Perhaps you have read this post before? Or maybe something on this blog rings a bell? I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
At Library Camp in Birmingham several months ago, I tried to encourage those who did not consider themselves to be ‘New Professionals’ to join in debates and discussions with those who did – especially in discussions such as #UKLibChat. My concern was that much of what I blog about, and discuss with my peers has been around for years. The same problems keep cropping up again and again, but as new entrants to the profession rise through the ranks and gain additional responsibilities, their spare time to tackle these problems rapidly diminishes. Many of their ideas therefore perish, or are simply lost into the depths of obscurity. New Professionals pick up on the issues, but from a fresh start, without building on work previously undertaken, and so the circle begins again.
This was partly confirmed to me this week when an old box of journals was returned from storage. Inside the box were numerous copies of the ASLIB Journal way back from 1988-1992. I was shocked and amazed that the capacity to publish journals existed in the Triassic period, but nevertheless, they made for interesting reading.
My mirth at the many John Major look a-likes was rapidly quelled though when I realised that one of the journal articles was not far removed from one of my own recent posts. Entitled “Information Work: Occupation or Profession?”, it dealt with challenges to the professionalism of information work, and touched on the ‘Information Professional v Librarian’ job title issue. The conclusions reached were almost identical to the many discussions that can be seen all over the place today; we do not let our users know of the skills we possess, nor are we valued as much as we might like to be. There was one slight difference though, less militancy! The ending sentiment was that providing our clients are happy, then “our professional credibility will be beyond reproach” – sadly, credibility does not guarantee the protection of a service or jobs in today’s economy.
What really struck me though, was that the article confirmed with a concrete date of October 1989, how long these issues have been discussed for. They are not new challenges facing New Professionals and taking established workers by surprise – they are been discussed and debated for slightly less than my entire life, and longer than my entire educational life (that’s school, sixth form, 3 years of uni and a postgrad course…). It has left me wondering, if the problems have been discussed and debated for this long with no avail, what difference will it make now? If it has taken approximately 23 years to get to a stage where libraries are facing closure, it doesn’t exactly bode well for the next 23 does it?
And so I left this blog post in situ, feeling rather despondent, until last night when I had a bit of a revelation. I have since added a more upbeat addendum.
There is no need to be in total dismay. Whilst the same issues are still be discussed, a greater amount of action is being put in place alongside these discussions, and their impact is reaching a wider audience. Fantastic groups such as Voices for the Library are raising awareness, and initiatives such as National Libraries Day are starting to get the amount of press that they deserve. Whilst job situations are still grave in most sectors, information professionals are proving themselves a resourceful bunch and finding work in usual non-traditional roles.
And what of the issue surrounding the point on continuing to blog about issues that have been around for a while? Unfortunately for those subscribed to this blog, I have decided that there is a point to continuing to write about age-old issues. It demonstrates that the profession is still critically assessing itself. By voicing these concerns, hopefully further collaboration will be continued between all levels of the information profession, from the brand new ‘new professional’ to the highest upper echelon of management, so that we can learn from each other, preventing either a one way learning process, or a complete disregard for work undertaken previously.
There is also a point to be made for discussing the same issues, but in a different context. 23 years ago, the information landscape as we know it today was completely different. The Internet was but a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. The issues that were discussed had to therefore be relevant in a time where people believed CD-ROMs would still work, even if covered in jam and breakfast foods. The solutions that were discussed were therefore appropriate for that time and place, but are in no way applicable now. The fast changing information world means that these problems need to be addressed again in a new context, a world where Opal Fruits are now universally known as Starburst and Coco Pops and milk now make a bowl full of fun. Changes such as this mean everything needs to be evaluated, again.