For decades, scholars and futurists have predicted a knowledge revolution. Those predictions have come to life dramatically in recent years. We live in an information age, an age in which the ability to generate and access new knowledge has become a key driver of social and economic growth. This conviction is powerfully reflected in the development of internetworking and in the feverish spate of takeovers, strategic alliances, and joint ventures in the telecommunications, cable, and computer industries, as the major players position themselves to be in the vanguard of the digital revolution. A decade or so ago, no one had heard of Google, YouTube, or MySpace; as we go to press, Google’s stock market capitalization is $150 billion and MySpace has 55 million subscribers. Such growth rates are unprecedented in the realm of ICTs (information and communication technologies) and are leading indicators of the shift to the aforementioned digital revolution. Such developments are transforming both scholarly and lay perceptions of the value of information and dramatically altering our understanding of communicative practices.
In many developed nations, the information sector is among the fastest growing segments of the economy. The growth of a dynamic global information industry has created a wealth of opportunities for information professionals, but it has also helped throw into relief a raft of complex public policy issues, such as privacy and cyber surveillance, privatization of government-held information resources, the management of intellectual property rights, and the emergence of a digital divide, all of which call for rigorous and informed policy analysis.
The signs of a new age are everywhere: the World Wide Web and electronic commerce, mobile and ubiquitous computing, the Open Access movement, interactive media in the home, virtual universities, electronic publishing, digital libraries. The statistics are irresistible; the amount of information produced in the last decade alone is greater than all the information created in past millennia. The rhetoric of the Information Age has become reality. And that reality translates into unprecedented career opportunities for information professionals who know how to capture, organize, manage, and exploit knowledge assets; who combine analytic and technical skills with a sense of the strategic value of information to organizations of all kinds.
The economic and social well-being of nations depends increasingly on their ability to generate and access new knowledge. The “informatization” of society is creating a demand for specialists who will function as information resource managers and act as guides, interpreters, mediators, brokers, and quality controllers for the ultimate user, who might be a corporate executive, a scientist, or a schoolchild. Today’s information professionals do not merely store and locate information, they also analyze and synthesize raw data to produce customized, value-added services and products for a diverse clientele. The field offers a kaleidoscope of career tracks from which to choose: Web design, information architecture, information systems analysis, database design and marketing, information brokering, medical informatics, systems librarianship, competitor intelligence analysis, usability testing. In a sense, the opportunities are limited only by the imagination.
On one issue there is widespread agreement: the effective management of information systems and resources is critical to successful organizational performance. That is as true of a Fortune 500 corporation as of a hospital or a small liberal arts college. Information resources include, but are by no means synonymous with, the materials held in libraries, archives, and documentation centers. In the Digital Age, organizations of all kinds are waking up to the fact that intellectual capital is one of their most important resources—the basis of comparative advantage and superior service delivery. It is this awareness, as much as the highly visible information technologies, that is responsible for transforming the ways in which business, commerce, professional affairs, and contemporary scholarship are being conducted.
Libraries, historically a key component of society’s “epistemic infrastructure,” are also changing. Once passive storehouses, they have in some cases become active agents of social change and early adopters of new information and communication technologies. The range of materials and media they handle has diversified enormously in the last decade. Access to full-text databases, networked resources, and multimedia information systems has become the norm in a matter of years, fueled in no small measure by the prodigious growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web. The next few years promise even greater advances—pervasive computing, global digital libraries, hyper-connectivity, intelligent interfaces, interactive books, collaboratories, intelligent agents, and virtual reality. Indiana University’s School of Library and Information Science is responding to the challenge with a flexible and forward-looking curriculum, which stresses the social, behavioral, and cultural aspects of information design and use and a wide-ranging research agenda supported by funding from bodies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).