Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Future of Digital Librarians

My colleague and mentor The Google Scholar discussed a bit about the Semantic Web and Web 2.0. Is it relevant to the profession of librarianship? Absolutely. How do we achieve it? Edie Rasmussen and Youngok Choi released a study in 2006 that surveys the skills that practitioners lack in What is Needed to Educate Future Digital Librarians. In this study, the two authors found that while many librarians are young and fresh out of graduate LIS school, they often lack the skills that are necessary for them to thrive in the increasingly digital world of libraries. LIS curricula are often limited to introductory classification and rudimentary information technology courses. There appears to be a real disjunct between the actual job descriptions that are required for newer positions and the actual skills that librarians receive in LIS school. Rasmussen and Choi's study finds that respondents are often frustrated over the "training gaps" during their studies for the following:

(1) Overall understanding of the complex interplay of software

(2) Lack of vocabulary to communicate to technical staff

(3) Knowledge of Web-related languages and technologies

(4) Web design

(5) Digital imaging and formatting

(6) Digital technology

(7) Programming and scripting languages

(8) XML standards and technologies

(9) Basic systems administration

In my own experience as an information professional, I find that these skills are sorely lacking in my own education. I'm finding it increasingly my own initiative to get caught up in the literature and the technologies. Who really has time to learn OAI-PMH metadata standards, XML, EAD, and TEI? Many librarians keep abreast of their field -- but on top of their current duties. But the problem remains that LIS schools do not to train technicians even though that is what they're doing - their mandate is to nurture scholars. Which I can understand. Yet, we can't fit a square peg into a circle. There lies the conundrum: something's got to give. But what? That has remained the intense tension in the field of LIS since its inception. With the advent of the Web and newer technologies, this gap will only widen.


Anonymous said...

Hi Allan,

I wonder if its not so much that these skills are "sorely lacking", but that the new librarians are making it up as we go along; grabbing at what is essential and letting the rest fall by the wayside.

It doesn't seem essential to me to be fluent in every web 2.0/3.0 term because the whole field is so fluid and changeable. I think too, that at a basic level, we have to have the guts and gusto to try what is out there and to be brave enough to say no to what makes no sense to what we are doing.

It is akin to training every doctor to be proficient in every surgery. It just isn't feasible, practical, or desirable. Rather, in the future I see libraries hiring librarians that possess specializations rather than the every popular 'renaissance librarian' that is being touted today.

Does that make sense?


Anonymous said...

Hey fellow librarian,

I just wrote a post about the semantic web at my blog. It actually turned into a bit of a rant. Maybe you can provide some much needed objectivity? Rebut some of my misconceptions?

I value your input.


Allan said...

In a way, talking about the coming Semantic Web is lot like the prophesizing of the cure for cancer Too much hypothesizing -- but show me the money!

However, what I do think -- and this was what my post wanted to bring across -- was the need to at least expose students to newer technologies. Part of this problem at SLAIS (and i suspect at other LIS schools) is that they are underfunded and underappreciated by university administrations.

That's why SLAIS couldn't teach a lot of the techie stuff, because it overlapped with that of Comsci or Engineering, who feared LIS overtaking their disciplines' territories. As a result, SLAIS had to stick to the current curriculum of teaching MS Access and Power Point.

However, the irony is that I might've not become interested in taking Semantic Web and Web 2.0 courses at SLAIS even if they were offered when I waz a student! (Haha). The main reason why I find these new technologies exciting and worth keeping up with is that they really bring our profession to the forefront if these technologies are useful. For example, people sit up straight when they hear Web 2.0. It's a powerful tool for us to at least know a little bit more about XML and RDF, even though they might appear too distant from librarianship.

But what I find interesting is that lots of this Web 3.0-hype is based on cataloguing principles and information organization. Which means cataloguing the entire Web and making it more searcheable. Will it happen? Who knows, it's like forecasting for the Revelation.

Anyways, it's great that we can discuss these things. It's important part of the discourse, even though it may seem irrelevant at the moment. (To some).