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Information Specialists Ride the Technology Wave

What's the most current cancer research? How many potential customers are there for my new company in North America? Who is this guy that we're about to hire as vice-president of our sales department?

These are the types of questions people want answers to every day. Of course, the answers are out there -- somewhere. But anyone who has tried to search the Internet for a specific piece of information knows how elusive that proverbial needle in the haystack can be.

Enter information specialists.

In the modern age, the libraries of old are now at the fingertips of almost anyone with a computer. But the Internet hasn't eliminated the need for people who can help manage and sort information.

In fact, it may even increase the need, with everyone from consulting firms, to corporations, to scientific researchers seeking out the best and fastest sources of information. Add technological know-how to traditional information management and you've got the crucial skills for the job.

Rosanne Greene is the graduate programs officer for the faculty of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario. "Many people have a very traditional view of librarianship, and that's all being changed now because of the information explosion," she says.

What do information specialists do? In short, they make it easier to store and access information quickly and efficiently.

Take a pharmaceutical company, for example. The company would want to be able to save research results for quick access. It would want a way to easily handle the immense amount of paperwork created when applying for government approval of a new product. And it would want someone who could help marketing experts research competitors.

Information specialist Ben Bunnell is a bit of a sleuth. His job is to research companies seeking start-up funding. Investors hope that these companies will become really big; it is Bunnell's job to help determine the likelihood of their success.

Bunnell was once asked to investigate a potential vice-president of operations for a company. The man turned out to be shady indeed!

"I've done background checks on people and found out that they were con artists... and their resume looks really good, and they interview really well. And then, I do a search on them and find out they're going from job to job with false credentials and embezzling," says Bunnell.

Greene says that salaries depend largely on the company or organization you work with, but she believes that the industry will continue to grow into the next decade.

She says that people in this industry are in a very healthy position to find multiple job offers.

Bunnell agrees. "New jobs are being created every day that never existed before," he says.

Many jobs, for example, are cropping up in the business sector. The information side of the Internet is being joined by the corporate side. An information specialist with business smarts is a lethal competitor for jobs in the field.

"To have some basic understanding of how businesses work would be useful," says Bunnell. "In college, it wouldn't hurt to take just a couple of business classes."

Bunnell was thrown into the business world with little knowledge of basic business structure."It would have been a lot easier if I'd had a few courses in it," he says.

The need to track and sort information with incredible efficiency began with the computer revolution. And some people saw it coming.

In 1996, the University of Michigan took what many considered a gamble by forming the school of information. With faculty from library sciences, business management and computer science, the university set out to tackle society's need for people who can help manage the potential wealth of information made possible by the computer age.

The gamble paid off. The first group of 80-plus students to receive master's degrees had different specialties, from economics to library and computer science. But they all had one thing in common: plenty of job offers. Some graduates had more than a dozen offers to choose from.

Today, there are around two dozen colleges offering degrees in the field. The names run from information management to knowledge management.

Some graduates now work for traditional libraries, others at public or private schools or universities, and still others at burgeoning companies. But almost as many are now working in scientific research.

In terms of jobs, the need to design, build and maintain the infrastructure of the Internet alone is expected to require dozens of qualified information experts over the next decade. "Some [graduates] are getting into the area of web design, developing search engines and that sort of thing," says Greene.

There is an equal balance of men and women in the program, according to Greene. "With our students, I think there are just as many females as males taking the information technology stream. I think the realization is out there that there are opportunities in that field," she says.

Where Bunnell went to school, things weren't quite as balanced, but he predicts that this will change. "Librarianship has traditionally been associated with women, I think. At the school it's still predominantly women. I think there's a lot of interesting gender role changes that are going on right now and they haven't really played themselves out yet," says Bunnell.


The Internet Public Library
Includes a section specifically for librarians

Society of Information Technology Management
Lots of news here

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