Fifth Annual Conference
Oakland, California
September 19-20, 1997

Third Plenary Session - Program Summary

Elizabeth Sibley (UC Berkeley), Local Arrangements Chair, opened the closing Plenary Session by thanking Sandy Vella for her work organizing CARL's Fifth Annual Conference program. She then introduced the keynote speaker, Robert Berring, Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law and Law Librarian, School of Law, Boalt Hall, University of California, Berkeley.

Robert Berring gave a lively and humorous keynote speech titled, "Librarians and the Future: Where Do we Fit in the Picture?" in which he addressed trends and outlooks for the profession and how to prepare for the future.

He began his talk by noting that the topic of the future of the profession was close to his heart. His stated premise was that there is a change in the way information is created and the way people use it. There is a generation gap in how people use information and there is increasing commodification of information (big business and big money). He noted that information decision makers need to be brought along because of the generation gap. The fear about end user commodification of information is that there will be more pressure to spend money on marketing rather than on quality of information.

This makes the future role of the librarian even more important, because end users often do not understand the quality or integrity of information. This calls into question a tradition in librianship in which librarians refrain from making evaluative judgements. Librarians have always been in a postion to make judgments because they understand information enough to abstract it and see how subjects fit together.

Librarians have traditionally protected, gathered, and distributed information, but they have not valued their roles enough; it has been a women's profession which was under-statured, under-compensated, and under-valued. The culture of the book was distributed through libriaries for free and through other, sometimes peripheral channels, such as news stands, book stores, and drug stores. Librarians have had the role of choosing books and protecting the cultural heritage in every culture. Librarians understand how to work with people, which suits them for the role of train end users in non-threatening ways.

Berring projected changes in libraries from increasingly smaller technical services to increasingly larger public services. Libraries are worth saving because of the process of selection, and the tradition of maintaining cultural heritages, providing high quality information which allows the user to get the information which is most important.

He ended by noting that librarians in the twenty-first century can not expect leadership from the government, from organization administrations, from the educational support system, including library schools, or professional associations. He called for librarians to organize at a grassroots level, to value what they do, get involved in the political process at every level and to become aggressive in protecting end-users by providing them an alternative to gimmicks. The heart of librarianship is at stake.

Linda McCann
USC Doheny Reference Center

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