What is the LIS profession?

This week I participated in a workshop as part of the “Professional Practice” unit in Queensland University of Technology’s LIS course. The workshop centred on the question: What is the LIS profession? This, I believe is a very good question for anyone new to the profession so they may navigate the many possibilities and find their niche.

My task was to present for 10 minutes on how I define the LIS profession, introduce my current role and explain how it fits into the LIS sector. I’ll admit I didn’t know the answer to this straight away. This question prompted reflection. I found the task to be an opportunity to gain some clarity on what the LIS profession is to me and ended up being as much for myself as it was for the students. What you’ll find below is my answer to the questions put to me for my presentation to LIS students.

Simply put, we are in the business of information. That’s really what the LIS profession comes down to – but to what end? What is the goal for using information? For community development? Business performance and profit? For cultural engagement and enrichment? Inspiring innovation?

The goals for using information is determined by context. And this means there are a multitude of opportunities for information  professionals. The key to knowing what context a new information professional may participate in is understanding motivations, values, personal and contextual aspirations for the use of information, the industries that intrigue and align with all the above. Then the pursuit of success is about developing an understanding of the ‘laws of the land’, so to speak. Understanding the rules, customs, the ‘why’ of a context’s landscape. Some things that define a context include:

  • systems and technology
  • processes and uses
  • people
  • sources of information
  • needs for the use of information

This has been particularly true of the roles I have held over the last five or so years. In aviation, I needed to understand ATA chapters (aviation’s equivalent to Dewey), information needs of engineers, why they use the information and the systems they use to access, use and input information as part of their work processes. In the archives sector, I’ve come to understand basic archival theory, rules and goals. I’ve had to pick up the rules and theory in order to navigate the contextual landscape along the way. I’ve developed an appreciation and respect for the archives sector (within the wider cultural heritage sector) and I believe its professional goals align with mine. That is, the provision of access to government records as part of enriching cultural heritage engagement. Archives are a pillar of a democratic society.

Now, I’m not sure how much I have shared about my current role within an archival authority. But here’s an overview.

The archival authority I work in administers legislation relating to the management of public records. There are also standards which outline compliance requirements for government agencies and authorities. I am a Policy officer of a unit that aims to raise best practice record keeping capabilities across government. My role involves:

  • providing record keeping advice to government agencies and authorities
  • providing input to government-wide information management initiates where appropriate
  • keeping up to date with the latest trends and issues relating to the management of public records, as well as the advice needs of records and information practitioners, among other audiences such as CEOs
  • (currently) undertaking a project to review the Recordkeeping Policy Framework.

In brief, the Recordkeeping Policy Framework governs and promotes a consistent approach to record keeping and records management across government and is made up of policies, guidelines and other published advice. This project has called upon skills I have gained both in previous roles and the LIS course, such as conducting research (including defining research questions and coming up with appropriate methods), information architecture and user experience, analytical, communication and project management skills.

So how does my role fit within the LIS profession?

Well, in some small way, myself and my colleagues are involved in the management of information assets to ensure the memory of government is captured, retained and (eventually) made available to the community. By assisting government agencies and authorities with raising their best practice record keeping capabilities, public records can be in the best shape possible to be retained for as long as they are required, whether this be temporarily or permanently by the State. From my understanding, the ‘records continuum’ would have it that archival collections begin with the capture of records, or even the understanding of what needs to be captured. Therefore the unit I work in needs to intercept at this point, not only to assist government to capture, retain and use records for business purposes but to also determine the records of archival and cultural significance so they can be properly managed.

I very much appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts and I hope my presentation inspired the ‘to-be’ information professionals.

What are your thoughts on what defines the LIS profession?

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