by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Date: Thu, 15 May 1997 11:42:08 -0700 (PDT)
FYI France: "The New Information Profession" -- Chapter 1 -- Introduction
Visit the FYI France Online Service!: a new feature called "interactive bibliography", is under way at http://www.fyifrance.com/fyi91200.htm -- and rest assured that the FYI France Ejournal which appears here is continuing, with its monthly reports of library and digital information news in France and Europe.
What appears here this month, however, is a new experiment. In addition to "just the news", some have said that online media might provide us with other forms of publishing. What follows, then, is the Introduction to a "digital book", one about "The New Information Profession" as it is developing now in France, Europe, North America, and some other places.
These "digital book" chapters will alternate here, for some time, with the news reports which appear in monthly FYI France issues; the chapters will be online for viewing in their entirety at http://www.fyifrance.com .
by Jack Kessler, email@example.com
The time has come to define the new professions which help people to find online digital information. The tools are here. So now are the resources and, recently arrived, the users: we have the computers and the databases and the Internet and the Minitel, plenty of "information overload", and now millions upon millions of users. The missing link has been the sophisticated or at least specialized user -- the person who does it for a living -- the professional who helps the other users to find what they need online and to use it.
Digital information might have become a non - mediated process, one putting users in direct contact with resources, requiring no interfering "profession". This has indeed been the dream of several of its inventors, and arguably there are technological precedents in the telephone and the toaster. But in the case of online digital information this would have been medicine without doctors -- or perhaps health without medicine, or litigation without lawyers or cities without police or education without teachers -- all similarly dreamed but all equally unrealistic.
Some things can be automated. Others cannot. The seeking and using of information amid vast resources of data is one of the latter. Telephony may be automated, computer software and modems may threaten accountancy, the gas station attendant may go the way of the scrivener, the toaster may "work by itself". But the process of seeking and using information is complex, and it is eccentric to the seeker, and it already has spawned a number of new "mediating" professions which are the subject of this text.
So the intention here is to describe, define, and analyze these new professions which are assisting users of the newer digital information tools and techniques. Primary focus is on the Internet -- digital information which is "online" in the sense of being transmitted via the Internet's "TCP/IP" rules -- but what is said here about these professions could apply equally to Intranet, Extranet, and generally nearly any digital information situation. From the user's perspective, the carrier -- Internet, Minitel, or computer -- does not matter so much: to the general public user it all is bits and bytes and their representations, rather than any particular system which carries them, and it is the user's perspective which primarily concerns the professions described here.
What has emerged in the 1990s is a rapidly - expanding set of job and skill and expertise classifications, all devoted to this task of helping users find and use digital information online. The individuals performing this task range from the sole "helpful person down the hall" in corporations to entire academic departments on university campuses. Their backgrounds range from "office experience" to "librarianship" to "computer science", from nothing more than a love of video games to advanced university degrees in highly - technical academic subjects. They are drawn from the tens of millions of current online digital information users. But the group is not co - extensive with the totality of those users; rather they are the much smaller subset of "users who help other users".
Do they constitute a "profession"? What does? Need there be bylaws and hierarchical organizational structures and meetings and minutes and accredited educational programs, to establish a profession? Need there be expensive conventions and professional journals? Need there be "standards"? Does there have to be an office in a building somewhere with a sign on the door proclaiming, "Information Professionals, a not - for - profit corporation, 501c3"... -- this for an "Internet" telecommunications medium which does not have such centralization itself?
More important, perhaps, for the "new" information professions, are all of the older professions which have or claim to have a stake in their activities. "Librarians", "publishers", "indexers" and "editors" all claim a role. "Journalists", "graphic designers", "engineers", and "teachers" -- each very much a profession in its own right -- all claim to be _the_ information profession par excellence, in the new "Information Economy". Lawyers inevitably claim the central role, too -- what is the law but an "information" profession? -- and there are many other claimants as well, including computer scientists, film makers, archivists, museum curators. There is much at stake, and there are many motivations involved, both good and bad. Distinctions must be drawn.
It is very possible that a traditional profession may yet fill the niche and become _the_ arbiter of the new online digital information world: such is the aspiration of several, and it might achieve some social economy were one able to do so. The wheel may have to be re - invented instead, however. There may be not so much in common between the demands of digital information use, and the skills of traditional professions, as the practitioners of those older professions would have us believe.
There is a Method, moreover, under development and already in use in practice, one which deals very directly with the needs of users. An odd assortment of "information scientists", "computer engineers", "documentalists", "librarians", and "trainers" -- to name only a few of the contributing groups -- has developed a rapidly - growing set of skills, approaches, and standards, all designed to assist users with online digital information.
