Education for Careers in Information Management

Posted on November 13th, 2009 at 5:58 pm by lmoulton

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In graduate school, studying to be a professional librarian, I took courses to prepare me for work in the corporate sector. Fortunately for me at the time, that included systems analysis, automated indexing systems, advanced classification methods (e.g. colon classification, a forerunner to faceted classification), and a basic computer science course. The latter included an exercise to automate mailing label generation. The program I wrote was in Fortran, transmitted to the computer via punch cards with job control language (JCL) cards. The amount of time and physical effort involved in keyboarding those cards (repeatedly to fix errors), take them to the computer center, and retrieve the resulting log file printouts (that described the errors) gave me plenty of opportunity to reflect on the process, what I was doing (wrong), and what the computer expected from me.

Compared to today, automation moved at a snails pace, but working with it did allow for plenty of thinking. Looking back, it also allowed for certain knowledge to become cemented in one’s conscience working brain. Processing each step forward (and back) while learning a new skill was part of becoming educated. The goal of creating mailing labels, so that I could communicate with the student alumni association, would surely have been achieved more quickly the first time if I had just hand written the addresses on envelopes. But that was hardly the point, what I learned about computing and computers served me well for decades as I moved into online search systems, word processing system adaptation to producing indexing records for company documents, and finally to development of a content management system (AKA integrated library system for corporate document management).

Presently, the information technology world is divided. There are those who know a lot about the underlying technology hardware, networks and tools to do software development work or application development. Then there are those who understand a lot about how to organize content to optimize it for retrieval and how to use retrieval systems and software of all types. These two groups appear to have little knowledge of the expertise of the other and what each knows is not shared in a collaborative environment. To be honest in business we allow no time for that to happen, any more.

I saw this divide widening in the late 1980s and early 90s and wrote about it. What I wrote then brings the problem into focus for graduate library and information science programs, their faculty and students. Something similar could be presented for the computer sciences and their form of education, where business communication education seem to be lacking. Today, I ran across what I wrote for a presentation at USC Chapel Hill to students, faculty and business leaders from the surrounding area in 1993. I updated it to reflect some additional topics germane in today’s information soup.

It’s interesting that what I thought I knew in 1993 is still pretty useful knowledge today. That is why I am sharing this white paper. I hope someone else picks up the dialogue and we can get more experts graduating with knowledge in the fundamentals¬† of information management. To put it another way, we need to know more about what we need to know.