We Need Librarians More Than Ever

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. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Six Elements to Find in a Digital Roadmap

A large producer of canned fruit items installed a brand-new radio-frequency identification (RFID) system at its manufacturing facility.  The RFID system aimed to streamline the producer’s inventory management system. 

The canned fruit producer’s workers stuck RFID tags on every case of canned fruit and on the pallets where the cases were stacked.  As forklift operators picked up the pallets and brought them to the warehouse, RFID scanners tagged each pallet and automatically added the cases into the finished goods inventory.  When a warehouse worker picked a case of canned fruit to be staged for shipment, an RFID scanner at the door tagged it and immediately deducted it from inventory. 

The point of the RFID system was to update inventories accurately and in real time.  It would improve inventory record accuracy and information timeliness compared to the traditional system in which workers entered data manually via pen and paper and accountants computed the inventories which took time to do.

The accountants of the canned fruit producer, however, distrusted the RFID system and insisted the workers continue doing the manual system.  Hence, even as the RFID system tagged incoming and outgoing pallets and cases, the workers continued to fill out forms to record what they produced and what cases they brought in and out of the warehouse.  The RFID system ended up not delivering any tangible benefits and gradually, it became useless. 

The canned fruit producer’s executives liked RFID technology for its features but didn’t take into account the complexity of building it into its business.  The executives thought that installation of an RFID system was easy.  They didn’t realise that putting in RFID was more than just buying tags and installing transmitters, receivers, and additional computer hardware.  It required adoption of a system that involved acceptance not just by production and logistics but also by accounting and other functions as well. 

RFID is a digital technology, one of many hyped by The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0.  Unlike a new computer system or a new machine, digital technology taps data for visibility and productivity improvement.  It’s what McKinsey cites as “creating value in the processes that execute a vision of customer experiences.”

Building in digital technology like an RFID system applies principles from project management but at a much wider scale.  It’s not as simple as constructing a new warehouse or installing a new machine.  It requires fitting in with functions that will be affected. 

It’s like a human organ transplant.  One cannot just outright replace a heart, liver, or kidney with another.  A transplant entails a multitude of diagnostic tests, procedures, and regimens pre- and post-transplant to ensure success. 

The canned fruit producer brought in an RFID system that was liked by supply chain managers but was rejected by accountants.  Like a failed organ transplant, the enterprise’s “body”, its organisation, did not accept the RFID system.    

Bringing in digital technology requires what one would call a Digital Roadmap, a plan that considers the unique characteristics of new technologies. 

A Digital Roadmap emphasises the following elements:

  • Terms of Reference (TOR)

TOR is a narrative of what an enterprise’s organisation envisions a new technology will contribute.  It isn’t a scope of work or detailed specifications.  Rather, it’s a set of features, functions, and criteria that the organisation wants.  A TOR is the foundation for decision-making when it comes to choosing from technological options. 

  • Dedicated Team of Qualified Individuals

There should be a team of dedicated individuals to plan, decide, and carry out any new technology.  The team should not only have skilled members but also members who are recognised as authorities in their fields.  Note that members need not be employees of the enterprise; they can be contractors, consultants, or just plain advisors.  It’s important that each member has the devotion and expertise to participate. 

  • Consensus

Consensus is a necessity for the organisation to be enrolled into the introduction of new digital technology.  Consensus will likely be tough to attain because digital technologies are new and will entail significant changes in the workplace.  Debates and disagreements are inevitable.  Executives will be expected to lead and enrol everyone to adopt and accept new roles and responsibilities.   The Digital Roadmap cannot progress without consensus and commitment. 

  • Useful Content

The Digital Roadmap should define the needed content from any new digital technology.  Content is the information gleaned from data and software that would be useful to apply for productivity improvement.  With an RFID system, for instance, the data gathered from scanned tags provide the content for real-time inventory visibility which leads to the opportunity to turn over inventories faster. 

  • A Cash-Flow Schedule

New digital technologies often need much investment in capital.  Other than time and human resources, the enterprise will be spending money to pay for software, hardware, and the expenses that come with implementation, including education for everyone in the organisation.  The Digital Roadmap should therefore include a schedule of cash outlays that tells how much and when budgets will be needed and spent.

  • Competitive Timeline

A Digital Roadmap shouldn’t have too long a timeline lest newer technologies render obsolete the digital technology the roadmap was aiming to achieve.  Digital technologies don’t have long life cycles.  What seems state-of-the-art today may be obsolete tomorrow.  Artificial intelligence (AI), for example, has grown in popularity versus RFID systems.  A Digital Roadmap should therefore be swift in rolling out a new digital technology that will ensure its applicability and competitive edge. 

Digital technologies marry data and operations for productivity improvement and have become popular thanks to Industry 4.0.  Yet, enterprises hesitate to delve into digital technologies and when they do, often encounter difficulties. 

A Digital Roadmap resolves this by providing a pathway that stresses a TOR, formation of a dedicated team, encourages consensus, clarifying useful content, a cash-flow schedule, and a competitive timeline. 

New technologies are always exciting but just like anything new, it requires acceptance by all.