Industries & Professions /
Library and Information Services
Information occupies an invaluable place in our lives.
Information is the tool by which we learn, make decisions, and
answer questions or concerns that we face every day at work, at
school, and in our personal lives. A junior high school student may
seek information on the history of ancient Greece to use in a
school report. A college senior may look for technical information
to help prepare for a job interview. A retired couple may gather
information about the customs of a foreign country to help plan for
a vacation trip. Parents may rely on information about
low-cholesterol recipes to help create a healthier lifestyle for
their family. A law librarian may compile information on previous
legal cases in preparation for a court case. These are just a few
examples of the different roles that information plays in the
things we do and in the way we live.
The world of information is constantly changing and expanding.
Each year more books are published, more articles appear in
magazines or newspapers, new CD-ROMs are produced, and more
resources become available to us through computers by way of
database vendors, online services, and access to the Internet. The
growth and expansion of technology constantly create new ways for
information to be preserved and new avenues for people to access
information, whether through their own home computers, in
libraries, or in businesses or research institutes. But all this
stored knowledge can be unwieldy and overwhelming. We need trained
information professionals to help us organize and store the
information in the first place, and then to provide guidance when
we have to retrieve and synthesize the information.
The field of information services is extremely comprehensive,
and it combines aspects of library and information science.
Professionals working in information services are charged with the
management of information, and they are trained to organize,
analyze, preserve, retrieve, and access stored knowledge.
Information professionals work in a wide variety of organizations,
from libraries to schools to businesses to government research
institutes, to name a few.
Information services have a long and important history of
providing the means by which societies have preserved records of
knowledge and culture. Ever since humans learned to write,
libraries have been essential to preserving the history of
civilization. Since ancient times, libraries have been centers
where people could learn, read, and have access to information. No
one really knows when the first library was established, but there
are many remains of important libraries that existed in very early
times. There are records of libraries in ancient Egypt as old as
the pyramids, for example, and a large library existed at Nineveh
in Assyria as early as 600 B.C. In these ancient
repositories, scholars studied manuscripts in Greek, Ethiopian,
Persian, Hebrew, and Hindi. In Rome, private libraries were common
among educated citizens.
During the Middle Ages, when knowledge of Greek and Latin
classics was threatened, precious manuscripts were preserved in
monastery libraries. Later, Renaissance humanists and collectors,
such as Petrarch and Boccaccio, preserved many important works of
literature and philosophy in their personal libraries. Many of
these libraries, together with book collections gathered by kings
and noblemen, were the beginnings of some of the great scholarly
libraries that still exist in Europe.
Before the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg
in the mid-1440s, manuscripts were written by hand. The movable
type press allowed for books to be printed more efficiently and
inexpensively, thus providing a larger circulation of books.
All early libraries were intended for the use of small, elite
groups. Few people had received enough education to be able to read
well, and most people were too poor to have the leisure time to
enjoy books. The industrial revolution and other social changes in
the 18th and 19th centuries upset the old social order, and new
generations of working people were able to acquire an education.
Their desires called for a new kind of library, one that not only
would preserve the best works of earlier times but also would be an
educational facility for the common people.
Associations of young mercantile workers, apprentices,
mechanics, and clerks formed libraries. In 1731, Benjamin Franklin
and a group of his friends organized the Library Company of
Philadelphia, the earliest library of this kind in the American
Public libraries, supported from public funds and open to all
readers, were established in Manchester, England, in 1852 and in
Boston in 1854. Additional public libraries soon were started in
many other cities in both countries. By 1876, there were 342 public
libraries in the United States; by 1920, the number had grown to
more than 6,500, located in every state in the union. Today, there
are more than 117,000 libraries in the United States.
In the 1950s, the development of new technologies stimulated the
emergence of the field of information science. This new field
brought together elements from library science, computer science,
business administration, and other fields to create new and more
efficient ways of storing, organizing, and disseminating recorded
knowledge. Information science focused on the combination of modern
technologies with human resources to bring about the transformation
of information services from a field focusing on print materials to
one including all forms of media, including print materials,
audiovisual materials, and electronic media.
Over the last 40 years, the field of information science has
evolved tremendously, yet it remains closely connected to the field
of library science. Today information services professionals, in
libraries and in many different settings, employ vast technologies
to organize, classify, and retrieve records of culture and thought.
In addition to traditional books and periodicals, information is
now available through audio and video recordings, visual aids such
as microfilm and filmstrips, CD-ROMs, digital video discs (DVDs)
online database searching services such as DIALOG and LEXIS/NEXIS,
remote sources accessed through the Internet, and e-books and other
In today's information society, libraries remain a key part of
the information services industry and will continue to play an
increasingly important role. Libraries, and the information
professionals they employ, are needed to help people find their way
through puzzling and often contradictory information in a world in
which the amount of information and technology continues to
increase and expand at a dizzying pace.