By Marais, Marietjie
Information Outlook , Vol. 5, No. 1
The Information Age: Challenges & Opportunities
BRIGHTON, A BEAUTIFUL CITY IN THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND, WAS CHOSEN as the venue for the second worldwide conference on special librarianship arranged by the SLA. The first such conference was held in 1979, and both the organisers and delegates expressed the opinion that the third conference should definitely not be scheduled twenty-one years into the future. Twenty-one months was nearer to the mark! About 650 information professionals from all over the world gathered in the Brighton Hilton Metropole Hotel in October 2000, to discuss issues concerning the profession. Hardly any other work environment has been touched so deeply by the huge developments in the information industry. The world has indeed become a global village and we are a part of that.
We as special librarians, information professionals, cybrarians, whatever you wish to call us, need to change to keep up with the needs of our clients, we constantly have to develop new skills and we must be willing to be facilitators in introducing our clients to the possibilities of the Internet. There have been enormous changes in the way we gather information, as well as in the way we present this information to our users. Competitive intelligence is essential to survive in today's business world. We need to co-operate closely with business leaders and show them the value of what we do and we need to change and adapt constantly. Many a special library, or information centre, was "killed" by the unwillingness, or inability, to change.
This conference gave us an opportunity to network and to learn from each other. We must become used to sharing ideas and taking the profession to an even higher level of excellence. Information professionals are often key players in profitless prosperity... bringing success in the work environment and prosperity in life, though not necessarily higher profit.
May I share my perspectives with you through the keynote speakers of the three days of conference:
The first keynote speaker was Dame Stephanie Shirley, founder and life president of the FI Group, a technology information company, and the top selfmade woman in the UK. What an inspiration it was to listen to Dame Stephanie as she told us the story of why and how her company started and developed. She gave practical advice using her action-oriented management style. She had the audience in the palm of her hand when she started off by saying that she "just loves libraries" ... because as she perceives things, librarians "are endlessly and selflessly helping others."
Dame Stephanie had a traumatic background as war orphan, but this was also her freedom drive and the driving force to survive. The story of her business success started in 1962 around her dining-room table, a cottage industry for women. From the start they upheld a professional image. FI became a company of women for women. It started off as jobs for women, through jobs for women with children working flexible hours, to careers for women with dependants. This was a new way of staffing the market and for many households it brought on "profitless prosperity". The company created opportunities for women, the choice of when and where to work. Her company shared ownership right from the start, right through the company. Today 24% of the shares are with the workforce and the company has 5,000 fulitime staff... and seventy millionaires!
Dame Stephanie emphasised the importance of knowing when and how to let go. Since the company was her brainchild, she wanted to do everything herself, be involved in every aspect of the work. This became impossible as the company became so big, and as a result she suffered burnout. Success is often on the edge of failure. She took stock and realised that while she was strong on technology and had lots of ideas, she was just an average manager. The company hired an excellent manager and went from strength to strength. …