Does Technology Define Librarians' Roles?

Article excerpt

As I contemplated this issue's theme Our Evolving Roles, I found myself wondering if our roles as librarians were really and truly changing. Without question our daily tasks have changed as we have found ourselves updating databases instead of filing cards in drawers, but do we define ourselves by the details of what we do each day? Libraries, the places where most of us go to work, have also changed, with computers occupying large amounts of space previously reserved for books, but do we define ourselves by the places where we do our work? The tools we use have changed as we work with computers and printers instead of catalog cards and stamp pads, but do we define ourselves by the tools we use? The real question is: Has technology changed our roles as librarians, or has it just given us better tools?

Serious discussions about the role of the librarian in the future are often conducted during continuing education workshops or panel discussions at professional conferences. Such a subject might also come up for debate at a strategic planning session or even during a friendly dinner among library colleagues. Of course, if you aren't able to attend the larger conferences on a regular basis then you are probably discussing the issue only with colleagues who have similar backgrounds and experience. A broader perspective can be both interesting and thought provoking, so I went online (as I often do) in search of the answer to my question--are our roles as librarians really changing?

Selling Librarianship

My first stop was ALA's site for its"@ your library" campaign. The site features a section titled Be a Librarian, and I thought it would be interesting to see how our professional organization portrays our work to potential librarians. My first impression was that the site was emphasizing technology in order to overcome our rather staid public image. It boldly proclaimed that "the ultimate search engine is your librarian." The profiles of five "21st Century" librarians appeared to continue this emphasis by profiling Dave Brier, the systems librarian at the University of Hawaii, and John Day, the university librarian at Gallaudet University who was described as a "PC fixer." Although the profiles noted their abilities to handle technology, they stressed that these librarians' most important traits are their wide range of interests and dynamic energy directed at developing exciting and innovative programs and services for patrons.

The site said that librarians are professionals who serve in many roles, including ambassadors to the community, teachers, linguists, and information specialists. The site also featured personal stories from some of New Jersey's librarians, access to an article by Olivia Crosby that appeared in the winter 2000-01 issue of Occupational Outlook Quarterly Online, and information on education and employment opportunities in our profession.

The ALA site emphasized that the professional librarian has a definite place in the 21st century. Another site that explores this topic in more depth is the Librarians in the 21st Century site from Syracuse University School of Information Studies. Graduate students from the spring 2000 semester created this site as an online resource that explores the nature of librarianship at the start of a new century, looking both at the present and at the future directions of the profession. The site is now being maintained and expanded by the fall 2000 class. The Who We Are section explores career options, including the familiar divisions into academic, corporate, legal, medical, and public library service. Additional career tracks the site includes are archivists, government document librarians, information architects, K-12 librarians, and information brokers. The page devoted to each career option presents an overview and description of this career track, including the typical responsibilities of the position, educat ional requirements, and a description of the working environment and the populations served. …