Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Event - Defragmentation Open Meeting

Yesterday was an exciting and exhausting day, returning after the bank holiday to a full inbox in the morning and then setting up and attending the “De-fragmentation of the Information Professions” meeting in the afternoon.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the events at the meeting as that’s been covered ably elsewhere (eg see James Mullen’s blog).

Instead I wanted to pick out a few of the points I noted down at the time, which on reflection I feel are important comments or ideas.

One of the questions being discussed around the tables was “how is technology change affecting information work?”. There was a dichotomy around the table I was at, with some people feeling that improved and more user friendly search technology was making librarians redundant (disintermediation). Counter to this was the idea that the increased volume of electronic information (email, shared drives, Sharepoint, etc, etc) was overwhelming for users and was increasing the need for information managers.

I think this dichotomy highlights a key difference in how these two sub-groups of ‘the information profession’ see themselves – librarians as ‘we find information for people (and they don’t need us any  more)’ and information managers as ‘we organise information for people so they can find it themselves (and people need us more than ever)’.

A key tenet of the debate which cropped up throughout the afternoon was how to articulate the value of information professionals, and indeed what that value is. 
One of the people at my table told a story about the Army, where he used to work, where there was a recognition that they needed someone in ‘an information manager’ role at every level of command, whose function was twofold:
a)    Decide what information that unit needed to function
b)    Decide what information, generated by the unit, would be needed by someone else to function, and get it to them
Everyone agreed that this was a good illustration of what ‘information people’ did and their main value to their organisation or their users.  In other words, without information managers, they wouldn’t function!
One of the suggestions for action was for the formation of some kind of umbrella or federated body to draw all the existing information groups/associations/societies together in some way.
On our table this was viewed as something of a long term and challenging goal, although the benefits, in terms of potential for joint advocacy, joint accreditation of university courses, joint press statements, joint networking events, joint training or other CPD courses, were clear to everyone.  Having one ‘face for the public’ or one coherent voice, would also bring increased credibility and visibility to the profession as a whole.  Parallels were drawn to the engineering bodies with their overarching council, or to the surveyor’s body.
It was also felt that any collaboration would have to permeate every level of the bodies subscribing to it, not just be a CEO/President level ‘signing up’, and also that each of the associations would need to ‘get their own house in order’ internally.  Members of both CILIP and BCS on the table felt that their respective bodies had special interest groups that didn’t really communicate or collaborate effectively with each other, and that needed improving as well as (or before?) trying to get the bodies as a whole to communicate and collaborate with other groups.
During the second plenary session of the afternoon the comment was made that it’s not the fragmentation of the profession that’s the problem – it’s the irrelevance (perceived irrelevance?) of the profession that’s the burning issue.
Organisations will go ahead with organising their information regardless of what we do – if they don’t know “an information profession” exists they will make do without it.  It is therefore a waste of time and effort to bewail to each other that ‘they are doing it wrong’ and ‘we could do it so much better’ – touches of the ‘Echo Chamber’ campaign by Ned Potter.
There is a burning, urgent and immediate need for effective education and advocacy.  I hope that the defragmentation discussion goes some way to help the various associations achieve this goal.

- Nicola Franklin

1 comment:

  1. Hi Nicola - a good summary of the event and thanks for linking to my blog post. One thing though, you've spelt my last name wrong.

    As to the meeting itself. I thought it was a good discussion and very interesting that both my table and your table discussed the impact of technology. Certainly there is now an even greater for Information Managers as more content is created from both traditional electronic tools and the social tools we're seeing become more ubiquitous.

    I thought the comment about how we're looking at the wrong issue was also very interesting. That is we should in fact be looking at why people don't join professional associations in the first place, perhaps this ties in to what you say about irrelevance?