Professional bodies in the information age

Ian Clark paints a picture of an ideal professional body for the library and information world.

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The recent debate within the profession regarding the proposal to rebrand CILIP got me thinking about how a professional body for information professionals could (and perhaps should) be structured in the information age.  Whilst I am not currently a member of the professional body, I wonder whether a different approach might encourage me (and others) to fully embrace and engage with such a structure and thus strengthen the profession as a whole.

We live in an era where it is easier than ever to communicate with individuals and organisations.  For those of us fortunate to have access to the technology, the internet, social media and smartphones have had a significant impact on the way in which we communicate. We can quickly and easily develop small networks to share and exchange information. If we are unhappy with the service provided by an organisation, we can communicate our dissatisfaction almost immediately and (importantly) publicly. If we wish to engage with local representatives, we can publicly communicate our concerns or issues directly to them.  The internet and social media have provided an opportunity for greater democratic engagement and the potential (and it is only potential at present) to revolutionise the way we organise ourselves as professionals.

The emergence of new communication technologies has been accompanied by a rise in a variety of information issues.  As it has become easier to communicate and share information, so it has also become easier to share and disseminate information widely that has, previously remained largely hidden from view or accessible to only the few.  Take the case of Edward Snowden. The internet led both to the development of the Prism programme, and enabled Snowden’s revelations to reach a large proportion of the population. Whilst the information revolution has made it easier for the state to collect information about us, it has also made it easier for such activities to be revealed to the world. And yet, whilst information is much easier to disseminate than ever before on such a large scale, it is also more dangerous than ever to facilitate access to this information, a concept at odds with the core ethics of the information profession in general. Witness, for example, the case of Barrett Brown, a lesser known figure than Snowden, yet equally important.

The information landscape has changed incredibly rapidly in the past 10 years.  This raises a whole host of questions not just for society in general, but in particular for the information profession. The new landscape requires, in my view, not only an increased need to focus on the ethical issues which are so closely aligned to our profession, but also a need to model a professional body that more closely reflects it.  The information profession should take a lead, not only in developing an organisational structure that takes advantage of this landscape, but should also fight to both protect and develop it.

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