Emerging roles and possible futures for librarians and information professionals
By Bruce Rosenstein
Bruce Rosenstein is Managing Editor of Leader to Leader, and author of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way (2013) and Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker's Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life (2009).
He is an adjunct professor at The Catholic University of America's Department of Library and Information Science, and was a reference librarian at USA TODAY for 21 years.
What professional roles do you play as a librarian/information professional? How have they changed during your career? And perhaps most important, how do you see them changing and evolving in the future?
These issues are discussed in an intriguing recent article in New Library World, "A systematic literature review informing library and information professionals' emerging roles." Evgenia Vassilakaki and Valentini Moniarou-Papaconstantinou, of the Library Science & Information Systems Department of TEI of Athens, Greece, uncovered their findings from peer-reviewed literature published between 2000 and 2014.
Although a variety of libraries were included, the authors state that "the majority of the literature focused on academic libraries." All of the papers are in English, and "the majority of studies reported on research conducted in the United Kingdom and North America."
Their findings have implications given the changes taking place in work, society and education, and how those changes affect our institutions. Six emerging roles were discovered, all of which would seem to be applicable within many types of libraries and information centres:
Librarian as teacher
There is an ongoing educational role for academic, school and public librarians. The authors found a variety of terms describing this role, such as teaching librarian and instruction librarian. These professionals are responsible for information literacy programmes and both actively teach and support other teachers.
Papers in this category outlined challenges for librarians in institutional repositories, digital libraries and in one case, school libraries. They discovered several papers that "stressed the importance of retaining an institutional repository (IR) and identified increasing visibility of the university's research output as the main reason behind such a decision. They all argued the need for librarians to train authors on self-archiving techniques." Another paper discusses the importance of librarians becoming involved in copyright clearance, as well as raising the level of awareness and acceptance of institutional repositories by faculty. These roles reflect an important strategic purpose: increasing the visibility, ease of use and availability of research and related digital content generated by an institution.
In a model that has become increasingly popular in recent years, embedded librarians are based not in the library itself, but within a team or group in a separate unit of an institution.
These librarians are discussed here mainly in the context of academic libraries. Studies of two particular university programmes are cited; one from Everglades University, in Florida, and another from Kansas State University. The Everglades example provides a wide range of services offered by the embedded librarians, including "library orientation, access to course-related library resources, in-class instruction sessions, library instructional handouts, announcements, Doc Sharing tab, information on American Psychological Association (APA) style, databases, library Webinar information and note-taking."
This covers both academic libraries and businesses. Within businesses, one paper mentions that in times of budgetary restraints and staff reductions, librarians "had to take on roles such as expert hunters, information controllers and copyright advisors. As information consultants in the business sector, librarians needed to foster innovation, provide access to internal and external information and integrate information into the knowledge managers' workflow."
One paper claims that if academic librarians did not adopt the information consultant role, they risked being marginalized within the rapid changes in teaching and research.
The authors note the ambiguity and confusion around the terms knowledge management and knowledge manager. One paper describes the results of a questionnaire sent to information professionals in Canadian organizations regarding knowledge management programmes in that country, and found that the professionals "were responsible for the design of information architecture, taxonomy development and managing the organization's Intranet-produced information." This suggests the extensive set of responsibilities represented by knowledge management in businesses, universities and other institutions, and why it has become a popular field of study.
Two papers "emphasized the changing responsibilities and the new roles subject librarians need to undertake, such as promoting collaboration with teachers and technical staff, adopting new ways of servicing users' enquiries, promoting information literacy, identifying and managing information resources, and embedding in courses, among others." Another paper discusses subject librarians within virtual learning environments (VLEs), including the particular need for collaboration with colleagues.
You can put this article into action by comparing your current role with the six above. If any look promising, commit to learning more and reaching out to your professional networks. These opportunities may require additional training, taking new courses or perhaps a new degree. However, a major takeaway from the article is that in today's knowledge-focused world, it is preferable to be aligned with the future rather than the past.