A Kind Reader sent in this blog post with this subject line: Annoyed that “informationists” are “transforming” libraries to do exactly what librarians been doing since libraries came into existence!
The blog post is about the future of the library, a perennially favorite topic that I don’t know why anyone bothers with. The future just kind of happens whether we predict it or not. There, it just happened again. And again. My predictions are obviously very short term.
The author is an “informationist,” which is a pretty vague title. I had to look it up on Wikipedia, which I now realize is because I’m not a medical librarian. According to that article, “one way to think of the informationist is as one who possesses the knowledge and skill of a medical librarian with extensive research specialization and some formal clinical or public health education that goes beyond on-the-job osmosis.”
So, basically a medical librarian with some sort of medical training, I guess. I prefer “informationeer” myself, and have considered changing this blog to the Annoyed Informationeer.
Kind Reader takes umbrage at the following paragraph:
Though the position remains relatively uncommon, the types of services offered by an informationist are already increasingly offered by academic libraries. The library of the future will likely feature more staff members that resemble informationists than those that resemble the librarians of today. Future library staff will offer services outside the library’s physical space; they will offer training, the will offer dynamic and proactive information services, they will be fixtures of the laboratory. The library of the future will offer services tailored to the needs of individual laboratories and researchers. Rather than simply storing information, the library of the future will curate. Services will focus on assisting researchers navigate the increasingly overwhelming streams of information offered by both traditional academic publications and emerging “alternative” resources such as blogs and social media. Future library staff members will use their subject knowledge to assist in reference discovery and management, perhaps even data discovery and management. They will be scientists as well as librarians.
Kind Reader’s point is that most of this is what a lot of libraries already do, and have been doing for a long time. That gets us into the territory where the future is somehow the past that’s caught up with the present. I wanted to develop that further, but my head was spinning too much thinking about it.
The medical librarian community started criticizing the term soon after it was introduced in 2000 in an article entitled “’The Informationist: a New Health Profession?’ So What Are We? Chopped Liver?” The link in Wikipedia was broken, but I think we can get the gist of the article.
My quibble was mostly with this sentence: “Though the position remains relatively uncommon, the types of services offered by an informationist are already increasingly offered by academic libraries.”
Something seemed off about it. Then I remembered that in a lot of academic libraries the librarians already have advanced degrees in an academic subject as well as in library science, and they offer all sorts of specialized research services. This isn’t something that’s “increasingly” offered. In fact, it might be something increasingly on the decline. But it’s hardly new.
This perspective might be explained by the fact that the only other time the person worked in a library was as a page in a public library, when he was fifteen, during which time he “acquired the only experience with traditional library activities- processing periodicals, shelving books, managing a circulation desk” that he would ever have.
However, while those are traditional, and indeed current library activities, they aren’t usually librarian activities except in very small libraries. I’ve been a librarian for many years and have never shelved a book. That’s what we hire 15-year-olds to do.
But, like the articles by people who never use libraries claiming libraries are obsolete, we get a similar prediction of the library’s future. The future of the library is whatever people happen to be doing in the library that they think is a new thing. That’s the theme that’s launched a hundred blog posts.