A crossroads on the information superhighway

Librarianship has gone far beyond the Dewey system.
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The Independent Online
"There are lots of opportunities for exciting, interesting and satisfying jobs," says Michael Shoolbred, course tutor in Information Studies at the University of Central England. If you thought librarianship was all about classifying books and ordering copies of Who's Who, think again. If you study for a librarianship qualification, you are as likely to find yourself creating databases and searching the Net as you are to be compiling bibliographies and getting to grips with the Dewey Decimal System.

Linda Davies runs the library at a central London law firm. As well as buying, classifying and cataloguing books, she takes a proactive role. "I look out for information in journals, books and newspapers to send to people I know will be interested. I also send out a regular newsletter drawing attention to law reports, useful articles and changes in the law."

Another part of her job involves researching solicitors' inquiries, such as "whether a first aider has ever been sued for negligence". In such cases she uses an online legal database, Lexis, which holds up- to-date information about statutes and legal cases.

Ms Davies finds the work immensely rewarding. "You have a greater level of autonomy in the commercial sector and you can develop the library in the way you want to. I know the people I'm dealing with and can anticipate their individual requirements.

The role of public librarians is changing rapidly, too. Steve Liddle, head of information services in the London borough of Waltham Forest, says his job is less about books and more about information. The library's CD-Rom network, for example, allows people to see books held by all the libraries in the borough, to book a tennis court, or to find out about local playgroups.

"We intend to expand our current database into a Net project, where different council departments provide data in their own area of expertise," says Mr Liddle. "We will be responsible for providing information to the public, liaising with client departments and designing Web pages."

If you are interested in this type of work, you will need to study for a postgraduate diploma or MA in librarianship or information management. These are available at the University of Central England in Birmingham, Loughborough University, the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth and Thames Valley University. Normally, you will be expected to have a degree and to have done a year's work in a library.

Mr Shoolbred says: "Most of our students have arts degrees, but an increasing number have science backgrounds. They are highly sought-after, because of the demand for specialist librarians."

He stresses the need for enthusiasm for technology. "We look for students who are comfortable with IT and prepared to learn. You don't need to be an expert. We train you in techniques like electronic searching, creating databases and designing Web pages."

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