How relevant are librarians in the 21st century?
In the 1970’s, when I was much younger, a library was that room of stand-alone shelves filled with books, spaced by a few tables and chairs. The librarian was the one minding that room, making sure we who visited kept quiet while we browsed through the titles for one that maybe we’d borrow using our then library card.
We don’t hear much about libraries and librarians in the 21st century. If we do, a library would perhaps be that data collection on our desktop computer. Or someone may describe a “library” as that dark section of the old family house where old books and documents of great-grandparents are kept.
Libraries and librarians have changed in the mindsets of many people. But contrary to what many may think, we actually need them more than ever.
In a USA Today article written in November 2017, Careers: 8 jobs that won’t exist in 2030, Michael Hoon of the Job Network wrote that “you’ll have a tough time finding a job if you decide to become a librarian.” Mr. Hoon cites “many schools and universities are already moving their libraries off the shelves and onto the Internet,” arguing that “as books fall out of favour, libraries are not as popular as they once were.”
Steve Barker in his opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal dated January 10, 2016, was blunt in that he called librarians “a dying breed.”
Library and Information Science students Samantha Mairson (LIS) and Allison Keough of the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, immediately responded to Michael Hoon with their article of rebuttal, Are Librarians Truly a Dying Breed?
In their response, Mmes. Mairson & Keough write:
“Librarianship is far from a ‘dead-end field’ or a ‘dying profession.’ The field is transforming rapidly. Librarians and library students are leading this transformation. Library professionals are careful to consider the needs of their communities. The ‘Information Age’ needs more professionals responsibly curating information, and hiring managers agree that there’s demand.”
Sari Feldman, then President of the American Library Association (ALA), responded meanwhile to Steve Barker’s article by arguing that “nothing could be further from the truth.” She writes:
“At a time of information overload and growing gaps between digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ the roles for dynamic and engaged librarians are growing. Though their skills and the technologies they use may be changing, they have never been more valuable to people of all ages, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.”
In the Philippines where I live and work, people identify libraries as that repository of books at a school or university. Many don’t associate a library as an emerging essential function for enterprises, which we should.
Many enterprises the world over have adopted standards from ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, an independent non-governmental organisation with headquarters in Switzerland.
A popular one is ISO 9000, a family of standards for quality management systems that helps enterprises assure their products and services meet customer requirements.
Whereas ISO 9000 sets principles in how quality management systems are established, the organisation’s trained consultants and auditors place much emphasis on documentation and records management. Many enterprises around the world have gone to the extent of hiring librarians to oversee documents and records, not only in how they are filed, but also how they are created, edited, approved, and shared.
In short, libraries are important for managing enterprise records thoroughly.
As a treasurer for three (3) buildings, I have always advised respective administrative managers to organise records and documents. These consist not only of accounting transaction records but also files of board resolutions, certificates, other important legal documents, and engineering & maintenance records.
Building managers, however, don’t put too much priority on records management. Whenever I inquire about a past record, for instance, I always get answers that they can’t find the documents because they’re buried in an archive in a basement closet. It would take the administrative staff a week to dig and find something from the past, if they ever find it at all.
Whenever I do insist that records be scanned and filed properly, building staff would go on overtime to catch up. The building always needs to spend extra just to file and scan records and, in most cases, the records still wouldn’t be organised.
Records management is a very much neglected function. A good many enterprises just don’t manage records very well. Memos, invoices, reports, and purchase requisitions that are often scattered, dirty, and torn have become common sights in many firms.
We underestimate the value of library science when it comes to records management. Thanks to technology, librarians have the means to scan and classify records quickly such that we can search and retrieve them much faster than ever before.
Librarians are the experts of organisation. With reasonable support such as investing in desktop computers, scanners, and software, a librarian can turn that mess of papers and files into a systematic virtual storehouse of archives in which we can easily seek that particular document no matter how long ago it originated.
In this age of information and the perpetual need to simplify complex transactions, we need librarians more than ever.