Could Internet search technology be just a flash in the pan? Back in the early 1990s, that's what most librarians believed.
Assistant professor of management Andrew Nelson traced librarians' evolving attitudes—and revealed insights that can be applied to many professions—in a study forthcoming in The Academy of Management Journal.
With his coauthor, Jennifer Irwin, PhD '12--a former librarian who is now a business professor at Louisiana State University--Nelson analyzed twenty-two years of journal articles written about the Internet by and for U.S.-based librarians.
Nelson and Irwin discovered four stages of transition, beginning with an initial period of dismissal. As time went on, however, librarians began to accept Internet searches as a way for their patrons to get answers to simple questions--but positioned themselves as guides and interpreters for more complex searches.
Next, librarians became teachers and promoters of search tools--some even working with firms to contribute to changes in the Internet as a whole.
Finally, librarians evolved their approach by working to develop scholarly-based search engines, such as Google Scholar, and others tied specifically to library holdings. "We find librarians, at this point, redefining their identity," Nelson said.
For Nelson, the librarians' successful evolution points the way for those in other fields whose professional identities are undergoing change.
“We not only found that new technologies can disrupt occupations, which others have found before, but showed how members of an occupation can redefine themselves in relation to the technology to maintain a new role and a new relevance in society,” said Nelson.
Read more about Nelson's study on the Futurity.org website.