Today, I took a course on information management fundamentals and decided to blog about some of my observations. With about a dozen students, there was plenty of interesting discussions that supplemented the course content. Advocating for information management and the range of occupations that make up the field were two of the topics that struck me as particularly interesting. We also had an interesting exercise in the taxonomy of grocery stores which pointed out how taxonomy can be used for commercial gain and how it is tailored to serve the needs of a given audience (e.g. a grocery near a university campus is likely to make fast food items easy to find).
Most classic and compelling justifications of information management (and its relative, knowledge management) focus on risk and disaster. Failure to manage archives resulted in NASA losing some of its 1969 Moon tapes, for example. In a corruption trial in British Columbia, the destruction of email records (which should have been put on hold due to legal proceedings) caused a world of grief. These cases are compelling and dramatic, but I would surmise that they are also rare. Another piece of the argument needs to be the positive benefits of managing information such as more efficient use of staff time or the potential to make new connections with other staff who have valuable knowledge. Then again, I have come across some economic research that claims that people are more motivated by the fear of loss (loss adversion) than the prospect of gains (endowment effect – people value what they currently have over potential gains), so perhaps focusing on the loss does make sense.
People working in information management come to the field with a number of different job titles: information architect, taxonomist, metadata specialist, privacy officer and more. Taxonomy – a system of naming and organizing things into groups that share similar characteristics – has recently been booming, but this field may be in decline with better technology. Business analysts, on the other hand, is a new and growing field. However, some brief research into the business analysis field shows that it is dominated by those with expertise in either finance or information technology. If one already has deep knowledge of those fields, then business analysis could be a good way to develop one’s career. I think the next frontier is privacy work. That sub-field is still very new, but as privacy related scandals continue to pile up and threaten the credibility of governments and companies, addressing this need can only become more important.
Whether you are a new graduate like myself or a more experienced professional, pursuing professional development opportunties is one of a great career move. Improving our skills increases our human capital (here’s a recent definition I came across: “any form of wealth capable of being employed in the production of more wealth”) which improves our job security or ability to locate employment. Here are some of the strategies that I am using to develop professionally. I have also found that professional development is a great way to keep my spirits up when in transition between positions. It definately beats whining or watching old DVDs again! If cost is an issue, remember that many types of professional development are eligible for tax credits (this is true in Canada at least; for advice, ask your accountant).
Taking short courses through organizations like SLA, the Professional Learning Centre, or Simmons GSLIS has many benefits. These organizations tend to be recognized by your peers and superiors which can make it easier to get time off work to attend or funding. Since these courses are tailored to meet the needs of professionals in our field, it is also a great place to meet new people and learn about the sheer variety of options that people work in. I’ve met people who work in the federal government, hotels, public libraries, universities, law firms and TV. This week, I am taking two courses through the PLC: Web Analytics and Information Management Fundamentals – both should be great. I have taken a course with SLA earlier this year and found it to be worthwhile. The Simmons program is new to me (heard about it through Twitter last night) but it looks good as well.
Taking technology courses either self-designed or through a local college presents the chance to develop broader skills. Does your public library subscribe to Safari Books Online (mine does!)? If so, you are well on your way to learning about everything from blogging to MySQL. Though some reference works offered are not very useful to a novice, there are plenty of books (even video books that walk you through all the steps) that provide instruction. While I am learning from some books, I want to balance this by taking a course through one of my local colleges that offers technology courses like George Brown College. In doing an unscientific comparison between the costs of the courses referred to in the last paragraph and the ones referred to here, it does look like these courses are cheaper. Beyond technology, I would also suggest learning some more business skills (e.g. marketing, sales, finance) and take on a second language. I’ve studied French and German myself – few things in life stretch me than learning to communicate in new languages.
Finally, share what you learn with others. When I worked as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Western Ontario, I found the discipline of communicating, motivating and engaging with undergraduate history students to be rewarding. If you have difficulty explaining how to do something to somebody else, then that’s a sign you need to study further. Sharing can take different forms. Two good options are blogging about what you learn and simply informally discussing with your colleagues in the workplace.