Thursday, December 13, 2007

Libraries and Information Sciences -- Yes, that's what I am studying

Upon completing the course Information and Libraries in Society, I believe I have a richer understanding and appreciation for the information professional’s role within American society. In an increasingly interconnected world where rapid access to information is more easily attainable than at any other point in human history, the need to organize such an enormous amount of data is critically important. Civilizations will continue to need those trained in organizing data and helping researchers obtain information through the most effective means.

This class helped me realize that in addition to learning about metadata tags and the finer points of Online Public Access Catalogs (OPACs), and which references are the best when studying a great author or learning more about a particular nation, that it is important that an information professional understand his or her role within modern society. The librarian, or information professional, of today will need to be competent in the services he or she provides, ethical in the way he or she behaves as a professional, and be willing to adapt with changing technologies and evolving expectations within a given society.

Professional standards for librarianship and the overall information profession has been a source of debate for a little more than a century. There were simply no standards for the librarian in the 19th century, however, in 1902 the American Library Association (ALA) directed its Committee on Library Training to issue a report on existing library training programs (Rubin, 247). This report generated a set of library school standards the following year. Since that time, ALA has been responsible for the accreditation process of library and information science schools. However, some might argue that there need to be concrete competency standards for those currently engaged in the information profession, whether in libraries or elsewhere.

In 2002, the ALA Committee on Accreditation issued a report from its Standards Review Subcommittee, which highlighted a need to update the standards from a decade previously in the following areas (American Library Association 2002):

∑ Distance education
∑ Impact of technology in general on information science education
∑ Impact of technology, distance education, and enrollment growth on expectations of productivity from faculty
∑ Are there expectations on faculty to secure outside funding?
∑ Comments on diversity need to be better integrated

It appears that ALA is still struggling with many of these questions about its own standards, and there are many questions we need to ask ourselves. One key question is “Am I well-versed in some of the latest information technology?” Information professionals are on the front lines of the evolving wired world, and it’s best for our own future if we try and become early adopters of these technological tools.
I enjoyed the class discussions on ethical standards within the information profession, and I think these will serve to continue internal discussions.

Librarianship and the entire information science arena needs to have a set of ethical standards in order to provide a high-quality of professional service to patrons. The ALA has an eight-point code of ethics, the Society of American Archivists has a 13-point code of ethics, and a few other professional associations have their own ethical standards.

Somewhere along Daft’s continuum, with codified law on one end and free choice on the other, ethics will help guide us through difficult choices. A couple questions to always keep in mind are (Rubin, 331):

∑ What extent is the organization or individual professional socially responsible or irresponsible when acting in a particular manner?
∑ What extent are the actions of the organization or individuals acting in its behalf harming or benefiting other individuals, organizations, or the profession?

Somewhat related to the above discussion is the issue of censorship, and the need to weigh a community’s values vs. the right of the individual to have open access to information. Personally, I believe the information professional should be an activist for open access and equal service to all patrons. I tend to take Ranganathan’s five laws of librarianship to heart: books are for use, books are for all, every book its reader, save time for the reader, and the library is a growing organism.

Perhaps the most intriguing and challenging of Ranganathan’s five laws is the last, as libraries and other places of information services are constantly evolving (growing). The librarian, or information professional, must stay abreast of these changes and I personally think he or she should try their best to be early adopters of information technology.

In the 1980s libraries shifted dramatically from card catalogs to OPACs, and today we are witnessing the beginnings of Web 2.0. There are new challenges and opportunities for librarians and others in the information sciences field to go to the patron via the Internet, rather than always having the user come to them. Although some have criticized the name Web 2.0, as it was not an entirely new version of the World Wide Web, but rather there were “new things coming, and the ‘2.0’ referred to whatever those might turn out to be. (Paul Graham, 2005)”

What we are witnessing now in regards to libraries and librarians, and other information professionals, is an attempt to reach out through more collaborative and user created Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook and Del.icio.us. There will no doubt be further information technology advancements, and it’s important for information specialists, librarians included, to quickly adopt these, perhaps even quicker than the society at large.

Bibliography

American Library Association. 2007. COA Standards Review Subcommittee.
http://www.ala.org/ala/accreditation/accredstandards/index.cfm
(accessed December 4, 2007).

Graham, Paul. Web 2.0. http://www.paulgraham.com/web20.html
(accessed December 4, 2007).

Rubin, Richard. 2004. Foundations of Library and Information Science. New York:
Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

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