It's summer, and with the heat, ideas too can melt and meld together into a mishmash of incoherent mess. Recently, I've been introduced to a variety of online tools. With some reflection, I believe that three "trends" if we can call them that, have emerged from online environment which are highly relevant to the information professional.
(1) Social tagging - Flickr, Del.icio.us, Wikipedia, and Library Thing are but a few of the online tools for which users can freely search for information (an items) through the creation of hyperlinks without the constraints of controlled vocabulary or rigid taxonomy structures. Anyone and everyone can create his or her own terms, post them, and share them other users. The question is, is such social tagging (ethnoclassification, folksonomies, or collaborative tagging) a new thing? Or is it an outgrowth of an existing online world which we've been using all along since the inception of the internet? Only now, we have terms for them.
(2) Open Access - Journals are slowly integrating themselves into the online world. Open Access is perhaps one of the hidden gems of the internet that is slowly emerging as an important tool in the academic/professional community. Library Student Journal, Journal of the Association for History and Computing, and Biomedical Digital Libraries are but an inch of the light years of open access journals readily available for perusal. Yet, recent controversy surrounding open access is just how "open" is it? Some journals charge its writers for a fee.
(3) Open Searching - Pubmed is one of the shining examples of how collaboration can open up the world of information to users in need. It's a matter of time, that it opens up to other avenues beyond the health sciences world and into the humanities, social sciences, and business. It still intrigues me the shroud of secrecy in the legal world, where Lexis Nexis and Westlaw charge the users by the minute. Although it does promote the librarian to a higher status of importance in the particular locale, does it not make an intriguing contrast with the "openess" of Pubmed?
So with this said, the question remains, is the librarian useful in this online world? Ab-so-lute-ly. As an information professional, librarians are perfect for such fact-finding and information searching missions. Not only do librarians have the knowledge of cataloguing/classification essential for a deeper understanding of how information is organized, they also have the social skills (and interest) to help users look for what they are searching for -- they're good at customer service! Because if you think about it, the online world is a jungle, and librarians are trained to sort through all that mess.