Gone are the Gorgons who guarded bookshelves and card catalogs from inquiring minds -- if they had dirty fingers. In schools and public libraries, and increasingly in businesses and as self-employed information brokers, librarians are dedicated to channeling information -- from computer data bases to crumbling manuscripts.
"The library is really becoming a multimedia resource center," whether in a school or at a university or in public libraries, said Martha Hale, dean of library sciences at Emporia State University in Kansas.
And a librarian has become more of a manager, rather than a caretaker, of that information.
A librarian with a master's degree is expected to be a leader with managerial skills. "They're not hiring someone with a master's and paying that salary to be a glorified clerk," Ms. Hale said.
It's a bright career for the '90s.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a shortage of librarians well into the decade, particularly in children's and young-adult services, school libraries and cataloging.
A larger-than-average number of librarians will reach retirement age between now and 2000, and the number of graduates of master's degree programs in library science has plunged. In 1974, there were 6,370 graduates; in 1986, 3,538.
Minorities especially are being recruited. The number of minority librarians with master's degrees declined 40 percent from 1974 to 1984.
Administrative jobs in the library field offer the highest salaries, with a director of a large library commanding as much as $100,000. Starting salaries in the field range from $20,000 to $30,000, according to the American Library Association.
A master's degree is the basic requirement for a librarian job. But someone considering a career as a librarian has to be dedicated to continuing professional education, Ms. Hale said.
Specialization is a hallmark of the modern librarian.
The fastest-growing demand is for special librarians. A special librarian, for example, may direct in-house libraries for businesses.
"There, there is more repackaging of information from several sources for a speech or other use," Ms. Hale said. "They're not just providing access to packaged information materials, they are repackaging those materials into a usable entity."
Jan Robinson-Yoke, a former librarian at the Wichita Public Library, created and operates the library at the NCR Corp. in Wichita, Kan.
"Each corporate library collects tools that help its particular clientele," she said. "Lots of what I do is tailor resources and tools for whom I serve."
One particular challenge in her employer's field is that much of the information is in a "gray area," unpublished technical papers. Because of the rapid obsolescence of computers, NCR's engineers must have access to the latest information.
Ms. Robinson-Yoke has a computer data base with 22 million records in it. A third of the information she researches is on a data base, rather than a printed source.
"It's very difficult to find sometimes," she said. "That's one way a corporate library can really contribute, finding those sources."
Some librarians' main asset is the respect others have for their information-gathering abilities. One of the fastest growing fields is as an information broker, sort of "a librarian without a library," Ms. Hale said.
A broker, who may work in a large information-gathering business or from a personal computer at home, is selling his or her ability to find information and repackage it. Someone setting up a business might use a broker to learn about the competition, Ms. Hale said. Or an author might get historical material to include in a novel.
The career didn't even exist until 1987. That year, the Association of Independent Information Professionals was formed. Its membership has grown from 26 to more than 200, with perhaps 1,000 people actually working as information brokers.
Generally, research fees are $50 to $100 an hour, with the average cost of a search between $500 and $1,000.