Quite often, information and documentation professionals feel in a difficult position, and their role in the professional landscape is subject of critics and continuous misinterpretations. Optimistic people consider that, as documents, data and information are spread everywhere, the role of information professionals is not subject of discussion, and that most of the organizations should consider trained and skilled information-management staff as a must-have to deal with the continuously growing amount of information.
Today, we read an increasing number of contributions related to the “Big Data” challenge. A few years ago, other magic words reminded us our need of dealing with ontologies, socially generated data, social webs, semantics, etc. It could be interesting to write an overview of the different trends that have caught our attention in the last twenty or thirty years. In fact, even “attention management” was a trend and the subject of an interesting book written by one of the most influential thinkers in the information management arena: Tom Davenport.
It is undisputed that trends play an important role in our professional careers, and even in the planning and development of our University studies. In most of the cases, students of Library & Information Science, or Documentation Science, or just Information Sciences, as you prefer, find their first job opportunities thanks to one of these trends. Companies are looking for someone to manage their new, brilliant web site, their social presence on the Web 2.0, or to develop some kind of ontology aimed to support an innovative information system. Trends are, with no discussion, important. L&IS universities must keep aware of these trends and recognize their relevance to keep our learning plans aligned with the demands of the labour market.
But, at the end, we must be able of making an abstraction exercise to identify what’s the truth behind these trends. The factors behind these trends are, at the end, the basis of our discipline. In all these new scenarios, we are in fact dealing with the need of gathering information needs, knowing about information sources, being able of making a professional judgement of the quality of the information, and putting this information at the disposition of the target audience to support access, reuse and the efficient analysis of the data. As the volumes of data become greater, the difficulties of the target users to deal with them become more and more complex.
The question we should make ourselves is: are we – as professionals involved in the education of the future professionals -, or as professionals leading information management projects, correctly dealing with the needs of our users in the current context and scenarios?
This question led us to consider: a) which are the subjects we should cover as part of our training programs, and b) which are the technologies we should master to deal with the efficient access to increasing volumes of information.
For the first point, there are some aspects that undoubtedly gain relevance. They include the capability of contextualizing the use of data, information and knowledge in the organizational processes of companies, including social processes, as well as the techniques to deal with information overload. The second point covers those technologies – not only tools – that support the practices identified in the previous point. Particular technologies like data and text mining, semantic data, scientometrics, and standards like BPMN, BPEL or RDF should be part of our professional, long-term baggage.
Information Science university programs are, to a lesser or greater extent, trying to deal with these aspects. But probably we are not making all the necessary efforts to incorporate these aspects to our professional background. Information and documentation professionals are still finding some difficulties when trying to explain the differences between their offer and the offer coming from IT staff. Organizations also find problems to distinguish between “information management” and “management of information technologies”.
After a big number of discussions on these subjects, may be additional discussions are still needed to define the essence of our discipline: those aspects that may help us, as information professionals, students or professors, differentiate and characterise our “value proposal”. At the end, may be our discipline is the best representative of the need of a continuous evolution grounded on empirical basis, successful and failed experiences: the best representative of the most important task human beings are doing since the early days of civilization: dealing with fuzzy, incomplete and no-perfect information to continually improve our capability to solve more complex problems.