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Luminary Lectures @ Your Library

“No Guts, No Glory”: Information Professionals March Into the 22nd Century

Barbara Quint - December 4, 2002

Barbara Quint's lecture addresses the changing roles of information professionals in the 3rd millennium. Tasks and the skill sets to perform them once regarded as critical elements defining librarians changed dramatically over the last few decades of the 20th century. Basic skills – like LC/MARC cataloging—became niche market tasks for some librarians, while former specialty functions, such as online searching by intermediary professional searchers, became basic to all. But the changes that have gone before are as nothing to the ones under way and looming larger every day. What tasks and skills will define librarianship in the Internet Age? How will we continue to perform our “protect and serve” mission for clients everywhere? What can we and must we do today to ensure that our profession will, to paraphrase Faulkner, “nor merely survive...but prevail”?

Lecture Notes (Barbara Quint)

Lecture Topic: The changing roles of information professionals in the 3d millennium
Lecture Title: "No Guts, No Glory": Information Professionals March Into the 22nd Century

Speech given Wednesday, December 4, 2002, 7:30am - 9am (pt)
by Barbara Quint
Editor, SEARCHER Magazine
932 Eleventh Street, Suite 9
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 451-0252 / (310) 393-6911 (fax)
Internet: [email protected]


I can't believe it. I haven't given a full throated speech in years, but when last I did, I followed my constant custom of insisting on no darkening of the hall, no projectors, no audio visuals. Keep the house lights up. Like Al Jolson, I want to see their faces.

Now look at me -- RADIO!

My cousin listens to old-time radio all the time and he told me how to do this. ENUNCIATE. Speak clearly in a soothing mellow tone. Vary the speech rhythms. Use dynamic voices for emphasis. So here goes,

Today's topic is Implementation. Whatever one decides needs doing, we have to have what it takes to get it done. The first things librarians will need to get the right things done in the Third Millennium is Courage and not just plain courage, but Flamboyant Courage.


The tasks remain the same: first, last, and always - access, getting the information to people that they need. From this grows the almost equal second task -- archive, making sure all information created is retained. Otherwise we will lose access.

The world at large sees the process in reverse. Historically archive created libraries and libraries created librarians, but even historically, those monks wouldn't have gotten all that ink on their aged fingers, if they didn't think someone, somewhere, sometime would want to read the material. People sometimes think of libraries as sacred, maybe this view ties back to those monks illuminating sacred texts. But those same monks copied most of what we have from pagan Rome and pagan Greece. Archive it all.

INSERT comments on Nicholson Baker (the toad). Archive/ nicholson baker/ toad/ editorial/ marydee/ utah

Speaking of misperceptions, there is a lot of confusion in the public mind about the role of librarians - and I don't just mean the bun as a hairstyle, though that image sure dies hard. For example, a pal of mine, Mimi Drake, was on NPR last Sunday defending the GPO against assault by the OMB. (And, by the way, what are you LC types doing about that? I would hate to be in your shoes if you have to start chasing down ALL federal documents, instead of just the half that are fugitive documents now.) Anyway, she finishes her beautifully modulated (wonderful voice control), brilliant opposition to current OMB plans and two segments later comes a salute to a 90 year old librarian. (Ain't that quaint! Grr.)

Or take a recent article by the Los Angeles Times, "Librarians Emerging From Book Stacks, Increasing Activism," [Edmund Sanders, Times Staff Writer, November 25 2002]. It's all about how Pat Schroeder, heading up a publishers' trade association, was surprised by how librarians attacked her for attacking them. Honestly! How courageous do librarians have to be to attack publishers? After all, consumers attack vendors all the time. Why not us? Especially in these tough economic times for publishers.

All this goes to bring up a THIRD task, which must permeate our handling of our other tasks - namely, changing our image.

INSERT, speaking of image, how about LC as a brand name for librarianship. See article by Cynthia Shamel in Searcher, July-August 2002,


The Web has won. And we who have espoused online all these years must win with it. or have we? Is it a Pyrrhic victory? (I'm so far ahead, I think I missed the race?)

New demands of dealing with a Web-dominated information universe require us to re-structure our primary tasks of access and archive. For example, cataloging books with LC subject headings?? I don't think so.!

INSERT: I used to be a cataloger, decades ago, and right from the first, I and some of my cataloger friends thought some LC subject headings were a great big joke. Bill-comma-buffalo.

The Web and the Internet have generated or accelerated a number of trends: Globalization, Disintermediation, Centralization

Librarians are needed as quality filters, which we have always been. People need access, but access to what's good. They need archives, but archives of the true. In terms of image, we as a profession MUST be seen as owning WEB TURF - not all the Web, just what's marked "THE GOOD or THE TRUE".

Though librarians have always supported intellectual freedom - and must continue to do so - we are actually natural censors, though censorship may be a bad term for it. This is true of all librarians. The public recognizes it in their bun image of us and that probably explains why the public is so shocked when we link with pornographers in intellectual freedom arguments. In reality we are censors, we always have been, in that our rule of access (get people the information they need) takes precedence even over archive. We spend constituents' funds to buy consortially the most of the best information we can. And that means not wasting any money on buying bad or useless or untrue information as we can. However, we still don't want to see any information vanish completely, explaining our intellectual freedom position as part of our commitment to archiving.


Our role must be the same for the Web, which has become the new tap, the new plumbing system for delivering information to homes and offices everywhere.

