We Are a Profession That Makes a Difference: Thousands of Your Colleagues Toil Every Day to Save Lives, Improve Public Policy, Support Creativity and Research ... and Shine the Light of Information and Knowledge Everywhere

By Abram, Stephen | Information Outlook, January 2009 | Go to article overview

We Are a Profession That Makes a Difference: Thousands of Your Colleagues Toil Every Day to Save Lives, Improve Public Policy, Support Creativity and Research ... and Shine the Light of Information and Knowledge Everywhere


Abram, Stephen, Information Outlook


As we celebrate our 100th year, it seems fitting to talk about beginnings as well as the foundations of our success as a profession. We are on the leading edge. We are the first global and international information profession. We are here at the beginning of what is clearly the foundation of a new information and knowledge-based economy. That's exciting!

We are also challenged by birthing pains--massive disruptions in the global economy, the employment situation, restructuring and political changes. It's truly an interesting time. In my e-mail inbox, I get reminders from members who think I haven't noticed that the economy is souring. (Thanks, I have noticed.) I just don't see the benefit of dwelling on it as a problem. I prefer to find solutions and I'm proud of the actions the SLA board has taken. I won't list them here but there are dozens.

We are seeing the emergence of an amazing, revitalized profession at one of the key points in world history. We get to bring fresh perspectives to one of the most challenging times in our history! We actually get to create, to invent and to innovate. We are tasked with a great responsibility for education, learning, research, invention, technology, commerce and trade. Of course, this can only happen if we believe. I don't want to get all X-Files on you, but I do worry that some folks--our fellow members--are deciding that the challenge is insurmountable and they're giving up, already!

You're ready to help create the future, right? What are you going to do? You already have some great role models. Libraries matter. Librarians change lives. We always have. The world is a better place for your existence and the work you do every day. Don't forget that.

Decades from now, what will you look back on as your great accomplishments? If people had given up their dreams in the Great Depression, what would the world have become? Decide now to build something fantastic with every information task, every user interaction, and every question answered.

Over the years, I've observed and met so many of our librarian colleagues who chose to make a difference on so many levels. They were committed to our profession, and they were committed to changing the world for the better.

In my year as SLA president, I got to meet many wonderful colleagues, and the great work being done was transformational. I'm not mentioning them here to embarrass them (most are quite modest about their accomplishments), but I chose a few to remind you that there is a need for our contributions as information professionals, when technology is at the forefront. If we fail to add value, then much will be lost and we risk a new Dark Age.

For example, our SLA colleague James spent his years in the military as a librarian, researching everything there is to know about IEDs Iimprovised explosive devices) and landmines in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. This librarian knows that his research is saving countless lives every day. It's not just online searching in a blinking box.

My friend and SLA member Mary Lee built one of the first intranets in the world in the 1990s. She saved her company US$ 120 million annually and raised revenues by US$ 70 million per year before building a huge KM initiative as CKO at Microsoft. She makes global businesses stronger by making them smarter with information strategies. Powerful intranets don't just happen when you plug in the machines.

Then there's Joan. Her CEO recognized her with a surprise check bearing six figures. And that was just for proactively answering a single question at her company--one that saved millions of dollars in patent R&D. He wanted to make a point to all employees: he truly valued libraries and believed that good information matters to corporate decision making success. Every question has the potential for massive impact, even if we don't always see it. Corporations, careers and lives improve because we search, collect and serve. …

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