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Five Questions with Professor Lai Maosheng

Lai Maosheng, Peking University | Aug 01, 2009

1. How have you seen the role of librarians change?

Generally, librarians are still playing their traditional roles as well as new ones. Today, librarians continue to develop and manage print collections, but increasingly develop and manage electronic collections, too. In fact, today, librarians increasingly are taking the role of resource managers. Also, librarians are taking two quite new roles: providing information literacy instruction and providing a wide range of personalized services. Among those personalized services, librarians are providing extensive research assistance to diverse users, to a much greater extent than in the past. Though websites and electronic scholarly resources offer user-friendly navigation, researchers facing an evermore complex world of information still benefit from librarians’ rich knowledge and experience.

2. Why are information professionals' roles especially changing today?

As employers’ needs rapidly change today, so do the roles of information professionals and the curricula of LIS graduate programs. For example, especially in the private sector, employers now want to know where they stand as compared to their peers, and so librarians perform competitive intelligence analysis, using internal and external resources. As another example of how information professionals’ roles are rapidly changing,more enterprises are strengthening their service principles, and so entire workforces including librarians are embracing approaches such as IBM’s Service Science. (See www.ibm.com/developerworks/spaces/ssme.) As market demands change, more and more LIS departments or institutes aim at graduating students who are interdisciplinary human resources specialized in information management.

“As employers’ needs rapidly change today, so do the roles of information professionals and the curricula of LIS graduate programs.”

3. In China, is there discussion about replacing the term "librarian" with "information professional"?

We’re continuing to see discussion about the renaming of LIS departments in colleges and universities. But there’s little discussion about replacing the term “librarian” with “information professional” or “information specialist.”

4. When did discussions about the renaming of LIS departments in colleges and universities start in China?

In 1992, Peking University’s Department of Library & Information Science, founded in 1947, was renamed and became the Department of Information Management. After that, almost all the universities and colleges in China renamed their LIS departments as “Information Management” or “InformationManagement & Information System” departments. That was the firstmovement, anywhere in the world, to rename LIS departments. In 1995, UC Berkeley renamed its LIS department as the School of Information Management and Systems (now the School of Information). That may have been the first renaming of an LIS department in the US.

5. How do you see the future for librarians?

It’s bright and promising in China. With the continuing high growth of the economy in China, librarians definitely have a prosperous future here.

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