At a panel organized by the Information Professionals Task Force for the 2012 ASIS&T Annual Meeting, several respected leaders in the field shared insights about how to move the profession forward. Gary Marchionini conveyed observations from an earlier symposium including recognition of common values and the social mission of the profession, changing economic models affecting organizations and the need to focus on problem solving instead of narrow disciplines. Michele Cloonan outlined factors likely to affect new graduates entering the profession, such as the growing interaction among formerly distinct segments of the information world, global networking, a greater focus on data curation and attention to leadership development. Though hurricane Sandy thinned the panel of recruiters of information professionals, Allen Tien of MDLogix noted problem solving, communication and continual learning among the skills and competencies he looks for. A focal point in the follow-up discussion was the difficulty recent graduates have finding jobs; panelists pointed to opportunities in nontraditional information environments.

information professionals
socioeconomic aspects
leadership
professional competencies
career development

Bulletin, February/March 2013


Special Section

From Vision to Reality: The Emerging Information Professional

by Sandra Hirsh

What will it mean to be an information professional in coming decades? How can we shape the public perception of our slice of the economy? How will job opportunities change? These are some of the questions that a panel at the 2012 ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Baltimore aimed to answer. This session was organized by the Information Professionals Task Force and moderated by the task force’s chair, Sandra Hirsh, professor and director at San Jose State University. Hirsh introduced the session by discussing the charge to the Information Professionals Task Force by ASIS&T president Diane Sonnenwald to tackle advocacy for information professionals (www.asis.org/Bulletin/Jun12/JunJul12_PresidenctsPage.html). 

The Information Professionals Task Force approached this challenge in several ways – by creating an advocacy plan, by creating sessions like this one to talk about advocacy (including Hirsh’s keynote at the Library 2.012 conference: "How to be a Catalyst for Change: Redefining the Library 2.0 Information Professional" – http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/about-slis/news/detail/sjsu-slis-director-delivers-opening-keynote-library-2012-worldwide-virtual) and by creating a new website prototype that, when more fully developed, can broaden awareness about information professionals. All of this work was done in close collaboration with Prudence Dalrymple, research and teaching professor, Drexel, and Marcia J. Bates, professor emerita, University of California, Los Angeles, over the past year. Our goal with the panel session “From Vision to Reality” is to further understand and advocate for the role of the information professional. 

The session started with insights gathered from two symposia held in 2012 about the future of information professionals. Gary Marchionini, dean and Cary C. Boshamer Professor at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, shared key takeaways from the Information Professionals 2050 (IP2050) Symposium and Conference (http://sils.unc.edu/news/2012/ip2050-symposium-conference). IP2050, which drew together more than a dozen thought leaders, identified several themes of importance to future information professionals. The first theme Marchionini discussed was the common values that hold our information profession together: universal access to knowledge, organization of information, collaboration, intellectual freedom and diversity of thought, self-directed learning, creation, and curation and preservation of knowledge responsiveness to user needs. Other themes include the emergence of new economic models across many types of information organizations, the importance of the social mission of the profession and the need to address sustainability challenges and the focus on problem-based rather than discipline-based education. He spoke optimistically about the future for information professionals. According to Marchionini, “There is no better time to work in libraries and the information field.”

Michele Cloonan, dean and professor at Simmons College, shared insights from a blue-ribbon futures panel that brought together 17 faculty and professionals representing libraries, archives, museums, the corporate world and other fields to explore changes that will likely impact the environment in which future library and information science graduates will find themselves. She discussed key observations from this blue-ribbon futures panel, which included the importance of looking for synergies among library and information science, the publishing industry, museum studies and other information-related professions; creating wider global consortia of programs and networks; infusing leadership into library and information science education and focusing on data curation (including the planning and management of data libraries). Additionally, she discussed how library and information science programs should engage more effectively and pro-actively with the research community by identifying their needs and expectations, understanding current and changing research interests and developing and maintaining relationships with them. She wrapped up by talking about the journey that our information profession is currently on with a quote by Bob Proctor: “It doesn’t matter where you are, you are nowhere compared to where you can go.” 

We invited three panelists who are on the front lines of recruitment and who hire information professionals in different environments – biomedical (Allen Tien, MDLogix), industry (Nathan Andrews, Deloitte) and government (Helen C. Keil-Losch, board of governors of the Federal Reserve Board) – to share their perspectives about information professionals. Specifically, they were asked to address these questions: 

  • What is the nature of the work that information professionals do in your workplace environment? 
  • What can information professionals do to better represent their knowledge and skills to others? 
  • What are the expected needs for information professionals in your sector? 
  • What is missing from information professional skill sets/knowledge base? 
  • What aspects of information professionals do you most value? 

However, due to the disruption caused by hurricane Sandy, only one of our panelists, Allen Tien of Medical Decision Logic, Inc. (MDLogix), was able to speak at the session. After giving some background about his company, including the work that it does, he addressed the questions above. When hiring, he feels that it is important for information professionals to represent their ability to listen and understand clients, demonstrate their problem-solving abilities and showcase their ability to develop more knowledge and skills. He emphasized the importance of some of the soft skills of being a good employee such as being reliable, responsible and a quick learner. He believes that some of the things that are currently missing from information professional skill sets/knowledge base included experience and understanding (he gave the example of how some don’t have a clear understanding of what data means), technical knowledge and code maintainability. He says that the aspects of information professionals he most values are their accurate communication about what will happen (in terms of how to solve problems, estimating how long projects will take, anticipating consequences), their productivity throughout a project (such as through team participation) and continuous improvement of code quality.

After the speakers finished, there was an interactive discussion. Some of the questions centered around the challenges the recent graduates from library and information science programs have experienced in finding employment. Panelists acknowledged these challenges, but pointed out the evolving set of opportunities that are available to people with library and information science degrees in other information environments. 


Sandra Hirsh is chair of the ASIS&T Information Professionals Task Force and professor and director, School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University. She can be reached at sandy.hirsh<at>sjsu.edu