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Author: Deborah Lines Andersen
Title: Benchmarks: The New (?) Information Professionals
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
October 2006

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Source: Benchmarks: The New (?) Information Professionals
Deborah Lines Andersen

vol. 9, no. 2, October 2006
Article Type: Benchmark

The New (?) Information Professionals

Deborah Lines Andersen

September 2006

Benchmark: a standard by which something can be measured or judged.  [1]

An Editorial Shift

With this issue of the Journal of the Association for History and Computing I become the executive editor of the journal. Jeffrey Barlow, the founding and executive editor since the journal's creation, has stepped down to work on other projects. I start by thanking Jeffrey for his leadership and insights over the course of the last nine years. Additionally, Ryan Johnson has stepped down as co-editor of the journal. I would like to thank Ryan for years of working on editing and tagging the individual articles and columns that appeared in the journal. Additionally, I thank our column editors, Julie Holcomb, Lynn Westney, and Scott Merriman, for the work they do issue after issue, finding important new materials for our readership in, respectively, the areas of print resources, online resources, and electronic resources. Finally, thanks are due to the peer reviewers who read, comment upon, and send back their expertise to make this journal's articles what they are. Their names appear on the editorial board list in every issue.

In the next months the journal will be looking for several important people. In particular, Scott Merriman would like to step down as electronic resource review editor, so the journal will be looking for a person or persons to work with Scott on the December issue, and to transition into this role for the April 2007 issue. I will gladly receive emails from volunteers who would like to explore this position.

Second, with my assuming the role of executive editor, I am looking for one or more individuals to become co-editors for the journal, working with authors on editing their papers, soliciting new materials, and generally providing intellectual guidance for the journal. Again, I will gladly receive emails from volunteers.

Last, the journal is always interested in additional peer reviewers. This usually means that a reviewer receives one or two papers a year. These papers come with authors' names removed. The reviewer gives service to the field and, at the same time, has the opportunity to read firsthand the contributions of individuals who are at the cutting edge of history, computing, archival studies, and information science.

This Issue

This issue of the journal is a showcase of articles that focus on information technology and the ways in which information professionals can use that technology to teach and inform practitioners in the field. Shawn Martin's piece, "Collaboration in Electronic Scholarly Communication: New Possibilities for Old Books," looks at the collaboration of public and private sector organizations that has made it possible for scholars to have electronic access to a wealth of textual materials that were previously only available in paper. He presents the process, the actors, and examples of the kind of student work that can come out of such a project. Lynn Westney's column on e-journals and e-publications highlights such venues as CSeARCH: the Cultural Studies e-Archive, that have produced important scholarly information in digital formats and serve to inform practitioners in a variety of information-intensive fields.

John Ashbrook's "Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as an Analytical Tool in the Analysis of Politics in Eastern Europe: Istria in the 1990s" highlights a particular information technology that has a wealth of possibilities for historians. Geographic information systems started as a technological piece of geography, moving into the realm of policy analysis as more and more complex maps were possible with increased software technology. Ashbrook uses maps to discuss both United States' and international voting patterns, the complexity of which can only be appreciated through color-coded visual displays. Scott Merriman's column on electronic resources looks to other information sources that scholars and practitioners will find useful in their own analysis of historic information. In this issue he focuses on 11 top resources for those interested in nineteenth century American history. These resources provide primary source data that could be geo-coded, or analyzed in spreadsheet or database format in order to gain insights into American history. Scott Merriman also includes sources that have used data to create interpretation. In particular, he presents The Valley of the Shadow, a fine example of using existing data to present historical arguments.

Jeffrey McClurken and Jerry Slezak look to technology and teaching in their article, "Research-Based Web Sites: Students Creating Online Scholarship." The article discusses the processes, including timing and assignments, for helping students create their own websites. The authors discuss the problems associated with such projects and offer solutions to these. Finally, this article presents a fine model of collaboration between a university professor (McClurken) and an instructional technology specialist (Slezak). As information technologies for teaching continue to advance these sorts of collaboration will undoubtedly form the basis for many course projects.

Finally, in her column on print resources in history and computing, Julie Holcomb provides readers with reviews of five volumes spanning topics from tenure, promotion and review to encoded archival description to the history of the Internet. Each entry contains a citation to the book as well as a summary and evaluative annotation.

New (?) Information Professionals

The title of this "Benchmarks" is a bit of a pun. With this issue the journal is announcing new leadership and looking for new leaders. In that sense we are the new information professionals. At the same time there are technology forces at work in the world today that are changing the way we think about information, technology, and the people who work with both. This issue looks at ways to present information to students and scholars who are themselves information professionals working in a rapidly changing technology arena.

