The Evolution of the Information Profession
In 1957 Katharine Hepburn starred opposite Spencer Tracy, in the Twentieth Century Fox film Desk Set. Desk Set is about reference librarians who work for the research department of a broadcasting network. When the network plans the acquisition of another company, a computer is brought in to assist the librarians with the additional work. The name of this machine is EMERAC (Electromagnetic MEmory and Research Arithmetical Calculator). Upon learning of the new computer the librarians feel threatened by its presence. Panic ensues, those working in the research department being under the assumption that the machine will inevitably eliminate the need for their job.
Desk Set introduced viewers to the computer at a time when they were virtually unheard of. While the computer was still in its infancy in 1957, this movie captured a theme that has remained relevant to Information Professionals.
Over the second half of the 20th century the computer, as a tool, has rapidly evolved. EMERAC, from the movie, was modeled after the existing computing system of the time, ENIAC. ENIAC emerged in 1943 as the quickest and most powerful computer to ever exist. It weighed nearly 30 tons, and took up 1000 square feet. While ENIAC pales in comparison to the smartphone that you likely have within arm’s reach, at its time it was considered state-of-the-art. It was capable of more calculation in its first decade of existence than that of all humanity leading up to that point. Today you, and everyone you know, likely has a computer in their home. Computers play an important role in our lives, our jobs, and our ability to receive information.
Because the primary job of the librarian, or information professional, is to connect people with information, and computer technology makes this so easy to do, there is no question that these two things should be working together. Desk Set mirrors the reality that librarians and information professionals have faced for the past several decades; the fear of being replaced by a machine. As computers become capable of providing access to information with increasing levels of ease and efficiency, information professionals may continue to question their relevance and necessity. However, to the contrary, the role of librarian has instead evolved with the progression of computer technology. It is for this reason that I chose the name EMERAC for this website, blog, and company. I felt that “EMERAC” was symbolic of the evolution of the information profession; and its partnership with growing and changing computer technology.
Here I want to explore what being a librarian in the 21st century means, as well as the impact of computers on how information is discovered, managed, and shared. We will talk about some of the unique careers that Information Professionals can occupy with a degree in Library and Information Science, and how computer technology plays an integral role.
As computer technology expands, so does the capacity for potential information-related careers. In correlation with the advances made in computer technology, over the course of the past several decades, the information profession has grown by leaps and bounds. This was further expanded with the advent of the internet.
As a result of this process librarians and information professionals now have thousands of career possibilities. The following is a list of some of the more unique career choices a librarian can pursue:
A Genealogist is a person who traces lineage, and family history. The internet can be an excellent resource for any person who might want to try to take a glimpse into their ancestry, and many public libraries have a Genealogy department devoted to helping patrons research their family history. However a Genealogist is a professional family history researcher. These types of information professionals are researchers with a very specialize focus. A Genealogist scours the internet, libraries, archives, and court records to compile complete information.
A Genealogist might work in the Genealogy department of a public library. However this particular branch of information professional could also work at a for-profit organization conducting research for interested paying customers, as well as building and filling databases of Genealogical information. (A popular example of this would be ancestry.com.) A Genealogist might also choose to work independently, in a freelance capacity. The researching skills acquired with a library degree, provide an excellent foundation for those with an interest in Genealogy.
In addition to working as an independant Genealogist, there are many other specializations on which a researcher may choose to focus. As I discussed in my introductory blog post; the Association of Independent Information Professionals is an organization which many independently working librarians join as a means of developing their own unique information related businesses. Many AIIP members work primarily as researchers, all with their own distinct specialization. A librarian may choose to merge personal interest with their research and analytical skills in order to forge a new and individualized career path for themselves.
One example of a freelance researcher from the AIIP directory is Deirdre Black of American Blackshoe. Deirdre Black’s business is centered around providing Historical research; specifically focusing on North American cultures. American Blackshoe partners with those in cultural and creative industries performing research, and reviewing materials in order to help these clients in achieving their educations and creative goals.
Contrary to the common misconception, working as an information professional doesn’t have to be monotonous. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employs a librarian. Working as a CIA Librarian means gathering intelligence, and managing CIA materials; playing an important role in the agency’s operations. In addition to working for the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Federal Government employs over 1400 librarians. As an information professional, there are opportunities to work within the US Government, in a multitude of functions.
As a documentary researchers you have the opportunity to work on nonfiction television, movie, and radio programs. Duties of this type of information professional can vary widely, however primary responsibilities could include contributing ideas for topics of interest, examining archives and records for background information, fact-checking, sourcing experts and contacts to interview for content, and much much more. Developing documentaries requires individuals with the ability to effectively conduct and communicate research.
When it comes to television or film researchers may be doing research on visuals, in addition to facts. This could include scouring archives and databases for images and videos that could contribute to the message which the documentary is trying to convey. This kind of project usually necessitates an ability to work as a member of a team, as production can require a large number of contributors.
While a librarian working in radio may have many of the same tasks of those working in film and television, this role might also include work on the website or source that hosts the radio program. Part of a radio researcher’s job could be organizing and presenting information on a website to supplement the program itself.
Working as a documentary researcher might be ideal for librarians with a limited attention span, and a willingness to be flexible. This specific type of career path allows individuals to choose projects which spark their interest, as well as utilizing a wide range of skills.
Many people still visualize the librarian as the classic stereotype similar to that depicted in the movie Desk Set: ankle-length skirt, thick glasses, and hair in a bun, roaming dusty stacks of books, further familiarizing herself with the Dewey Decimal System. However today’s definition of the librarian is much more diverse and expansive. While there are still librarians occupying more traditional library roles, such as operating the reference desk of your local library; these individuals represent only a small percentage of contemporary librarians. Pursuing a career in the field of Library and Information Science is limitless; it truly allows individuals to forge their own unique path, and create a job custom tailored to their own personal interests and talents.
Evolution of the Librarian:
Alternative Careers for a MLIS Degree: