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Too far ahead of the users?
Thursday, 26th November 2009
Tim Buckley Owen
What’s playing the biggest part in changing the information landscape: policy, technology, money or attitude? It was one of a series of challenging questions put to a panel of information specialists at an event organised in London by SLA Europe (http://www.sla-europe.org/).
Sara Batts, a new entrant to the profession after a career switch, was joined by Mark Jewell, a veteran of both the industry and the profession who has moved sectors during his career. Laura Vosper of the event’s gold sponsor LexisNexis (the co-sponsors were ICC and 7Side) represented the vendor view, and Liz Blankson-Hemans of Dialog appeared in her role as recently elected SLA Board Director – all under the firm but benevolent direction of information industry champion Sue Hill.
So what was the answer? ‘Technology and money,’ said one panellist – ‘always has been’. It’s what makes the policy changes possible – as an example, you can only outsource because it’s technologically feasible.
But others ascribed a greater role to attitude. Attitude shaped responses to the changes that technology delivered – people now expected instant free information, for instance.
The topic under debate – the changing landscape of the information profession – meant that the questions were rarely routine nor the responses necessarily predictable. Asked about the relative importance of leadership, business and communication ability compared with information skills, panellists moved quickly on to the need to take charge of your own professional development.
Although you might start with the subject skills, you sometimes needed to develop the other attributes at the expense of those skills, said one panellist. If not, you could end up as a ‘one trick pony’ – so take what you can from your employer.
But ‘you can’t wait for your employer to cultivate anything’, said another – CPD wasn’t something that was ‘done to you’. And a third asserted that anyone could run a team without information skills, but not without mastering leadership, business and communication.
Inevitably there was a question about new roles opening up as a result of developments in personal media – social networking and mobile devices. Citing a recent LexisNexis survey (see http://www.vivavip.com/go/e25260 for background), one panellist held that such developments offered real opportunities for information professionals; social networking was having a big influence on purchasing behaviour, and marketing and public relations people didn’t necessarily have the monitoring and analytical skills required to deal with it.
But others were more cautious. ‘Beware the bandwagon; don’t waste your time and energy,’ said one – and another added that there was no point in being so ‘with it’ that you were ahead of the users.
They could be right. A straw poll amongst the capacity audience revealed that almost none of their organisations were making use of wikis, tweets or mobile.
By Tim Buckley Owen
Tim is an information skills trainer and writer on the information industry with over 40 years' experience in the profession. His career has encompassed information management, writing, editing, training, government policy advice and corporate media & marketing.
Besides writing for FreePint, Tim runs courses for training providers and private clients on enquiry handling, abstracting & summarising, information packaging & presentation and information management. The sixth edition of his classic handbook Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time is published by Facet Publishing. You can find details of Tim's training services at www.buckleyowen.com.
Tim can also be reached at email@example.com
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