Creating the Future for Information Professionals

by Bruce Rosenstein, Managing Editor, Leader to Leader 

No one has to be reminded that this is a wrenching time of disruption for librarians and other information professionals. Countless articles and blog posts have been written about how to thrive in this new, undefined up-for-grabs era. It has also been the theme of many conference sessions. Yet if this were easy, anyone could do it and information professionals would not feel under siege, as they do now.

We need a new approach to work, and especially a new approach to how we view the future. Information professionals have decided advantages over many others in the workplace. It’s up to us to figure out how to strategically deploy these advantages for maximum effect.

We know where the future is hidden: One of the major constructs of Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, is “the future that has already happened.” What events and trends have already taken place, but whose ripple effects have not yet been felt? Information professionals are uniquely placed to discover this through our networking ability with other professionals, and our superior use of strategic online sources.

We know what’s relevant: Joseph Lee, a former Drucker School adjunct professor who now teaches at both Chuo University in Tokyo and Pepperdine University in California, says “In this new world of almost unlimited information, it will not be the one who knows the most who wins, but the one who knows what’s important and what’s not. The ability to have challenging discussions will be at the core of someone who wishes to succeed.” The skill of discovering and making sense of the constant overload of information is undervalued by society. It is up to us to make others recognize this skill for the strategic advantage it represents.

We know the universe of available information: Most people outside of the information/knowledge world have a lamentably narrow view of what information is available in both print and online formats. They can be blissfully ignorant of anything that’s not accessible through a Google search. How can you turn this fact to your advantage?

We know how to communicate: Drucker wrote a charming article in 1952 for Fortune magazine, “How to be an Employee.” He advocated that people in the workplace should work on sharpening their communication skills, both written and oral. In particular he suggested that they take courses in writing poetry and short stories, not to become specialists in those areas but to learn how to more effectively organize their thoughts and to learn economy of language. Information professionals tend to be strong in these areas. What does this advantage mean for your professional endeavors, now and in the future?

If the future is indeed there for the taking, information professionals should be as well placed as anyone to lead in this era of new realities. This will require new ways of thinking about and expressing our superior skills in the finding and use of information and knowledge, and our ability to make colleagues and clients more effective in their own work. In this way, we can create our future as individuals, and crucially, help to create the future for our institutions.


Bruce Rosenstein is Managing Editor of Leader to Leader, a publication of The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute (formerly the Leader to Leader Institute and earlier the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management), and Jossey-Bass.

He is the author of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way, published by McGraw-Hill in November, 2013 and Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker's Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life (Berrett-Koehler, 2009).

He worked for USA TODAY newspaper for 21 years, until late 2008, as a librarian and during the final 12 years, also as a writer about business and management books for the Money section. He also served as the first-ever embedded librarian in the News department. Since 1996, he has taught the Special Libraries/Information Centers course at The Catholic University of America.

Note: Bruce Rosenstein will visit METRO on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 for a book talk and signing from 6:00pm till 8:00pm. Please join us for this event sponsored in part by SLA NY.