At one time, a gatekeeper was the person who literally manned the gate of a property and kept unauthorized individuals from entering. While many large estates and secure corporate campuses still have such a person, the term is also used to describe a person whose job involves preventing access to another person in a less physical manner. This may involve screening telephone calls, managing appointment requests or even refusing information to sales people or members of the media. Ultimately, the gatekeeper's job is to protect a person or property from unwanted contact or to protect information from unauthorized access.
Gatekeepers who protect a property in a physical sense are usually members of law enforcement or security and are more likely to be called guards, security officers or access control personnel. They may be stationed at the entrance to a building or at the gate of a property. Interestingly, though the terms "guardhouse" and "security booth" may be used to describe such an office located at a property's gate, the term "gatehouse" is still in common use.
Those who provide less physical protection may work for celebrities, royalty, or the very wealthy, often in the position of personal assistant. Personal assistants commonly answer all calls that come into their employers' main or published line and pass through only the calls that the employer wants to take. They may give statements to the media, return calls and research unknown callers or visitors, either themselves or through a hired agency. In celebrity situations, the gatekeeper's main focus is on preventing the media and unstable fans from reaching the celebrity unless the celebrity wants to be reached. In the case of the wealthy, the gatekeeper may also be guarding against access by people looking for a donation or investment.
Company executives frequently employ gatekeepers as well. In a corporate setting the gatekeeper's job consists largely of screening salespeople. The average executive, particularly one in marketing or IT, receives calls every day from people looking to sell something. If the executive had to field all of those calls himself, he would never be able to do the work the company pays him to do. Gatekeepers play such a critical role in the sales process that entire sales seminars, articles and books are devoted to learning how to get past the gatekeeper.
Occasionally, a gatekeeper's role may be to protect inanimate objects or information. For example, the librarian for a special collection restricts access to valuable books, and the member of an IT team that issues passwords protects access to a company's information systems. Regardless of the setting, or of the object to be guarded, all gatekeepers have one thing in common: no one can get to the protected object or person without going through the gatekeeper.