By Teresa Martinez
La versión en español está disponible al final de este documento.
The other day I read a USA Today article that said that by 2030 librarianship as a profession would cease to exist.[i] The article implied that the pursuit of a degree in librarianship was useless. In 2006, I was told in library school that since the invention of the printing press naysayers declared the demise of librarianship. It was said everyone would have their own books and “librarians” would no longer be needed to store and archive knowledge. Technology and technological advances often cause people to fear job loss. Computers and Google have not displaced librarians. In fact, the abundance of information has created additional jobs for librarians. However, the USA Today article is the first time I have seen the proclamation stated so definitively in a widely distributed source (over 5 million daily readers).[ii]
Today, individuals and groups regularly dole out information for us to swiftly gulp down on the run without regard to its reliability, authority or authenticity. Like accepting suspiciously sweet acidic medicine from my mom when I was sick, I look to news agencies to provide quality information to help me navigate the world and the changing environments. USA Today is well-regarded as an authoritative source so it concerned me that many of the readers might believe the article without reflection, discussion or investigation. So how can we tell what is “good” information?
I decided to track the source of the article and use the investigation to help others trek the changing information landscape which they encounter every moment of each day on the web, their phones, or other media sources. I discovered the primary source for the article was Real Match, a company whose sole purpose is to match people in the job market with employees seeking organizations. In this case, USA Today is one of their partners and may have purchased information from them because they appear to have the pulse of the employment market. Still, I needed more insight to determine the quality. Here are two of the basic questions I ask myself whenever I encounter an information source to evaluate the worthiness of material whether in print, electronic, or any other form:
Who is the specified authority (author, sponsor or editor of the work)? What kind of credentials (academic or practical training) does the person responsible for the information have on the topic? For example, the USA Today article was provided by a job search company who did not have a clear understanding about libraries or librarianship as noted in this statement in the body of the article, “as books fall out of favor, libraries are not as popular as they once were.” Books are “not out of favor;” they are being produced in a different format and libraries are thriving. One has simply to go to the local public library or academic library and see many people utilizing the many types of collections or electronic resources provided. People who value libraries know that libraries are not simple storehouses for books and librarians are not there to file and safeguard the books. Librarians are curators of information in all forms and they help people engage the resources meaningfully usually at little to no cost. Librarians generate information about information, and that is how they contribute to a growing body of knowledge.
What is the purpose in producing the product (writing, webpage, etc.)? Some reasons people produce information are noble and some are not. For example, it is not uncommon to find misinformation, disinformation or propaganda regularly online, in speeches or in print. Therefore, groups like FactCheck.org and Snopes.com exist to check our honesty meter. There was a time when one could believe something if it was seen with “my own eyes.” Now with photo and video manipulation software one cannot even trust what one sees. Everything must be examined critically and thoroughly which is contra-intuitive in a fast-paced society.[iii] Librarians often fill the gap by evaluating material and teaching others to do likewise. Librarians are responsive to changing information environments for the common good not for profit or gain.
Furthermore, I ask myself, how do people know the difference between the news on TMZ, the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times? Do they recognize the bias each publisher has or does it even matter? Then I ask what procedures are in place to verify the information they provide? There was a time when every news story was validated by three (hopefully reliable) sources. Today, many news agencies establish relationships with outside entities and pay them for information. To add to the complication, online content gets promoted through search engine optimization activities which help the paying customer get their pages placed at the top of the result list. The information consumer is often unaware of this activity and believes that if a result is at the top it must be the best quality.
So, contrary to popular belief, librarianship is not dead. On the contrary, librarianship is needed more than ever. As the U.S. population changes, librarians from a variety of cultural and socio-economic groups need to organize information in meaningful ways as they engage in the discovery and selection process. Keeping information free or as inexpensive as possible no matter the delivery system is a priority for librarians. Librarians evolve because information and library user needs change. Whether we are selecting; organizing or providing print or electronic resources; or even providing cake pans to check out in communities who cannot afford them; librarians have a unique, though often unrecognized and necessary role in a free society.
Teresa Martinez serves as the Director of the Learning Resources Center and Chair of the Associate of Arts in Cross-cultural Studies at Baptist University of the Américas.
La versión en español está disponible aquí.