Information Services Career Field Structure
The field of information services is made up of a variety of professionals who help meet the growing demands of our information-based society. The designation information professional encompasses not only librarians and information scientists but any of a number of professionals who organize, analyze, retrieve, and disseminate recorded knowledge. Information professionals may work anywhere from the traditional library setting to such places as research institutes and information brokerages. The structure of the information services industry is expanding constantly.
Perhaps the fastest growing category of libraries in the United States includes school library media centers. There are more than 74,000 libraries in elementary, junior high, and high schools. A generation ago there were approximately 20,000 such libraries. This increase has come about partly because many more children are enrolled in schools, but a more important reason is that changes have been made in the methods of teaching and learning. A seventh-grade class studying how their state government works, for example, may continue its assignment by seeing a filmstrip about the state constitution; some students may watch a videotape or DVD of one of the governor’s press conferences or listen to a recording of the governor’s inaugural address; others may access the state government’s home page on the Internet. All of these sources of information are available in a modern school library media center.
The school library media center has become an indispensable part of education. In it, a carefully selected collection of books, magazines, newspapers, pictures, films, videotapes, recordings, CD-ROMs, DVDs, and other materials are brought together, indexed, and arranged for convenient use. The school library media specialist is a part of the teaching team of the school and works with the other teachers in planning and determining resources to be included in the teaching curriculum.
For the inquisitive student, the library media center provides materials for independent study. For the student with special interests, it can supply information to help develop a hobby. For all students, the library media center can provide a larger world of knowledge that complements classroom instruction.
There are approximately 5,600 academic libraries of all types serving millions of students enrolled in institutions of higher education: junior colleges, colleges, and universities. These libraries range from a 10,000-volume library to the many millions of volumes in large private and public university libraries. Their clientele ranges from beginning college freshmen to university professors engaged in research.
University libraries collect publications in many languages and develop highly specialized collections of books, periodicals, manuscripts, and other materials. They are equipped for scholars and for graduate students who are preparing themselves for scholarly careers. To make the library’s collection useful, each university library needs a specialized staff to offer expert assistance in many subjects and in many languages.
A university library consists of a network of specialized libraries to serve the faculty and students. The library system typically emphasizes such subjects and professions as engineering, music, commerce, fine arts, literature, agriculture, medicine, law, chemistry, education, sociology, architecture, and psychology. It also must serve the entire academic community. In recent years many universities have established undergraduate or core libraries, sometimes in separate buildings, with smaller, less-specialized, and easier-to-use collections.
College libraries have more modest goals than university libraries because they serve academic institutions primarily concerned with teaching, although some colleges offer graduate degrees and many college teachers spend part of their time in research and writing. The book collections are smaller, generally from 50,000 to 100,000 volumes, and most of the books are in the English language. College librarians, like school library media specialists, work closely with members of the teaching faculty in selecting materials that will be useful to undergraduate students.
Community college libraries serve two-year colleges. Frequently called learning resource centers, these libraries emphasize the use of a wide variety of films, tapes, and other audiovisual materials, as well as books. Their collections are usually smaller than those of four-year college libraries, but they are carefully selected and organized to support the range of academic, paraprofessional, and technical courses offered.
Public libraries provide a variety of services for people of all ages, from the youngest toddlers who just have learned to enjoy picture books to retired adults who have renewed their interest in subjects for which they had little time during their working years. Public libraries range in size from the New York Public Library with millions of volumes and 85 branch libraries to town libraries with 10,000 to 15,000 volumes. Regardless of size, they have a common goal of providing information and recreational reading materials to all people. Many also provide computers so patrons can access forms of electronic media, like CD-ROMs, DVDs, online database services, and the Internet.
A typical public library features a children’s room, where the natural curiosity of children can be stimulated by storytelling, puppet shows, and displays, as well as by the privilege of choosing a book to borrow with a minimum of advice from grown-ups. Teenagers have their own part of the library, too, where the books of most interest to them are available.
Other parts of the library are usually arranged by the subjects that have been found to be interesting and useful to large groups of readers. The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, a heavily used public library, has the following divisions: African American; Business, Science, and Technology; Children’s; Fiction; Fine Arts and Recreation; Humanities; Job and Career Information; Maryland; Periodicals; Sights and Sounds; Social Science and History; Special Collections; and U.S. Government Documents.
In some public libraries, adult services include an information and referral center for people who need help in using other community services. Information on voter registration, employment offices, health and family services, and other services are available, and individuals are guided to the appropriate agencies.
Branch libraries provide neighborhood library service to many parts of the city. Bookmobiles take smaller collections of books to communities where no branch libraries exist.
Library service to smaller towns and rural areas has improved greatly, thanks to the federal Library Services and Construction Act, which made money available for this purpose. The United States, however, is still short of its goal to provide good library service to all the people of the country.
Special libraries provide specialized information services to many trade organizations, research laboratories, businesses, government agencies, art museums, hospitals, newspapers, publishers, and others. Because these libraries generally are concerned with highly specialized subjects, they have relatively small collections. A few thousand volumes may be found in a large special library. These libraries work very closely with the employees of the company or members of the organization and provide their patrons with access to esoteric materials. The librarians who work in them often have supplemental training or previous academic experience in the subject of the special library.
The library of a pharmaceutical company, for example, may contain 10,000 to 15,000 volumes carefully selected to aid the scientists who research and test new medicines. Special librarians often assist in the research by pointing out likely sources or by searching through books and journals to compile bibliographies and summaries of previous research on the subjects being investigated by the researchers. They contribute to the staff ’s awareness by circulating current digests related to the field.
In many special libraries the usual stock of books and periodicals is supplemented by technical reports, maps and charts, files of clippings and pamphlets, pictures, slides, disk and tape recordings, microfilm, and other forms of recorded information.
The rapid expansion of government services in many areas has stimulated the growth of library services and created new opportunities for special librarians in federal and state governments. The libraries at the top of the federal network are the Library of Congress, the National Library of Medicine, and the National Library of Agriculture. The Library of Congress contains all of the books that are published in the United States and other valuable materials. These three great libraries have developed extensive collections in their fields and serve the entire country.
Almost all departments of the executive branch of the government have special libraries that provide the information needed to carry on the work of these agencies. Near Washington, D.C., are libraries serving all branches of the armed forces, Veterans Administration hospitals, federal research laboratories, and other field agencies. In state governments there are historical libraries and archives, legislative reference libraries, law libraries, public library extension agencies, and many smaller libraries that serve specialized branches of the state government.
The field of information services has come to include other kinds of information agencies. These agencies exist outside of the library setting. For instance, various government agencies and research centers employ information professionals or hire consultants to perform research, organize information, and analyze data concerning certain issues.
In addition, an increasing number of information professionals are working as information brokers. Information brokers can be individuals working on a freelance basis or companies employing information specialists. In either case, information brokers provide information to clients for a fee. Rather than employing their own fulltime specialists, clients can save a great deal of money by outsourcing, or hiring outside individuals or companies to perform searches of computer databases and manual sources, to locate documents, to compile bibliographies, and to provide all sorts of information.
These and other kinds of nonlibrary information agencies have evolved because professionals have honed their skills in the management of information and in the provision of information services. As today’s information society continues to expand, there will be more opportunities for work in these alternative settings.