INSERT: Colin Powell story where he has eliminated all reference works from his office, saying all anyone needs is a good search engine, though he would not - as a federal employee -- reveal Google's name.


Collapse of traditional info structures that must be rebuilt anew

  • scholarly publishing Yay! Glad to see challenge to their extortionate pricing, but Uh-oh! Where are the archiving, peer review, abstracting/indexing substitutes?
  • GPO/OMB no Yay! All UH-OH!
  • print publishing, except books, but even there leisure reading may last longer than technical material
    Dominant but unstable info structures that must be stabilized
  • Google's un-business model, should we buy Google as a profession?
  • Dot-gone era. How many of us had learned to rely on Northern Light as a search engine? Bye-bye.
  • Blogs as news streams, but where archiving, where control


Buy or build

  • Acquire Google in toto
  • Acquire/apply Google technology to quality Web sites, e.g. those used in digital reference such as QuestionPoint
    unified action
  • consortia, all libraries are by nature buying consortia
  • merged reference (and I do mean beyond QuestionPoint, broadest imaginable and then broader) critical for number of reasons:
    • efficiency in getting right questions to right answerers and quicker/better answers to questioners
    • management knowledge to know what needs answering, looking for patterns of perceived need as well as perceptions of holes in the perception of our ability to answer needs
    • better answers = layers of understanding matched against layers of ignorance, educational tools built into reference answers, ideal
    • resource planning, from instructing vendors what needs doing to building our own reference tools
    • new funding options open up if librarians treat constituents as "subscribers" or "pre-paid customers" and non-constituents as pay-per-view or retail subscribers

Advanced information technologies

  • we may not necessarily be able to use the technologies ourselves, but we must know enough to know what is possible and where to find enough information to use the technologies.
  • Technology assessment should become a specialized skill in our profession like cataloging, a persistent category like an ALA roundtable or division.

Political action

  • all levels, from office politics to the United Nations with a quick stop in Washington to settle federal information policies.
  • consortia building, seeking structures beyond existing geographic boundaries, e.g. subscription libraries or alliance $$$; e.g. world's largest library applying the model to ILL
  • vendor instruction - good timing now to get vendors to build what we need the way we need it.


  • Basic technological skills - database building, word processing, spreadsheet, Web site duties. In case we don't make it, we'll need these skills to get other jobs.
  • Core specific technological skills - We as a profession MUST comprehend any technology that can weigh truth over falsehood (e.g. Google's algorithms for popularity and beyond). We as a profession MUST comprehend any technology that serves as platform for content exchange (e.g. e-mail/lists/blogs/ webcasting/anything interactive).
  • Legal background - intellectual property, management regulations, etc.; solid enough so that no one can deceive us into thinking we may not do what we know we should.
  • Networking skills - I'm not speaking of Intranets, but of people networks, e.g. experts, contacts, allies. And not just cooperative networks, we must learn assertiveness, not just accommodation. As Emily Mobley of Purdue once told me, "I learned more on the streets of Detroit about how to handle scholarly publishers than I ever did in library school."
  • Networking skills - Now I do mean Intranets et al.. One must make techie connections if one is not a techie oneself.
  • Pro-active approach to library work, e.g. seek multiple pay-offs, double/triple value. Look at tasks from multiple angles.
  • Apply Return-On-Investment (ROI) thinking, NOT survival thinking. Sunshine budget your time, resources, and commitments.
  • Out of the box thinking - full chain analysis. Where does the information come from? Where does it go? Where does it end up? Where doesn't it end up when maybe it should? First the vision. We'll worry about the money and the business model later.
  • Universal knowledge base - What is it that all librarians know how to do? What can any non-librarian expect to get from us? For example, in the past, that meant tracking books and journals, cataloging, indexing; in the nearer past, it included online searching of commercial databases, database structures; in the future (aka the present) it means how to use the Web effectively and safely, including e-commerce and where to get the best data for the best price.

We have BIG problems and we need to apply BIG solution thinking.


  • You're only a small fish if you think you're a small fish.
  • Your life is a work in progress and the earlier you think of it as a whole, the sooner you'll get to work on it;.
  • The only thing you cannot afford to lose is time. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."
  • The loveliest accomplishment in life is to do good AND to do well.
  • But even if you don't pull that off, as G. K. Chesterton said, "A thing worth doing is worth doing badly."
  • And finally, as they say here in Southern California, "What the hell!? They can kill you, but they can't eat you!"
  • So, GO FOR IT!!

About the Speaker

After graduating library school in 1966, Barbara Quint went to work at the RAND Corporation, where she spent close to twenty years, almost all of it as head of Reference Services. In the course of that employment, she began her career as an online searcher. From her experience in founding the Southern California Online Users Group (SCOUG) began her role as a “consumer advocate” for online searchers everywhere, a role which led her to leave familiar library work and become a leading writer and editor in the online trade press. In 1985, she began editing Database Searcher for the Meckler Corporation, which led in 1993 to her current position as editor-in-chief of Searcher Magazine for Information Today Inc. She has also spoken often at national and international meetings, writes the “Quint’s Online” column for Information Today, and operates her own information broker service, Quint and Associates.

As a vocal consumer advocate, she relishes controversy. In fact, a “wit-and-wisdom” book entitled the Quintessential Searcher, published in 2001, collected some of her lip-smacking relishings. Quint’s mantra has always been, “If online is the answer, what is the question?”