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Honoring Our Past

“The Clouded Crystal Ball and the Library Profession,” by Nina W. Matheson, AHIP, FMLA, provides a glimpse of the future at the time of the change from an industrial age to a communications and knowledge-based economy. The paper was published in the January 1977 issue of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association. Matheson stated that “our chief raw materials and chief products will not be natural physical resources and manufactured goods. Instead, our raw materials in a post-industrial age are the existing technology and our brains, and the products are services” [1].

Our former need for the physical organization of knowledge, represented in library cataloging and classification, is now obsolete as we have entered a new era, and the implication for librarianship is serious and far reaching. In the 1970s, the trends were changes in management, and the focus moved from technical processing to client-centered outreach services and identification of educational functions as a primary professional role. If you were working during those years, you may recall that individuals with computer skills often applied for library positions. Those with graduate degrees in librarianship were not happy.

Matheson stated, “Our profession depends on reorienting ourselves from technological to intellectual specialties, from bibliographical utilization to knowledge utilization,” and concluded her paper by discussing the final trend: “increasing utilization of technology to provide more opportunities for independent study and a growing acceptance of competency-based learning and performance” [1]. If you have visited medical libraries today, you have seen evidence of these changes, both in the way services are provided and in the library staff who provide them.

Reading Matheson’s paper today challenges you to think back to your beginning years in the library. Have all her predictions happened? How many of her examples have you experienced? What changes are you predicting today? Is your job as satisfying as you had hoped?


  1. Matheson NW. The clouded crystal ball and the library profession. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1977 Jan;65(1):1–5.

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