The beginning of each semester always rejuvenates me. There is nothing more stimulating than those first few sessions with a class of expectant students, arriving with their high energy, curiosity, and desire to participate and impress. My new class at Pratt Institute’s SILS came to New York from all over America and the world. The students range in age from their 20s to their 60s, which has so often been typical of my LIS classes. It is a great privilege and honor to work with them to try to answer the accursed questions that continue to plague our profession.
In prior years I have worried for these new librarians about the shortage of jobs in our field, the low salaries, and the uncertainty in the outlook for libraries of all types.
This year, however, I feel much more positive about the opportunities available to these new information professionals and more optimistic about the potential for the future and the careers that they will find. I have no doubt now that they will move us nearer to the resolution of the many challenges we face.
We have already discovered that the values and the skills by which we practice have endless new applications in the mushrooming information environment in which we find ourselves. We’re talking about things like “data curation,” finding new career opportunities there and in many other information fields. Another set of recent careers relates to helping the young and the old learn to master the information technologies with which all of us will work. Now they require the knowledge and skills to assess and evaluate sources of information and identify the commercial pressures, social and political prejudices and biases, and ideological and cultural perceptions that can corrupt or misdirect the flow of information. We and the public must get more authentic and accurate information from uncorrupted sources; this is a new and very positive expansion of the ancient original mission of public and academic libraries.
We have unearthed constantly growing desires of people in our isolating society. Individuals want educational and cultural centers where all people—students and scholars, workers and managers, of every age range—can meet among information resources to discuss what they learn and discover. These spaces must be free, open, and nonthreatening—designed to empower interactions and provide easy access to tools to inform the discourse.
Our expertise will help to ensure that these destinations are properly equipped with both the devices and the expert people (ourselves) to make the process efficient, comfortable, and usable by all regardless of any limitations to their physical or mental function.
There are hosts of careers waiting in the work of convincing those who govern our communities, our schools and universities, and our commercial enterprises that such places, people, and tools are not only worth the cost and effort but are essential parts of a good society and necessary to the difficult job of democratic self-government. We have to get beyond the question of whether we can afford these places and the specialists to operate them to the assertion that we cannot afford to neglect them.
I am no Pollyanna, so I know we are a long way from information utopia. I am certain it will take us all our lifetimes to get anywhere near there.
What encourages me is that there are signs that our people and our leaders in education, government, and commerce are beginning to believe we need a healthier information environment with places in which devices, information professionals, and the public they serve can work toward that utopia. That will mean more career opportunities for librarians and information workers.
In short, I believe we have begun to convince ourselves and our society that, in economic terms, access to information and human interaction about it, is a public good, most efficiently provided to all, free of charge, through taxation. Libraries and information are like a vaccination or a school system: whenever anyone uses them, everyone benefits. There are new careers to be built doing that good work.