In my work in the field of information studies I teach students who are concerned about the rapid pace of technological change, and who think hard about what this means for their own careers in information science, including library science and archival studies. Each semester in the department's introductory course I have them read a series of articles about the profession  [2] and then think about the important characteristics that they have, or will need to develop in order to become information professionals. I have saved their group presentations and offer here a list of what these new information professions feel are the important traits that one needs in the 21st century.

Critical Skills for the Information Professional

In fall 2005 and spring 2006, eight groups of 10 to 12 students caucused to produce lists of what each team thought were the most important skills for information professionals. They turned their lists into poster sessions and presented their findings to the class. I have taken these posters and organized their topics under broad subheadings. In some cases below the skill sets could be moved from one broad category to another. In the interest of not repeating topics, I have only put individual skill sets under one category of administrator, teacher, information technologist, researcher, or information professional. This last category was necessary in order to capture the personality traits that students felt one must have in order to function in the profession.

Administrator: individuals who will be leaders in an information-intensive agency, public or private sector

  • Business/management skills
  • Budgeting/marketing/grant writing
  • Time management skills
  • Ability to multitask
  • Organizational skills
  • Leadership skills

Teacher: those who teach others, whether in the classroom, behind the reference desk, or in the field

  • Communication skills/individuals and groups
  • Desire to serve
  • People skills
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Passion and compassion
  • Customer service skills

Information Technologist: experts who know the workings of information technologies, who can apply new technologies and fix old ones

  • Technology skills
  • Technical ability
  • Ability to adapt

Researcher: information professionals who know how to access the right information for the correct occasion or user

  • Information evaluation skills
  • Knowledge of information sources
  • Searching/researching skills
  • Written communication skills

Information Professional: all who are involved in information acquisition, organization, storage, and retrieval and use, whether that use be for teaching, scholarship or response to user needs

  • Continuous learning
  • Learner's attitude
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Self-knowledge and professional awareness
  • Flexibility
  • Agility
  • Enthusiasm
  • Advocacy
  • Ethics
  • Sensitivity to diversity
  • Creativity

These are indeed lofty goals for any information professional, whether he or she will become a librarian, archivist, or historian with a penchant for using technology. Nonetheless, I would argue that the authors of the articles and columns presented in this issue possess just such skills and demonstrate how others can achieve them. Shawn Martin presents projects that require, among others, a high degree of administrative skills. Jeffrey McClurken and Jerry Slezak describe their commitment to teaching and the kinds of projects that encourage students to try new techniques for evaluating and presenting materials while also demonstrating their skills as information technologists. John Ashbrook uses the capacity of geographic information systems to look at historical events, combining the technology with his subject expertise. All three column editors, Lynn Westney, Julie Holcomb, and Scott Merriman, have used their expertise as researchers and evaluators to present new materials to the journal's readers.

Of all the categories I like the last best. We are all-writers and readers-information professionals. Today's advances in information technology require that we be flexible and creative. We are challenged by information ethics that extend into cyberspace. We must be more and more sensitive to diversity as the world becomes smaller with advances in communications and transportation. We should require of ourselves critical thinking skills when there is so much information presented to us on a daily basis. Finally, we are all lifelong learners. The overarching goal of this journal is to present new materials so that others may learn from them. As information professionals we are in the business of continuously upgrading our skills and of teaching those skills to others-of renewing our skills whenever possible. This issue of the journal exemplifies the traits of the profession, and our commitment to that goal.


1. "Benchmark," American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed., 2000.

2. These articles are:

Mary Ellen Bates. 1998. "The Newly Minted MLS: what Do We Need to Know Today? Searcher: The Magazine for Database Professionals. 6(5): 30-33.

Olivia Crosby. 2000-01. "Information Experts in the Information Age." Occupational Outlook Quarterly. (Winter): 3-15.

José-Marie Griffiths. 1998. "The New Information Professional." Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science. February/March. 24(3): 8-12.

Marissa Melton. 1999. "The Modern M.L.S. Degree: Library Schools Are Turning Out Webmasters." U.S. News.

Maura Rurak. 1998. "Demand Explodes for Librarians with High-Tech Research Skills." National Business Employment Weekly.

It is worth noting that some of these articles are quite old by standards of a technology development timeline. The students spend time thinking about how the articles would have to be rewritten if written today, looking at the developments that have occurred in just the last few years in their professions.