Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Journalism & Librarianship: Parallels in the Professions

magnolias in bloom

In last week's New York Times Education Life section, there was an article about journalism schools: Apparently the schools are thriving, bursting with students eager to study and practice journalism despite all of the changes to the profession. Arizona State Professor Tim McGuire was quoted saying of his students "They know the model is broken ... They think, 'We’ll just have to fix it.'"

This struck a chord with me as an academic librarian. Library and information schools are similarly swamped with enthusiastic students who believe in libraries and what they stand for. I think for much of the history of librarianship, librarians have seen themselves as the gatekeepers to information. But just as new journalists do not imagine themselves married to print reporting, new librarians do not see themselves as gatekeepers guarding a (printed) collection. From the perspective of someone entering the profession fairly recently, it seems to me that younger librarians view the changed landscape with optimism rather than trepidation.

In the words of Peter Bromberg, whom I listened to yesterday as he practiced a presentation in front of our NJLA Emerging Leaders group, "We are in the information filtering business." This is the new model, the new role, that librarians are acknowledging: Information consumers are now confronted with a "tyranny of choice" (Bromberg's words again). Librarians are skilled at finding pertinent, reliable information quickly and precisely. They interpret what information in a query is important and why, and can solve the puzzle of tracking something down. They are trained to do this, think about how to do it incessantly, and practice every day.

This is the value librarians now bring to the world, and we are side by side with journalists who are also navigating a new information landscape. The enduring commitment to these professions is a positive reflection of our society. It shows that we value truth (journalism) and accessibility (librarianship). It's just unfortunate that both professions are undervalued -- the economics of journalism are a mess, and librarians are often overlooked.

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