Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Informationists and Librarians

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.



  1. John Borghi says:

    I am the author of the blog post and I just wanted to clarify one bit. My intention was to describe my position as science informationist as relatively uncommon, not informationists in general. A comment made elsewhere reminded me that many many librarians consider themselves informationists. I should have been more specific about that.

    I’d also like to mention that my intention with the blog post was not to make any bold predictions about the future of the library. The audience of The Incubator mostly consists of research scientists, in my (albeit limited) experience an audience that doesn’t pay a lot of attention to libraries. That’s why I mentioned the bit about shelving books and working on circulation desks. Many of the faculty I work with assume that those are the principle activities of somebody that works in a library… which they aren’t.

  2. John Borghi says:

    I feel bad that my comments have upset people. I really did not mean to imply that librarians (or other library staff) are not already offering the services I describe. Perhaps naively, I assumed that many of the audience (who, again, are research scientists) had a rather old fashioned idea of what a modern academic library looks like. If I were to re-write the piece, I’d definately frame it as “This is what the library of the present looks like” rather than “This is what the library of the future will look like.”

    • I think it’s totally fair to assume that many faculty members and researchers have an old-fashioned idea of the library’s offerings… again not a new problem for the library profession, but kudos to you for attempting to raise awareness for your colleagues.

    • The Anonymous One says:

      I find it more concerning that research scientists don’t know what happens in a library! How do you do your research? Do you not refer to any literature before conducting experiments? No peer reviewed journals? Nothing?

      Or do research scientists use peer reviewed journals and just assume they appear magically on the computer?

    • John Borghi says:

      I should clarify, the research scientists I know definitely read and reference the scientific literature. In my experience, they just don’t generally think too hard about where their access comes from.

    • I would second John’s comment about scientist who read but don’t know. They submit article requests and its magically delivered to their email inbox. When the scientists guide customer tours through the building, they stop by the library. Their description is usually along the lines of “and this is our library with great staff. But everything is going online now.” Apparently we’re obsolete.

  3. Ms. Manners says:

    The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, explains why people like Mr. Borghi risk ridicule when they predict the future: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

  4. the.effing.librarian says:

    an informationist who gets it for much much less at the library. or TJ Maxx.

  5. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    Informatoinist, another vain attempt to discount the work Librarians. Hopefully it will end up in the great dust bin of history as the title :”Cybrarian” from the 1990’s.

  6. Annoyed Librarian,

    The statement “…while those are traditional, and indeed current library activities, they aren’t usually librarian activities except in very small libraries…” is an inacurate general observation.

    Like you, I have been a librarian for some time, and have had a range of duies from collection development, reader’s advisory, reference, curculation, and yes, shelving books from time to time.

    Speaking from the experience of work in special and public libraries, librarians (even the degree holding ones) are expected to perform everything from the “high minded” to the “down and dirty tasks” that may or may not have been addressed in a library school course. This is certainly the case when a supervisor or administrator may not have any understanding of what the library fiekd is about, or what the people employed actually do.

    In these post-Great Recession times, many of the clerical and page positions that were cut back or eliminated have not been restored. Understaffing everywhere is an issue, and there is always more work to do than people to do it. I am located at a one of the busier branches in my library system (though in terns of physical size, can be described as “small”), and at this and other branches, you can be sure that the librarians are, during the day, shelving books along with struggling to complete other responsibilities.

    Please remember that, even with tongue in cheek observations, there are those of us in the field who regularly deal with less than ideal conditions and situations each day.


  7. After reading my message, I want everyone to know that Ireally am able to spell well. Some things suffer when you are trying to squeeze things in between other tasks!

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