overlaps and complementary domains developing.

The great challenge of this “digital age” we find ourselves in will be ensuring we do what we do (the collection, preservation and management of information) in a way that ensures it is accessible in the future. No matter its format or content, we are really all about the information at the end of the day – and what’s it worth if we can’t access it?

This is a challenge librarians are well poised to meet. Librarians and other information professionals have the skills and knowledge to become the digital curators we need.

So what are the biggest foundational pieces of what will be required of our new role as Information Ninja?

  • Figuring out the best way to manage and access resources, wherever they are located and in whatever system and format they are stored.
  • Moving away from traditional records file and library classification systems and making innovative use of more consumable methods of classification such as metadata and social tagging.
  • Focusing on establishing common classification and management practices, applicable to any information resource, across systems and formats.
  • Recognizing and building the necessary skills: becoming tech savvy; building knowledge of search; understanding structured and unstructured content; learning about retention and preservation requirements, just to name a few.

At CLA, our presentation ended with a lively discussion about the future of the role of librarian. One audience member suggested that librarians begin to identify themselves as Information Professionals; others questioned whether or not the MLIS as a program of study is too narrowly focused, and whether or not it is still a valid degree. The dialogue surrounding what today’s information professional is continues to be engaging and thought-provoking, and this was shown at CLA.

We had a great time sharing our thoughts with the attendees, and hope to continue the discussion about the future of librarianship!

View our presentation.


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