Monday, March 23, 2009

A Time To Be An Information Professional

An apothecary is a historical name for a medical professional who formulated and dispensed medicine to physicians, surgeons and patients. They were what we call the modern day pharmacist. The health profession is in hot demand, and pharmaceutical sciences is one of the most sought-after professions of college graduates.

But it wasn't always this way. Industrialization had an impact on every aspect of the activity of the apothecary. Because new advances in technology in medicine lead to the creation of new drugs, drugs that the individual pharmacist’s own resources could not produce, many drugs that the individual pharmacist was able to produce could be manufactured more economically, and in superior quality.

Not only did proprietary medicines result in the taking over the role that apothecaries were responsible for, they forced the pharmacist to become a vendor of questionable merchandise. This ultimately opened the way to much broader competition from merchants, grocers and pitchmen than the pharmacist had previously encountered, thus marginalizing the profession. Eventually, the "art of compounding" gave way to the new pharmacist's increasingly important role of being health care provider, in which the science of pharmacy turned to specializing in tailoring patients' medications to specifically meet their needs. The remaining pharmacists that do continue compounding do so for the love of the science and interest in their patients well- being. And just like the changing nature of the librarian's work, the essential love for our users and art of searching will not change.

Librarians aren't going anywhere, and they never will, even though the name might. Librarians will adapt, change, and modify - just like the apothecary. But it won't disappear. Librarians are undergoing a change in its profession, and nowhere is this most apparent than the Special Libraries Association, which is celebrating its centennial year. The SLA is a reflection of the profession, as it has often had to question its place in the profession. In 2003, the SLA came to a standstill, and almost became the Information Professionals International, but decided otherwise as SLA represents a century-old tradition and brand name that is too cherished to change.

And thus is the profession of librarianship. Perhaps we will be known by another title, another name, as some of us already are known as metadata managers, taxonomists, information architects, and knowledge managers. Library schools have evolved into I-Schools. Who knows, LIS might evolve the point where it not longer is recognizable to us -- as the apothecary is no longer recognizable to the pharmacist. But the art of searching, sharing knowledge, collecting, organizing, and disseminating information in whatever shape and form they may be, will never change. And hence, whatever we may become, we will never change.

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