An information professional, sometimes called an information specialist, is an expert at securing and processing data for specific uses. This can involve research, database management, and other methods of obtaining information through computers or other resources. Once acquired, this information must be presented in the form most useful to the task at hand. An information professional should not be confused with an information technology (IT) professional, whose job is the maintenance of computer systems.
The oldest and most well-known kind of information professional is the librarian. Librarians have developed efficient systems for the storage, indexing, and retrieval of information. While this information was originally contained in books and other forms of paper storage, library technology has expanded to include modern forms of electronic data storage such as computer databases. Librarians are typical of all information professionals in that they may not know the answer to a given question, but they know where to look for the answer.
As the human knowledge base has expanded, the role of the information professional has also become more complex. Insurance companies, for example, have no need for most of the information contained in public libraries. They do need very specific and detailed information about various sectors of the general population. They employ a staff of information professionals who maintain databases and statistical charts on these matters. Upon request, these professionals can provide information on health, accident rates, or average lifespans for a given group of people.
Such specific needs mean information professionals may focus on a particular body of knowledge. While some may be employed by a single company, others work as consultants for hire. They may process anything from national census data to lists of cast and crew for film productions. While the information may vary widely, the essential tasks of the information professional are usually the same. He or she must know where to find the information requested, acquire it in a timely manner, and present it in a form that can be easily used and understood by those who are not in the information field.
The information professional must be familiar with the rapidly changing technology involved in information acquisition. Human knowledge has exploded since the dawn of the 20th century, and with it the methods of storing and indexing that knowledge. The average person could not hope to keep up with all the information resources now available, and even trained information professionals must focus on specific areas. Knowing which information professional to consult for areas outside his or her expertise is also part of the information professional’s job.