The (un)certainty of professional persistence

There has been a lot of good discussion on my post about the future of books, libraries, librarians, and schools (thank you, everyone). In addition to the comments on the post itself, there are some excellent thoughts elsewhere as well:


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I was struck, however, by something that Erin Downey said in her own post:

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What has, does, and will distinguish us from [coffee shops, community centers, and Internet cafes] are LIBRARIANS. Your barista doesn't know how to help you find a price guide for 19th century china dolls, or figure out what the primary motivations were of the Romantic poets, or locate the best resource for building an addition to your house (as well as getting the right permits for local construction!). We do all that and more on a daily basis without breaking a sweat - we're trained information professionals.

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As I read Erin's post, she seems awfully certain that librarians will be around and will be essential to the new order. I confess that I'm not that certain.

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Perhaps I'm reading her wrong, but her paragraph strikes me as one of absolute certainty in librarians' worth: Of course we'll be around in the new paradigm! We're LIBRARIANS, dammit! We're TRAINED INFORMATION PROFESSIONALS who are VALUABLE in and of ourselves and also PROVIDE VALUE TO OTHERS. As I read her paragraph, I started substituting other professions in place of librarians: Of course we'll be around in the new paradigm! We're JOURNALISTS / TELEGRAPH OPERATORS / BUGGY WHIP MAKERS / TRAVEL AGENTS, dammit! We're TRAINED PROFESSIONALS who are VALUABLE in and of ourselves and also PROVIDE VALUE TO OTHERS.

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I think that the shifts we are now beginning to experience are going to be much more disruptive than we expect. I don't think that we can take for granted that any current information-oriented profession is going to be around in the new paradigm. I think it's a safer bet to assume that most of us in information-oriented jobs either are going to be replaced by something new or will see our professions so radically transformed that we may need to give them new labels.

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Whether we're librarians, teachers, administrators, or professors – or newspaper journalists, television producers, radio broadcasters, or magazine publishers – or travel agents, stockbrokers, medical professionals, or postal service workers, I think we need to be more uneasy. We need to be less complacent, less certain. We need to be more proactive and forward-thinking rather than self-congratulatory and self-satisfied.

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The professionals in information-oriented fields who will be best able to navigate the seismic transitions that are yet to occur will be those that DON'T take their individual jobs – or even their entire professions – for granted. We all need to be more on edge than we currently are.

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Photo credit: Officemate disappears

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