Information Superhighway: access all areas

The Information Superhighway was a term used when I started working in the information industry in the early 1990’s. There are also a few books published on the topic at the time and my manager ordered some for our collection in the library where I worked. Recently I was reminiscing with my ex-colleague, Lina Kouzi, about this and we discussed how revolutionary it was at the time. That was about 24 years ago…before “everyone” used the web. I had already attended lectures at university on the “information society” vision that was a precursor to the information superhighway or cyberspace, as we now know it. All of this is history, but there are two aspects of the information and library world that will remain relevant even now: (1) Some people can use web-based sources very easily for their information needs, cruise at their leisure and/or accelerate in the fast lane for such things as the deep web and e-commerce. But (2) there are also parts of society and the developing world that do not have access to this road – much less so to a superhighway. These access barriers get forgotten sometimes.

Librarians and information professionals are always keen to help users to access content regardless of format, and to provide content that is relevant, correct, critically analysed within research frameworks and standards in various fields of interest.

This month, it was such a pleasure to volunteer to represent SLA Europe in Dublin for the inaugural Information Professional Career Expo at the Dublin Business School in Ireland. I was keen to meet professionals and new graduates in the Irish Information Community and to make time to see my ex-colleague and friend Lina at the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI). I flew into Dublin City Airport early in the morning and Lina took me straight to her office at the NCBI. I have kept track of Lina’s amazing work over the years and I find the library and media services she provides to the blind and partially sighted to users across Ireland awesome and inspiring! There are many features about their services that are unique and tailored for their users, such as a collection of braille resources and various media output in audio recordings of news, magazines (journals), books, etc. Lina showed we around the purpose built office in the Dublin suburbs with traditional library storage, but also with BBC standard built recording studios and booths. It was also very nice to be introduced to her colleagues, and I made sure I told them how amazing their work is to their users.

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Lina is also working with the local residents in a deprived community on a programme for up-skilling and training with recording items from the collection to be sent to users. I also saw the postal bags for materials that are sent out across Ireland free of postage charges, and with easy postal bags for users who may find it challenging to return items to the library. Some of her users have access to content on memory USB sticks, which are then returned in these postal bags (see photo). Library users have machines and devices for playing the audio materials that they receive from the NCBI. Obviously, there are younger users who may have smarter technology but some of them still use tradition and antiquated machines, as they are familiar with the machines. Lina created an annual report with some amazing facts and figures of their work and the valuable contribution they provide for their users and the positive impact this service has on users’ quality of life.

We both loved catching up and it was non-stop chatting on old and new stories. That is the beauty of being with an old friend – you pick up where you left off! We both quietly recalled and congratulated each other on our careers’ progress and how those early days at Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) were foundations skills and learning in the ‘Books’ and ‘Journals’ sections even in a corporate library – the experience is still relevant to the services we provide today in our current roles in terms of the ‘content’, transferable and business skills that we possess.

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After a quick lunch at the Temple Bar district of Dublin, I made a quick dash in the Dublin Taxi to the inaugural Information Professionals Career Expo at the Dublin Business School (DBS). Bursting with energy and excitement after seeing my dear friend, I entered the expo in full swing to a warm welcome to meet Irish SLA Europe members and DBS contacts Siobhan McGuinness, Neasa McHale and Marie O’Neill. I was mainly here to network, exalt the benefits of SLA Europe as a global network of information professionals and to give advice to anyone who wanted to chat at our stall.  I had the pleasure of meeting a few new graduates and gave then a few tips on how they can keep in contact with SLA Europe and what we are up to by our social media channels.  I also spoke on some of the more important CPD and social events we host. I gave tips on job seeking and staying on top of their personal development and seeking emerging new roles as well as traditional ones.

In the general career mentoring area, I also met Florence Curley from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).  Florence and I (like many other geographical territories) used to communicate to exchange information and assist each other in finding information or leads for our library users.  It was nice to meet someone in person you have never met before – even if it was 10 years ago that I left PwC!

It was also a pleasure to give a short talk at the start of the SLA Europe hosted networking and nibbles, where I was introduced by Philip of the Library Association in Ireland.  Philip set the tone with any introduction that called for information professionals to be excited to “put information in the hands of their users”, but also to “fight the good fight” with all the changes in the industry. I had prepared for a light-hearted talk on my career and what SLA Europe has meant for me and my own professional development, but I went on to mention thoughts that was hopefully motivational, encouraging and praiseworthy. I also urged the room to be prepared for the fight that we face as information professionals.  There are various roles, industries, subjects and creative cultural aspects of our valuable contribution – and I made sure that point was not missed.  Siobhan has written a fab Information Professional Expo event review here.

It was really nice to meet many of the group attending the nibbles and networking afterwards for a more personal chat on issues and opportunities that they may face. It was a true pleasure to attend these different venues in Dublin with varied user experiences and professional elements, which personally put the library and information industry into clearer perspective on the roads that lie ahead.

My time in Dublin was not all work and I was able to take a nice walk to my hotel, spend the evening listening to live music in my music-themed hotel and go by train to Galway the next morning.  I have visited Ireland before about 15 years ago for St Patrick’s Day, and definitely, it is a fabulous city that is worth a visit.  The countryside on the way to Galway was beautiful and very cliche green with livestock roaming the fields.  It was such a joy to see the animals resting, playing or grazing in the green grass of Ireland.  Galway was really nice as shown in my photos and I hope to visit Ireland again one day to see more of the countryside.

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Not only did I spend time speed networking in Dublin, but I also attended the Business Show as part of the Business & IP Centre team at Excel in May.  It is amazing that information is ubiquitious and accessible night and day in the palm of our hands, but people still want face to face information or pointers for those hard-to-find information needs.  Even if it is to reassure them what they already know.  I assisted with about 15 speed mentoring sessions for the London Growth Hub at the Business Show and most speed mentees wanted information that was practical or confirmation of where they can go to find out what they were looking for. The Information Superhighway may be all well and good but there is still a need for information professionals to provide that face-to-face conversation or provide answers that some people still need…and they may prefer to communicate in person. We still do this everyday in the library where I work.

Fake News and digital literacy are other issues that have come to the forefront in the last year.  This had probably been exasperated by social media and mainstream news being manipulated by the powerful.  This is not a new issue and I have been interesting in the topic for a while but not overly passionate about it.  There is a fabulous article in Information Today May 2017 entitled ‘What’s behind fake news and What you can do about it‘ by Kate Dempsey – which gives some fabulous insight into the role of information professionals and librarians in fact-checking and preventing the spread of misinformation. Tracey end by stating “It is vital to prove your continued value, and this is a timely, powerful way to do it. It’s one thing to repeat the old trope ‘People need libraries now more than ever,’ and that is another thing to get out there to prove it”.

It is vital to prove your continued value, and this is a timely, powerful way to do it. It’s one thing to repeat the old trope ‘People need libraries now more than ever,’ and that is another thing to get out there to prove it” – Information Today, May 2017, ‘What’s behind fake news and What you can do about it‘ by Kate Dempsey.

As with all content, we eventually will manage archives for future scrutiny, analysis and fact-checking. We are here to provide accurate, impartial and unbias information for independent research and for the empowerment of our users. This is not always easy, appreciated or even possible, but we professional won’t have it any other way!  It is our standards. So if you get away with half-truths or disinformation – we will eventually catch up with you in time!  I remember telling the attendees at the networking event in Dublin that I would have changed my career by now if I didn’t like being an information professional. I haven’t always had the “luck of the Irish” in my career…but I do feel lucky to do what I do.  Information works for me.

Emerald – Ireland from the airplane.