It seems to me that these are the essential competencies for the new breed of information professionals, instead of wondering about what (if any) technical, technological or theoretical skills should be taught in places of higher learning that educate such people. What is required most on the ground is not people who can use information and communication technologies (ICTs) (because everybody born after 1985 has these skills, and the rest of us have already learnt them – and we all continue learning them on a daily basis, so how can a formal programme possibly keep up?). We do not need to emphasise writing software or designing web pages, either – nor doing elaborate database construction exercises, nor any of the cutting-edge technological stuff that computer scientists (aka technologists) do very well indeed, thank you. You lot could work a bit more closely with us lot thought, especially in overlapping areas such as ontologies, human/system interaction, information retrieval and so forth, but I’ll leave that alone for now. In the meantime, algorithms have taken the place of indexing; the internet issues or grants access to documents. We also do not need people who are so involved with theoretical foundations and philosophies that they are unable to persuade the powers that be (i.e. those who control the purse-strings) of the necessity for our professional services or who cannot provide compelling and convincing press releases, or suitably snazzy and controversial soundbites for television news.
With the world being as it is – and I will refrain from trying to elaborate on this point too much, as I am not entirely sure what the world is nowadays with everything being as jumbled up and confusing as it is – it would appear that if the information professions are to survive at all, they need to develop a different persona. In spite of the fact that we have been drenched with the idea of the so-called ‘information society’ and pelted with new hardware and software capabilities for a couple of decades now, the link between the communication of ideas and information professionals does not yet appear to have been made in the public mind. This is deeply worrying. That the present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, a well-educated man by all accounts, is naive enough to suggest that public libraries in Britain can be staffed and run by volunteers, is beyond mind-boggling.
Besides an understanding of our professional social responsibility – our professional raison d’etre – we need imagination, curiosity, embrace of new and strange ideas, capacity to change and turn nimbly and quickly, an adventurous spirit that has little fear of failure (it seems as if we have already failed so dramatically that we have nowhere further to drop to) and is willing to try different things and different ways of doing things. Above all, perhaps, it a sense of political power and the development of strategic descriptions, encounters, events, plans or whatever that will catch the attention of both the public and the purse-string holders. This is the major reason, I believe, that collaboration between the information professions is so essential. It rises above turf wars, listserv debates, preaching to the converted, and the whole enclave or laager mentality that we have clung to for too long.
In an age that seems to rely on – nay, is predicated upon – spin, the mass media, disinformation and social networking – information professionals should use the same mechanisms and techniques if they are to survive. It has often been noted that the side that ‘wins’ is that side whose story is most believed, and not necessarily whose army is the biggest. There is an abundant literature on creativity and innovation, strategies and implementing plans to achieve goals, so there is little point in repeating all of that here. But I would urge you, gentle reader, to talk to those OUTSIDE of your immediate sphere rather than seeking consolation from within the ranks where of course you will find understanding and a shoulder to cry on. You should dangerously venture into the world of realpolitik to engage those who make the important decisions that affect us, rather than relying on public goodwill, that concedes that ‘libraries are good to have’ and ‘reading is a mark of civilisation’. These sentiments, perhaps sadly, don’t mean anything at all in today’s rather more brutal world. We will end up going round and round in circles until the inevitable happens. Or perhaps it is already too late.