Ah, the library. That slightly musty smell. The cushy leather armchairs. Maybe even a glass of sherry while we slowly turn the pages. Alas, if such a world ever existed, it is now gone?not unlike the vanished monopoly telecom company. Formerly cozy libraries (well, corporate libraries were rarely that cozy) have had to become dispensers of electronic information. This transition has been happening for many years but was accelerated greatly by the Internet.
Now the challenge for libraries and librarians is clear: how to add value to the Internet? Or more precisely, how to add value to what people perceive of the Internet? Both corporate types and students now seem to believe that if information isn’t on the Web, it simply doesn’t exist. So why should they pay extra for the likes of “intellact”? (After all, it seems misspelled and isn’t even a proper noun!) I’ll bet that many user department managers are saying, “As soon as they put on that charge, I’m headed for the Big Net.” Why rent the cow when you can get the milk for free? At best, intellact probably feels to them like an intranet, and their friends at other companies are telling them they don’t pay a farthing for intranet access.
This is my assessment of the user view, not my own perspective. I think that a good librarian?maybe we should call them “information analysts” from now on?is worth her weight in sterling. Clearly the British Telecom competitive intelligence analysts are already adding what might be called “navigational value.” As librarians have done for centuries, the analysts add value by first determining what information is required, then finding the right sources, then categorizing the information so that it’s easy to get to. As with the Yahoo portal (Yahoo was the best news for librarians since Gutenberg), the invisible hand of the analyst ensures that the browsing or searching user is likely to find what she seeks. However, it’s an invisible service, and again, the average user may not appreciate it.
The other obvious source of value from analysts is not mentioned in this case file. It’s education?teaching users how to search for information, how to use it in the context of their job, and how to rank the quality and validity of different information sources. The more qualified the user, the greater appreciation for the analyst’s screening and categorization. But there’s a perception problem here too; research suggests that most information users in companies have had no training on how to search for information, yet they still believe that they are quite good at it. So even if education were offered, users might not buy into it.
In the long run, I believe that information analysts and systems like intellact will be highly valued. They are the only way to protect information users against the onslaught they will inevitably face. In the short run, however, people believe that “information wants to be free.” Eventually they will realize that you get what you pay for.