Although the excerpt below is from an article from Stephen Abram published in the February 2008 Information Outlook entitled “Is There Such a Thing as Information Overload?”, I found his thoughts below insightful in helping to provide fodder to those who question the relative need for and/or ROI of having information professionals and/or librarians on staff. It is a longer excerpt than normal but I don’t think he will mind. Chime in with comments if you have additional thoughts!
“…The Skills that Information Professionals and Librarians Enhance
1. Search, Seek and Find
Widespread access to the web and its riches has created the illusion with the average end-user that they have unlimited access to quality information. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a vast difference between simple, positive, information experiences when choosing a movie, vacation or restaurant and those required when one is betting the business. Hundreds or indeed thousands of expensive coworkers spending hours seeking information on the web and not finding it or finding it very slowly, or repeating these efforts many times across many employees is not a good way to run a business. If informed decision-making is the goal of organizations then organizations must, logically, invest in excellent information practices. Empowered librarians do this.
2. Going Beyond the Free Web
We all know that there is good content for free on the web. It is, however, not a competitive advantage to have identical information to everyone else. It seems simple but it’s amazing to me how many executives fail to grasp this concept! Information wants to be free – not just cost free but unfettered. The best way to unfetter information is to employ an information professional. The free web is riddled with information rot, aging websites, bad links and more. Simply put, librarians know how to access quality, on point information.
3. Determining Authority
Few people can determine authority and authoritativeness to a business standard. Librarians can. This issue goes beyond brand. It’s about making sure that the information that users base their decisions on is trustworthy. Ask, do we want our doctors basing our own health decisions on the free web?; Anti-terrorism strategies?; Your own legal defence? Really – are there any critical questions of life that we would trust our own lives to the free web? Why would be apply a different standard to our enterprise strategies? In many sectors the latest information is sometimes the best. On the web it is often difficult and sometimes impossible to gauge the currentness of the information being accessed. When it really matters, you need to know. Librarians can look under the hood of content and websites, and increase the trust factor.
4. Separating Fact and Opinion
This is the essential skill of true information literacy (and a bunch of other literacies too – media, critical thinking, and more). As our media outlets continue to blur the line between reporting and editorial opinion, this is getting to be a more critical aspect of information practice. I believe that most people cannot tell the difference between a blog and a website or a news article and a column. As we support decisions based on information, it is essential that someone can separate fact, opinion, bias, and point of view. Enterprises must value this skill or risk disaster.
5. Understanding Optimized Search Results
Too many end users do not understand the role that the search engine optimization industry (SEO) plays in search result rankings. Special interest groups, partisan factions and advertisers have at their disposal a range of tools that allow them to influence what is displayed on the search results that end users see. With localization of SEO becoming more commonplace, your organization is at risk. Does anyone think it’s good that your competitors may be optimizing the results for your co-workers? Value added, for fee or OA databases are not (or at least less) subject to this result manipulation.
6. Filtering and Adding Value
Again most free search engine results give the searcher a huge number of results. This is overload at its worst. Good librarians filter out the best based on the context of the user and their question(s). Great librarians also add value to make the information more instantaneously useful.
With most web searches you find tons of duplicate information. Making end users filter and read all of this is a definite waste of time and productivity. On an organization-wide scale it’s a huge waste of money and staff time. Librarians remove the duplicate information and polish the search results to enhance the productivity of our patrons. Licensing haystacks and finding needles are two different things!
8. Cost Effective Enterprises and Efficiency
In the old days of time-based pricing for online, librarians became adept at ‘fast’ in-and-out searches. Now the game is played differently. Enterprise-wide intranet licensing and the needed end-user training can be cost effective solutions to organization wide information productivity issues. Librarians excel at this.
As anyone who has been on the Internet for decades knows, spam, phishing and other Internet scams are not new. For whatever reason, there are people out there who have reason to introduce false information into the web. Others just leave superseded information out there through neglect. It takes some time to develop credulity skills and ensure that the information tools and content offered is credible.
10. Content and Tool Awareness
Lastly (although I know there are many more talents!), when your enterprise depends on information to make great decisions then you must invest in content, information systems and information professionals like librarians. You must invest in keeping up-to-date for competitive advantage. If an organization doesn’t then it deserve to decline and expire. Most organizations depend on informed decisions and knowledgebased learning. Imagine any major knowledge enterprise today doing otherwise. Woul you hire a law firm, go to a hospital; invest in an R&D based company that failed to have good information practice? I hope not…”