AIIM, the global community of information professionals, recently asked its LinkedIn membership two variations of the same question — one serious, and one funny.

The serious one garnered 11 responses and asked people to define why they were information professionals. The funny one was a takeoff on Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might Be a Redneck” routine, and asked people how they knew “You Might Be an Information Professional.” This received 27 responses, which may demonstrate that people would rather fancy themselves as famous comedians. The results were interesting and enlightening.

  • “Your idea of a good time is spending all day Sunday inventorying, cataloging and numbering hundreds of mini-VHS home movies, that are not even yours…and you don't even get paid to do it.”
  • “Your coworkers start asking you where and how long to keep tax documents, wills, passports, receipts, that instruction manual from that small appliance they got as a gift 10 years ago…and you know the answers.”
  • “When you image, label and organize everything in the house including receipts from the market……..”
  • “…..when you see OCD as a qualification.”

First, it must be pointed out that Foxworthy’s livelihood is in no danger.  Sorry, guys, but it does appear that information professionals just aren’t that funny, or at least take their jobs way too seriously to be funny. (Except for the one guy who said he’s an information professional because it pays a lot better than being an information amateur. He has promise.)

That said, “information professional” turns out to be a useful umbrella term for people in the IT profession. First, it isn’t programming-specific, so it helps include the increasing number of IT professions that don’t actually involve programming. Second, it isn’t even IT-specific, so it can encompass positions – web designers, for example – that might be in a department other than IT.

“Information professional” is also more specific than “knowledge worker,” a term coined by business guru Peter Drucker in his 1959 book, Landmarks of Tomorrow, and which was also popularized by Richard Florida in his seminal book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which celebrated the rise of the knowledge economy. The problem with “knowledge worker” is that it’s too broad – in addition to computer people, it can also include people outside of information technology, such as lawyers, teachers, scientists, and students. In fact, Florida postulated that the creative class could include as much as nearly 40 percent of workers, which makes it difficult to make any sort of distinction about them as compared with other workers.

The distinction between “knowledge management” and “information professional” is actually an interesting one. The terms are often thrown around quite casually and synonymously, but they are different, according to “Knowledge management and the information professional,” a paper written by Prof. John Mackenzie Owen at the University of Amsterdam.

“Traditional information management is focused on information as an object and on explicit, factual information managed through automated systems,” Owen writes. “Its object is to support internal processes and ensure the quality of business operations. Knowledge management, in its broadest sense, is focused on knowledge as a concept and on tacit knowledge embodied in individual people and in the organization as a whole. Its primary aim is to facilitate knowledge-rich relations and to ensure ongoing development and innovation.”

Basically, Owen postulates that the distinction between the knowledge worker and the information professional is that the information professional intended to facilitate the control and transfer of knowledge, rather than actually controlling and transferring the knowledge. This means, he writes, that the information worker performs tasks such as:

  • Organizing internal “publishing” functions
  • Organizing external knowledge flows
  • Empowering the knowledge worker
  • Integrating data, documents, and personal knowledge
  • Linking policies, resources, activities, and outputs

This may seem like dancing on the head of a pin. But in the same way that a distinction between Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom can be helpful, the distinction between facilitating the knowledge work and actually doing the knowledge work is a useful one — and one that not all of the responses to AIIM’s question seem to make.

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