Re-Tooling Academic Libraries for the Digital Age:
Missions, Collections, Staffing

California Academic & Research Libraries
Third Annual Conference


2d Keynote Speaker

Stuart Sutton, Director
School of Library and Information Science
San Jose State University

"Education for Service in a Digital Age"

Dr. Sutton challenged librarians to confront the fact that our very survival as a profession is in question today. There are core areas of professional expertise that define our field, and they are more relevant than ever before, but the emerging information technologies are transforming our environment in fundamental ways, and other professions and disciplines may very well take our domain from us, if we are unable or unwilling to assert ourselves and keep up with the rapid changes in technology and people's information needs.

The technologies are the rapid progress of computing and telecommunications, and their growing fusion, and also the growth of complex new information structures. They are transforming how universities function and how people use information. We have no choice but to fundamentally change our concept of the library, its collection and its service model.

We are moving from a concept of the library as place to one of the library as logical entity, and from a service model based on providing information containers to one based providing information itself--from a "resource-provision" model to a "consultative model."

We thought we were in the "information container" business, when we are really in the "information business."

More and more of the traditional kind of reference intermediation, putting end-users in touch with relevant information "containers," will be replaced by computer system intermediation, but the need for information professionals to provide new, more tailored and sophisticated intermediation, will be as important as ever.

Professional expertise can be analyzed as a hierarchy of three layers. The top layer consists of immutable core areas, derived from the societal problem the profession seeks to solve. In library and information science, there are three: knowledge of information, knowledge of information technology and knowledge of users. All library and information science professionals must possess all three areas of expertise--they are what defines us. There is also a "penumbral" knowledge of the social, political and economic context.

The second layer consists of dimensions of practice, and in our profession, there are four: the tool-making dimension, the tool-use or information management dimension, the "agency" or service dimension, and the management of information organizations dimension.

The third layer consists of skill sets. These are the most varied, context-specific and subject to change. They are also what is most readily handled by paraprofessionals

The core areas and dimensions of practice are essentially context-independent--they can be applied to any setting, not just libraries. Librarianship and libraries are not co-extensive.

Library education has traditionally focused on the institution--the library. It is today being refocused, everywhere, on information itself. In the analysis of former Syracuse University professor and dean Robert Taylor, we have moved from a Ptolemaic view, with the library at the center, to a Copernican view, with information at the center, and libraries just one of a number of "planets" that contribute as sources of information. [Ruth Hafter mentioned later in the panel discussion that some would put the user at the center in this model, with the information sources, including libraries, as the planets.].

The schools are now no longer focusing on libraries, and library users, but rather on information itself, and how people use information in much more general terms, and in many different settings, studying things like cognition, information-seeking behavior, etc. It is a fundamental shift.

Paraprofessionals have become an integral part of the professional environment. We rely on them especially for mastery of the skill sets necessary to carry out so much of the work of the profession on an operational level, and must see them as partners, and provide appropriate educational programs for them in schools of library and information sciences. We must also recognize that any paraprofessional who has a mastery of the core areas and one or more dimensions of practice IS a professional, regardless of credential.

We must all find ways to re-educate ourselves and keep up with new technologies and information needs--regardless of how much support our employers give us--or we will not survive as a profession.

Summary by Bill Whitson, UC Berkeley

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