At the OU’s Future of Academic Libraries a couple of weeks ago, Sheila Corrall introduced a term and newly(?!) emerging role I hadn’t heard before coming out of the medical/health library area: informationist (bleurghh..).
According to a recent job ad (h/t Lorcan Dempsey):
The Nursing Informationist cultivates partnerships between the Biomedical Library and UCLA Nursing community by providing a broad range of information services, including in-depth reference and consultation service, instruction, collection development, and outreach.
Hmm… sounds just like a librarian to me?
Writing in the Journal of the Medical Library Association, The librarian as research informationist: a case study (101(4): 298–302,October, 2013), Lisa Federer described the role in the following terms:
“The term “informationist” was first coined in 2000 to describe what the authors considered a new health sciences profession that combined expertise in library and information studies with subject matter expertise… Though a single model of informationist services has not been clearly defined, most descriptions of the informationist role assume that (1) informationists are “embedded” at the site where patrons conduct their work or need access to information, such as in a hospital, clinic, or research laboratory; and (2) informationists have academic training or specialized knowledge of their patrons’ fields of practice or research.”
Federer started to tighten up the definition in relation to research in particular:
Whereas traditional library services have generally focused on the “last mile” or finished product of the research process—the peer-reviewed literature—librarians have expertise that can help researchers create better research output in the form of more useful data. … The need for better research data management has given rise to a new role for librarians: the “research informationist.” Research informationists work with research teams at each step of the research process, from project inception and grant seeking to final publication, providing expert guidance on data management and preservation, bibliometric analysis, expert searching, compliance with grant funder policies regarding data management and open access, and other information-related areas.
This view is perhaps shared in a presentation on The Informationist: Pushing the Boundaries by Director of Library Services, Elaine Martin, in a presentation dated on Slideshare as October 2013:
Associated with the role are some competencies you might not normally expect from library staffer:
So – maybe here is the inkling of the idea that there could be a role for librarians skilled in working with information technologies in a more techie way than you might normally expect. (You’d normally expect a librarian to be able to use Boolean search, search limits and advanced search forms. You might not expect them to write their own custom SQL queries, or even build and populate their own databases that they can then query? But perhaps you’d expect a really techie informationist to?) And maybe also the idea that the informationist is a participant in a teaching or research activity?
The embedded nature of the informationist also makes me think of gonzo journalism, a participatory style of narrative journalism written from a first person perspective, often including the reporter as part of the story. Hunter S. Thompson is often held up as some sort of benchmark character for this style of writing, and I’d probably class Louis Theroux as a latter-day exemplar. The reporter as naif participant in which the journalist acts as a proxy for everyman’s – which is to say, our own – direct experience of the reported situation, is also in the gonzo style (see for example Feats of gonzo journalism have lost their lustre since George Plimpton’s pioneering days as a universal amateur).
So I’m wondering: isn’t the informationist actually a gonzo librarian, joining in with some activity and bring the skills of a librarian, or wider information scientist (or information technologist/technician) to the party…?
Another term introduced by Sheila Corrall and again, new to me, was “blended librarian”. According to Steven J. Bell and John Shank writing on The blended librarian in College and Research Libraries News, July/August 2004, pp 3722-375:
We define the “blended librarian” as an academic librarian who combines the traditional skill set of librarianship with the information technologist’s hardware/software skills, and the instructional or educational designer’s ability to apply technology appropriately in the teaching-learning process.
The focus of that paper was in part on defining a new role in which the skills and
knowledge of instructional design are wedded to our existing library and information technology skills, but that doesn’t quite hit the spot for me. The paper also described six principles of blended librarianship, which are repeated on the LIS Wiki :
- Taking a leadership position as campus innovators and change agents is critical to the success of delivering library services in today’s “information society”.
- Committing to developing campus-wide information literacy initiatives on our campuses in order to facilitate our ongoing involvement in the teaching and learning process.
- Designing instructional and educational programs and classes to assist patrons in using library services and learning information literacy that is absolutely essential to gaining the necessary skills (trade) and knowledge (profession) for lifelong success.
- Collaborating and engaging in dialogue with instructional technologists and designers which is vital to the development of programs, services and resources needed to facilitate the instructional mission of academic libraries.
- Implementing adaptive, creative, proactive, and innovative change in library instruction can be enhanced by communicating and collaborating with newly created Instructional Technology/Design librarians and existing instructional designers and technologists.
- Transforming our relationship with faculty to emphasize our ability to assist them with integrating information technology and library resources into courses, but adding to that traditional role a new capacity to collaborate on enhancing student learning and outcome assessment in the area of information access, retrieval and integration.
Again, the emphasis on being able to work with current forms of instructional technology falls short of the mark for me.
But there is perhaps a glimmer of light in the principle associated with “assist[ing faculty] with integrating information technology and library resources into courses“, if we broaden that principle to include researchers as well as teachers, and then add in the idea that the informationist should also be helping explore, evaluate, advocate and teach on how to use emerging information technologies (including technologies associated with information and data processing, analysis an communication (that is, presentation; so things like data visualisation).
So I propose a new take on the informationist, adopting the term proposed in a second take tweet from Lorcan Dempsey: the informationista (which is far more playful, if nothing else, than informationist).
The informationista is someone like I, who tries share contemporary information skills (such as these), through participatory as well as teaching activities, blending techie skills with a library attitude. The informationista is also a hopeful and enthusiastic amateur (in the professional sense…) who explores ways in which new and emerging skills and technologies may be applied to the current situation.
At last, I have found my calling!;-)
See also: Infoskills for the Future – If You Can’t Handle Information, Get Out of the Library (this has dated a bit but there is still quite a bit that can be retrieved from that sort of take, I think…)
PS see also notes on embedded librarians in the comments below.