Exploring iSchool Career Pathways—Information Intermediation
Published: Tuesday, October 07, 2014 by Allison Randall Gatt
The Information Intermediation Career Pathway at the SJSU School of Information is a great way to explore the connections between information and its users. If you are passionate about what iSchool assistant professor Dr. Lili Luo describes as helping people “access relevant, credible and current information to fulfill their information needs,” then this is where you want to focus your energies and your coursework.
Both Luo and iSchool instructor Dr. Michelle Simmons, who teaches many courses in the school’s Information Intermediation Career Pathway, are passionate about helping people find the information they need. And Luo and Simmons want to help students become information professionals who are passionate about information intermediation, too.
“Nowadays, we are inundated with information on the Internet,” says Luo, “and it’s critical for information intermediaries to help the public become more information literate and consume information more critically.” There is so much information out there, both accurate and inaccurate, that most people need help trying to sort it all out. Information intermediaries are the missing link, and a vital connection between information seekers and the answers to their questions.
Information intermediation combines the vast world of information with the needs of real people, trying to find the best ways to connect people with information. In Luo’s LIBR 210 Reference and Information Services class, students get to be “secret shoppers,” taking on the role of information seeker while analyzing a website or resource in order to experience reference services in a variety of venues—just one way an iSchool course connects the theoretical side of being an information professional to the practical side of being an information-seeker.
When I took LIBR 210, it opened up a whole world of resources to me. In weekly projects, I was a “secret shopper” as I searched for information regarding pediatricians accepting patients in my neighborhood, the birthplaces of deceased relatives, government statistics regarding health and welfare, and even who the local hospital branch was named after (one of the people shared an unusual name with one of my kids). What was especially interesting was that oftentimes the assignments weren’t just fun—they were really informative and helpful. It was information I needed, and I was getting my schoolwork done.
Students who continue on this pathway can look forward to projects such as creating digital learning objects, like instructional screencasts, research guides and tutorials.
Says Simmons, “Being able to create well-structured tutorials will be beneficial in a range of setting because as information professionals, we are often called to teach others how to navigate complex information systems.”
Information intermediation requires a sense of what the client or seeker is looking for, using communication and people-skills and really trying to understand, from a user’s point of view, what they are looking for. This requires not only the ability to interact with a broad range of people, but a love of interacting with and helping people. As a professional information intermediary, this can be done face-to-face or virtually, in a variety of different settings.
Not only does information intermediation take a passion for working with people and finding information, it requires the professional to be able to pass on their knowledge. Information intermediaries not only help people find answers, but they help them develop their own set of information-seeking skills to be able to find information more easily in the future.
“It’s really important for information intermediaries to be able to teach effectively,” says Simmons, “both in synchronous, face-to-face environments, as well as asynchronous environments. Being able to use instructional technology to create effective digital learning objects (such as instructional screencasts or other tutorials) is a valuable skill for today’s and tomorrow’s information intermediaries.”
Skills necessary to be an effective information intermediary include the ability to conduct effective reference interviews, excellent communication and interpersonal skills, the ability to work under pressure, to work in groups as well as independently, management skills, and the flexibility to work in an ever-changing technological environmentAn expert knowledge of search methods, information resources and ever-changing technology are essential for this field. Says Dr. Simmons, “Technical acumen is essential, as information technologies are ever-changing, and an information intermediary has to be able to adapt to each new development.”
There are a variety of career opportunities and focuses for professionals who want to work as information intermediaries. Jobs that require the skills of an information intermediary include coordinators of library instruction and reference services in college and university settings. In corporate settings, positions such as information consultants, database vendors who might create training materials, and jobs related to information management and services also require the skills of an intermediary. Skills can be used to answer the questions of a public library patron, or help a client of a corporate information center search for complex data stretching back over a long period of time.
If you’re interested in reference librarianship, Luo recommends getting involved with the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), reading its publications and following its blog. “It’s the professional association for reference librarians, and they provide wonderful resources about this part of our profession.”
If you are interested in data services, Simmons recommends taking LIBR 220 Resources and Information Services in Professions and Disciplines taught by Dr. Mandy Swygart-Hobaugh. “Information intermediaries help users not only find data, but they also interpret and analyze data, helping users make sense of the data they find,” says Simmons.
Luo has done extensive research regarding information intermediation, including a grant-funded project partnering with Dr. Peter Lee of the SJSU School of Social Work, focusing on how to broaden library patron’s access to social service programs by providing information about local agencies and assistance programs. Another research project she was involved with for several years explored the use of text messaging to provide reference services. Alumna Emily Weak served as a research assistant to Dr. Luo on this project.
“I took LIBR 210 (Reference Services) and LIBR 285 (Research Methods) with Dr. Luo, and I learned so much,” said Weak. “I thought she had an interesting approach of combining the practical with the academic, and I really wanted to work with her as a research assistant.”
What makes Information Intermediation sound exciting to you?
Over the next several months, we’ll take a look at a few of the different career pathways offered through the School of Information’s MLIS program. With the exception of LIBR 203 and the other three core courses, as well as LIBR 285, and either a thesis or eportfolio (to make a total of six required courses), the classes you take are your choice—whatever you feel best shapes your career direction, skills and passions. It is always a good idea to discuss your coursework with your academic advisor, and together you can map out a list of classes that will suit your chosen career goals.
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image courtesy of renjith krishnan
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