The new normal needs you - to tell it like it is

Information professionals should focus on cultivating - and communicating - clear messages about what they can achieve, says Ulla de Stricker.

Cultivating a clear message

Every Internet Librarian International (ILI) conference is a professional highlight, offering so many opportunities to 'see what's new' in our work domains ... not to mention meet old friends and make new ones!  This time, I'm focusing particularly on food for thought to inform the question:  What are the skills information professionals need to cultivate to meet the expectations of today, next year, and beyond?  Where should we - whether we are brand new or well advanced in our careers - invest our attention?  I have a simple suggestion:  Never mind about the vagaries of the latest gadgets - we'll deal with them as always.  Instead, let's focus on the difficult task of crafting and communicating the message about what we can achieve for our employers.  Uncomfortable, yes.  Necessary, in my opinion, yes.

The evolving domains of the information profession

There is no shortage of ideas out there about the future of our profession - who has counted the number of 'Library and Information Skills/Career' oriented LinkedIn Groups or blogs?  Anyone who follows them can see how richly our professional domains are evolving - just as it's obvious how many challenges are posed by the 'new normal'.  I look upon the burgeoning variety of sub-specialties in our work as a natural reflection of the growing complexity in the world as a whole.

Communicating our contribution is vital

Earlier this year, a lively discussion took place regarding the 'fragmentation' of the profession, and the image of something splintering off in all directions serves well as an encapsulation of a set of circumstances we must address.  In my own writings, I have called our profession 'opaque' in the sense that the work of information professionals is not understood generally in society the way, say, the work of chefs or journalists is understood.  Thus, we are often called upon to explain 'what we do and why it's worth paying for' to a much greater degree than other practitioners are.  Fragmented, opaque, multidimensional, fast-changing ... however we view the profession we chose, we share the need to assess constantly how our professional contributions match the evolving needs of employers in light of their new tools - and translate that assessment into language they understand:

  • Because society is brimming with new technologies and new ways of communicating, our unique capabilities and skills, and the results we can produce, are 'lost in the din' more and more frequently.
  • Because the workplaces of today are brimming with the tech-savvy, the appearance that 'we're doing fine using social media and collaboration tools - who needs an info pro?' is more and more prevalent.
  • Because we were slow to speak up about our value as technology took flight, we now must 'cut to the chase' and speak bluntly:  No, it is not OK for knowledge workers to be left fending for themselves without professional information support.  No, it is not OK to 'throw technology at it' and hope that will solve the corporate memory challenges (and so on).  Hard messages to hear for executives, perhaps ... but haven't we been polite about it long enough?

Ulla de Stricker is President, de Stricker Associates.  Ulla will be participating in the closing panel session of Internet Librarian International.  If you are not attending in person, you can follow the conference on #ILI2011.

Photo courtesy of Purpleslog via Flickr.