by Chad Groenhout, Michigan Chapter, Competitive Intelligence and Information Technology Divisions
I began the library science program at Wayne State in May of 2009 at about the time when SLA leadership and members were contemplating a name change and discussing how to market the profession to employers. I wondered if I was entering a profession in its decline, suffering from an identity crisis that would ultimately leave me unemployed. Yet, as I approach graduation in a few months, I am more hopeful for the future of the profession and I realize I am fortunate that SLA started the process five years ago to rethink the profession of special librarianship. This evolution of the field is what creates new career options such as taxonomists, knowledge managers, embedded librarians, and competitive intelligence analysts. Nearly five years earlier the first inklings of self-reflection were emerging among SLA leadership and membership. What do I hope the next five years will bring?
In 2015 SLA will have emerged from what all great traditions go through, a period of questioning that allows them to adapt to the changing environment and to envision what their role will be in the future. Special librarians will have rebranded themselves to make their skills even more marketable to marketing managers, CI directors, and senior business strategists. In five years, I hope the CI director that Arik Johnson mentioned in his inaugural Future Ready blog post will have already realized that he needed a special librarian. By now, they will be reputed information analysts who are adding value to information by interpreting it, putting it in context, and recommending courses of action to senior management. In five years time, the reference interview will be positioned as a crucial asset that saves businesses money by finding out the right question decision makers should be asking before they spend thousands or millions of dollars seeking an answer to the wrong question. Librarians will still be the guardians and purveyors of information, but they will be in the new role of linking all of the information flows found throughout the organization to strategic business objectives.
In another five years, special librarians will no longer need to justify their existence to senior management, or explain what is “special” about special librarians, or even explain what SLA stands for. Librarians will no longer be seen as functional accessories that can be discarded but as valuable assets who will always be needed to guide the business in the right direction to ensure its survival, being as integral to operations as marketing, finance, and human resources. As a budding professional who will soon enter the job market, I am beginning to worry less about our future and am instead seeing the amazing possibilities for the integral role special librarians will play. For over 100 years, special librarians have sustained a tradition that will only be strengthened in the years to come.
Chad Groenhout is a circulation assistant at Henika District Library and a technical services coordinator at Aquinas College. He graduates in May from the library science program at Wayne State University and is pursuing a career as a competitive intelligence analyst.