Being an endangered species
People think I’m mad for all sorts of reasons, with a chief cause for doubting my sanity at the moment being my pursuit of a librarianship qualification. “Isn’t librarianship obsolete?” they ask. Others are quick to inform me that “computers are taking everything over!” To an extent, they may be right, but they’re also talking utter rubbish.
Librarianship is a vastly changed profession, and has to evolve constantly as technology advances, new laws are introduced and society undergoes occasional metamorphoses. No longer custodians of books, jealously guarding them from the outside world, librarians now exist to facilitate access to information in a whole host of forms, both physical and electronic. Books are still a big part of our world, of course, but the Library of Doom, for instance, is also stuffed to the gills with videos, DVDs, CDs, maps, artefacts and CD-ROMs. In addition to this, there is the vast electronic world, with a horizon that is ever expanding, showing no signs of slowing down. Yes, computers hold all of this information, but librarians act as a guide, helping people to access, search, use and understand this information.
The field traditionally known as librarianship is slowly coming to be known as information science, and what is the most powerful and valuable commodity in today’s world? Well, OK, maybe uranium, but the effects of information, or the lack of it, can be just as devastating. Is the keyboard now mightier than the bomb? Anyone can store, create, access and manipulate information, as the blogosphere shows us. It is the job of the librarian, the information scientist, to help these processes along.
“But finding information is easy, just use Google!” Well, yes. Google is lovely, and it’s very easy to find information using its nearly idiot-proof system. But sometimes it’s not quite so easy to find accurate, relevant, useful information, and this is where information science comes in. The choice and combination of keywords, the application of filters and the development of a search strategy are all things which the average user doesn’t generally think about. Some help from a friendly librarian can change that, vastly improving an individual’s use of Google, or introducing them to other search engines and databases that may be of more help. Looking for academically useful information in the sciences? Try Scirus. Engaged in research in the arts and humanities? Try exploring AHDS. The whole point of librarians is that they know an awful lot of things, but they don’t know everything. They’re just very, very good at finding things out. It’s a good thing we’re all so meek, mild-mannered and (apparently) obsolete. If we put our minds to it, we could be very dangerous indeed…
Librarians are not an endangered species. We do what we’ve always done, but in a new environment. Less dusty, but more prone to the terrible Blue Screen Of Death. Or it was – the BSOD was so 20th century… Librarians may never be cool, even if we disguise ourselves as information scientists, but we are most certainly with it, surfing on the cutting edge of technology (evidently mixing metaphors like nobody’s business as we do so), helping people find ‘that website with the green box at the top, which my friend said was really useful’.