The time has come to wrest this work from its confusion with other interests with which it is associated, and to canonize it as the "Method" of an "Information Profession". Doctors would have little with which to define themselves were it not for "Medicine". Lawyers would face the same problem were it not for "The Law". Information Professionals need some form of procedure, some canon, which -- like "Medicine" for doctors and "The Law" for lawyers -- can aid them in their self - definition. The canon exists -- it is in use now every day at Internet - connected computer terminals, and online -- it remains only to define it and to call it by its proper name.
Education, then, is of paramount importance to any profession: education of two types -- preparation for practice, and continuing professional education thereafter. Lawyers have a professional degree, or years of apprenticeship, which they must obtain before they practice, and "continuing education of the bar" for the rest of their careers. Doctors are "in school" seemingly forever: years of general medical school and specialty qualification, constant refresher courses and institutes throughout their practice to keep them up to date. The same applies to dentists and nurses and accountants and architects. Just so the information professions: whoever these people are, and whatever it is that they are doing, to qualify as a professional they must have some form of professional education under way, before and after.
"Jobs" and "Research and Development", also necessary, are two sides of the same coin: the practical and the theoretical. A profession without a position has little future, as numerous professions in the past have discovered too late: theology was "Queen of the Sciences", once, and in fact was the very reason itself for the existence of early universities in both the US and Europe. But a technique without "Research and Development" to support it -- to extend and improve its "Method" -- becomes lost.
The new information professions are very much real - world, wage - and - handsome - fee - earning entities in our online digital information era. They are dependent, however, as is the entire era, on techniques which need constant renewal and extension through Research and Development. Both the practical and the theoretical will be explored here, and Resource Lists will be provided to give pointers to further exploration.
The Future, finally, is clear for none of this, but is of great importance to all of it. Digital information techniques have long antecedents. But their presence in everyday life has come upon an unsuspecting general public rapidly, and with great force. The techniques seem to be the essence of novelty in today's culture, constantly descending from a sort of dimly - perceived future which is dragging us inexorably into it: a symptom of our loss of control, perhaps -- of technology run amok, of machines named "Big Blue" defeating our best human chess players, of technological determinism -- but also a firm part of our conventional wisdom about "The Future" and about online digital information, now.
So, "information professions" -- or, perhaps better, an "Information Profession" -- the people who help other people in an "information society". Who these people are, how they define themselves and how others define them, whether a "profession" is needed and whether these folks yet constitute a profession and what perhaps is developing to encourage this: these are the concerns which will be addressed here.
The approach will be to focus on the same "Information Profession" target from several different angles: its allies, its history, its current professional organizations, its method, its education both preparatory and continuing, its job market, its research and development, and its future -- each focus in turn, ten chapters published singly here over twice as many months, interspersed with continuing ejournal issues devoted simply to French and European library and online digital information news.
The focus will be generic. The United States has no monopoly on wisdom in the online digital information arena, any longer if it ever had one. Digital information's "Age of Incunabula" may have occurred in the US -- bold early experiments in the UK, Scandinavia, France and elsewhere notwithstanding -- but that Age now is over. Quite a few of the examples here will be French, and deliberately non - US. With the advent of the "international" and the "general public" user -- and the "commercial use" -- the Internet has exploded now out of any development phase which might reasonably be described any longer as a "test - bed". Users are pretty much the same everywhere. Their differences can and should be analyzed somewhere else. Here the concern will be for all of the users' common need for "help": for an Information Profession.
by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
|1) Introduction (this issue -- May 15, 1997)|
|2) Allies -- who is doing what, now|
|3) History -- a sketch|
|4) Professional Organizations -- a few|
|6) Education -- Preparation -- the Old Story|
|7) Education -- Continuing -- the New Story|
|9) Research and Development|
|10) The Future|
* The above text and an annotated "Resource List" -- a bibliography plus live online links and even some images -- will appear online, sometime before June 15, at, http://www.fyifrance.com/fyi91401.htm .
FYI France (sm)(tm) e - newsletter ISSN 1071 - 5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic newsletter, | published since 1992 as a small - scale, personal, | experiment, in the creation of large - scale | "information overload", by Jack Kessler. Any material / \ written by me which appears in FYI France may be ----- copied and used by anyone for any good purpose, so // \\ long as, a) they give me credit and show my e - mail --------- address and, b) it isn't going to make them money: if // \\ if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives are at http://infolib.berkeley.edu (search for FYIFrance), or via gopher to infolib.berkeley.edu 72 (path: 3. Electronic Journals (Library-Oriented)/ 6. FYIFrance/ , or http://www.univ-rennes1.fr/LISTESemail@example.com/ (BIBLIO-FR econference archive), or via telnet to a.cni.org , login brsuser (PACS / PACS-L econference archive), or at http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison - pen letters all will be gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org . Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.
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