Thursday, March 20, 2008

A graduate degree to shelve books?

Some people misunderstand what information professionals do and that can be frustrating. For many people, "information professional" is an opaque term that quickly collapses into "librarian" which collapses into "item check-out clerk." A friend recently joked, partly seriously, that my university has rendered librarians obsolete by having automatic check-out machines and investing in tens of thousands e-resources. Part of the work of correcting this impression has to start with showing that research can be more complex than punching some text into Google or Wikipedia. Both of those resources are certainly very useful but they have certain limits one needs to be aware of (e.g. Google results can be manipulated for marketing reasons).

I have been thinking of ways to correct this impression. Allowing it to persist can have a definite impact on libraries and archives; why fund such lowly clerks well? Outreach needs to be seen as crucial. Reference services can always be better. The archival preoccupation with authenticity, preservation, and the like are certainly necessary but I think we have something to learn from the more user-centred approach that librarians often take.

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