Although a growing literature explores occupational identity, or the overlap between “who we are” and “what we do,” this literature has not fully considered how occupational identity may interact with technological change. In this paper, we explore this interaction, asking how an occupation's identity shapes and is shaped by its interactions with a new technology. We focus, specifically, on the relationship between librarians and Internet search. Drawing on an analysis of 22 years of articles from library journals, we demonstrate how and why librarians initially discounted Internet search and differentiated themselves from it. We argue that these responses were associated with a “paradox of expertise,” by which librarians missed innovation opportunities around one of the most important information technologies in history precisely, and ironically, because of their deep knowledge of non-Internet searching. Later, however, we demonstrate how librarians engaged with this same technology, drawing upon it to redefine their occupational identity. Our findings demonstrate how occupational identity conditions the interpretation of a technology, while also showing how these interpretations can change with ongoing interactions. We also illustrate how occupational identity itself can change in response to new technology. Finally, we elaborate upon why expert insiders may not actually be best positioned to pursue emerging technologies.
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Academy of Management Journal
The Academy of Management Journal (AMJ) is the flagship empirical journal in management, and has been indispensable reading for management scholars for more than five decades. AMJ articles test, extend, or build theory and contribute to management practice using a variety of empirical methods.