A few years ago a competent librarian might have had to explain why he or she took up such a strange profession, more suited, after all, to recluses and bookworms than to warm-blooded American fans of Forest Gump. No more. "I am an information scientist," or "I am a computer pundit," serves to strike awe into the individual who a few months...ago would have sneered at "librarian." - William Katz (Introduction to Reference Work, Vol. I, 1996)
"No machine can do our job!"- Katharine Hepburn and Joan Blondell as special librarians in the 1957 film "Desk Set"
"That's what they said in Payroll."
on the arrival of a computer into the Research & Reference Department
Fears about the role of librarians in the Information Age still abound. Now there is an "online profession" in which librarians can take part in such roles as consultants, trainers, systems designers, and webmasters. "The librarian, for the first time, is able to be seen as a professional with a set of skills and contributions comparable to those of other professions, that have in some cases overshadowed them for so long...Those who don't feel comfortable with change are going to be marginalized," according to Steve Arnold, an executive at an information technology company (ibid).
Librarianship is currently facing some convulsions due to the growth of electronic media and its attendant research capabilities. Many librarians feel they have a good grasp on the new information possibilities and their own role in shaping an electronic revolution but much of the general public believes that librarianship will become an obsolete profession. Most librarians agree that change in the profession must occur but there is the danger that 'information specialists' will become mere technicians rather than the providers of valuable research and reference services that they have been in the past. Librarians in fact have not come up with a new word for their profession which would effectively define what they do in relation the acquisition of knowldge by users. Forecasts about what the recent future of librarians will be should take into account that not every library patron has his own PC or the electronic access or expertise to be a cyber citizen.
Whether the death of the book or paper culture as a whole is imminent remains to be seen but major technical advances will have to be made before we can call out a Bookmobile-size hearse. It must be said that print has been a long-lived medium and the newer media that will replace it will surely not be viable for such a long time. It will be interesting to see if curling up with a laptop that simulates the feel and sound (i.e. rustling of pages) of a book can be as popular as the real thing. Luckily for bibliophiles, books are not quite yet a thing of nostalgia but the death knells could be sounding for certain kinds of reference books.
What's clear is that the profession is changing. Time will tell if the
way librarians are perceived by the public will change as well.