by Eileen Davenport, Illinois Chapter, Business & Finance and Food, Agriculture & Nutrition Divisions
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” this oft-used Charles Dickens quote describes the situation of all library/research and information center environments today. The idea of an “information economy” might suggest to some that any kind of knowledge repository would be a priority for organizations of all kinds, but paradoxically (and frustratingly), experience indicates otherwise. For further exploration, let’s look at the definitions.
As a closet Luddite, I began with Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, copyright 1974. Unsurprisingly, neither “information economy” nor “knowledge economy” appears, although “information retrieval” (the techniques of storing and recovering and often disseminating recorded data esp. through the use of a computerized system) does.
The next step: the Oxford English Dictionary. That venerable resource does not include a definition for “information economy” but it defines “knowledge economy” as a cycle wheregrowth is thought to be dependent on the effective acquisition, dissemination, and use of information, rather than the traditional means of production. Sounds good to me.
To be thorough, and in keeping with the rule of three, I also searched Google and Bing for definitions.
|Information Economy||Knowledge Economy|
(Suffice it to say, all results were not closely examined, although the same sources were at or near the top of the results in each of the four searches.)
But even with a definition of what this type of economy is, what are the practical applications of being part of the information/knowledge economy? Knowledge and information is put on a pedestal, but information centers and libraries are not acknowledged as the base of that pedestal. Instead, this observer has come to view the situation as a kind of the-emperor-has-no-clothes scenario: everyone values information, but no one wants to fully fund it. And recent developments in my hometown illustrate this: Rahm Emanuel’s cuts to the library budgets exceed the definition of draconian – massive personnel cuts and further reductions to operating hours. And, even sadder: he can justifiably argue that his budget makes more provisions for public libraries than other major systems. Public library budgets are just that – public. What is going on in many private organizations is comparable, but not as widely followed. Most people reading this have experienced it, or at least know someone who has. If not, please share your strategies.
What we are left with is an information/knowledge economy where people have unprecedented access to information, but their understanding of and facility with that information is highly varied. Besides the other technological innovations that drive the evolution of the profession, the necessity of combining the center and the service is the next big challenge. Not only do we have to make our skills Future Ready, but the organization must understand that libraries/research and information centers are future relevant. How do we make sure that the concept is shared by the decision-makers? Lacking the method depicted in Inception as a viable alternative, what works? There must be a workable medium between the expanding entity of The Desk Set and the relic from Shooting the Past, mustn’t there?
Eileen Davenport works as a librarian for an investment bank and a community college in the Chicago area. An avid reader of blogs, this is her first contribution to one.