Three Innovative Roles for Info Pros

By Huwe, Terence K. | Computers in Libraries, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Three Innovative Roles for Info Pros


Huwe, Terence K., Computers in Libraries


As we approach the end of the calendar year, CIL turns its attention to 2014's milestones in innovation. With digital information exploding in size and with product life cycles becoming shorter, such reviews are essential. Vendors, other publishers, and professional associations are also in the game, so there's plenty to keep track of. It is safe to say that the finest minds in the profession devote a lot of time to studying the digital marketplace, as well as social trends in search of breakthrough ideas. In response to this prevailing context of innovation-scouting, I have developed a deeper interest in what constitutes innovative behavior and what conditions support creative leadership by individuals.

As librarians, we have a sound foundation upon which to innovate. I have long held that the core values of the library profession (information counsel and reference service, collection development across all media, and expertise in intellectual property and preservation) are remarkably resilient and have the potential for innovation. New media and the so-called new economy are pushing the profession--pushing all professions, really--in new directions. It has become necessary to add new skills and competencies to our longstanding goals. This does not crowd out essential work; instead, it creates new energy and vision for embracing a digital future.

It is not difficult to come up with a long list of new competencies we could take on. For the sake of brevity, I've limited myself to three: commentator, content publisher, and policy leader.

Commentator

Our professional knowledge gives us the ability to offer commentary on key events and trends. We bring a perspective to commentary that is too often missing in the rush of current events: a firm grounding in history, primary sources, and a tendency to check facts. Librarians already use new media for many types of commentary; as the terrain enlarges, the strength of our voices can grow too.

The existing roster of commentators and cultural critics is chiefly populated by journalists and professionals of various stripes (attorneys, politicians, and so on) who have made the leap to authorship and perhaps even celebrity status. New media has made it possible for more people to share their opinions and commentary to wide audiences, particularly if what they have to say has entertainment value or can make sense of our rapidly changing society. Is there a role for librarians in the vast free-for-all of social commentary? My answer is yes, with two important qualifications.

The first qualification for taking on such a role has to do with where we work. Those of us who work for public institutions may be obligated to refrain from speaking in ways that may be construed as voicing the opinion of the agency we work for. At the same time, that common caveat, heard quite frequently on NPR--"The views expressed are those of the commentator and do not reflect the belief or values or this radio station, its sponsors. ..."--provides wiggle room for would-be commentators. Even so, many federal and state agencies won't allow commentary or criticism to be broadcast by their employees.

An issue for would-be commentators is whether they can speak out at all. However, there is a strategy for commentary that may offer space for public employees to skirt some of the rules: basing commentary on our collections and research acumen. If we comment on documented, historical events as described in our collections, we offer established knowledge that can bolster any debate or topical issue. This kind of commentary can thrive both in new media and in print.

The second qualification is quite simple: Would-be commentators must know their stuff, be ready to debate the finer points, and love the thrill of the debate. These characteristics are in ample supply in the profession, but when they meet the glare of mainstream media, they are sure to be tested. …

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