New Opportunities for Information Professionals: Perspectives from Award Winners

The following was first posted on the K & IM Refer Blog and is re-posted here with kind permission of Helen Edwards. It offers an interesting perspective on changing roles.

Conversations with Sue Lacey Bryant, Senior Advisor, Knowledge for Healthcare  (Walford Awards 2018) and Virginia Power, Lecturer/ Researcher in Information Science and Management, University of the West of England  (K&IM and UKeIG Information  Manager of the Year 2018).

Many would argue it is both an exciting and a challenging time for information professionals. For our award winners, however, the positives strongly outweigh the negatives.  Sue first realised the critical importance of information when she was 14 years old and went with her father to a consultation about a new bus timetable in the Medway town where she lived.  It was then that she realised that these changes to the bus service inevitably benefitted some users more than others and that information was critical both for making the decision and for evaluating its impact.  This fundamental understanding “that information is a key factor, not universally available or comprehensible” became the underlying basis for a career in public service.

The prize winners base their optimism for the future of information professionals on three factors:

  • The core skills: sharing and communicating information and collaborating with others have never been more in demand. Sue points out that promoting health information and knowledge management have long been appreciated as important in public health. Today’s focus on evidence-based practice and the need for innovation, all delivered by effective multidisciplinary teams, has made these skills business-critical for the health service. The ability to make different partnerships with information providers, collaborate across functions and disciplines, articulate information and translate it into the ‘language’ of different audiences are also fundamental capabilities of information professionals. With the emphasis on continuous learning, health librarians are perceived as a trusted and independent resource whom people at all levels feel comfortable asking for help. Further, the library provides a safe space in which to reflect, think and collaborate.  Virginia emphasises three core capabilities from her career across further and higher education: communicating, demonstrating impact and dissemination. Information professionals are in the “convincing game” and the human element has not lost any of its importance.
  • The rapid pace of change provides many opportunities for re-imagining job roles. Virginia turned to advantage the lack of money for library services in further education. This provided the freedom to innovate in a way not always possible in better funded environments.  She emphasizes the need for information professionals to exhibit flexibility, serendipity and an entrepreneurial spirit, “the need to be chameleons in an ever changing information and knowledge environment as we adapt to new opportunities.” Back in the1980s Sue seized the opportunity to set up a telephone helpline with £5,000 as a side project.  She comments that this involved having to do things she didn’t know how to do.  Her advice in these circumstances is to find someone who does know, and there is always someone, and then listen carefully and follow exactly what they say.  It is surprising how resistant many people are to this.  Both award winners also had the experience of being the first person to do a new job which didn’t previously exist. Frequently these pioneering roles later turned into established jobs and even expanded into new departments.
  • ·There are new opportunities opening up in related fields.  Both award winners highlight Big Data and the value information professionals can add in providing context and telling the story behind data. Knowledge and information management skills and the ability to see patterns are crucial to making data intelligent and useful, and to improving implementation. Issues around governance, compliance, privacy, ethics and information quality and veracity (and the growing problem of fake news) are particularly well understood by information professionals, enabling them to take their place beside other experts.  Understanding of user requirements also provides opportunities in UX design and digital learning.  Courses at the University of the West of England where Virginia teaches explicitly focus on preparing students for the new workplace.  Recent graduates from information focused courses have gone straight into jobs such as Data Analysts and Intranet Designers. The students are being prepared to operate on the edge of what is going on and to be ready for important future roles such as Citizen Data Scientist. Managing the Topol Review  has led Sue to highlight the importance for information professionals to optimise the benefits of emerging technologies. https://www.cilip.org.uk/page/benefitsofemerging

Both Sue and Virginia emphasized the importance of ongoing professional development to prepare to take advantage of the new opportunities. HEE/CILIP’s Professional Knowledge and Skills Base for Health (PKSB)  and Digital Literacy Capability Framework 2018. both offer practical frameworks to organise personal professional development and provide structure to the wealth of webinars, online courses, publications and toolkits now available at little or no cost.  In her recent article for JINFO My Favourite Tipples (8 November 2018) Virginia especially recommends the Educause fact sheets “7 Things you should know aboutWritten on topics from Drones to GDPR, these factsheets are simple, easily digestible and highly informative leaflets that capture the essence of new technologies and their development”.  For information professionals now turning their attention to knowledge management, she highlights  “KMWorld: an amazing cornucopia of current insights, news stories and research into the world of Knowledge Management (KM), providing an awareness service of corporate KM developments and  RealKM a similar service with many thought-provoking articles and, of particular interest real evidence-based practice”. RealKM Magazine was voted the winning resource for the  K&IM Knowledge and Information Award 2018.

It can also be useful to analyse job requirements to see which skills are becoming important and identify gaps for development.  Virginia describes how useful networking groups have been throughout her career, as she moved to different jobs and got to grips with new technologies. Sue points out that many information professionals may not be aware of just how transferable their skills are.  Throughout her own career, Sue reflects on her experience and the new skills gained, ranging from dealing with senior people as a new professional to learning to write a marketing plan.  At strategic points in her career she also took formal courses, including a part-time research Master’s focusing on the information needs and behaviours of GPs, and qualifying as an executive coach, to further increase her opportunities. She also benefited from a two-year leadership development programme. This commitment to continuing development also enabled her to transfer across sectors within the information profession, which can often in practice be more difficult, but more rewarding, than more linear careers.  Both Virginia and Sue are early role models for the kind of portfolio careers opening up to the information professional of the future.

Helen Edwards, Editor, K&IM Refer

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