David Tebbutt, Information World Review

Some people argue that, because information is free and widely available
through the internet, no one need bother with information professionals any
more. They may well be the same people who think that all music and software
should be free.

The flaw in their argument is that while masses of information on the
internet are indeed freely available, the recipient has to be able to
discriminate between good information and bad information.

Most of the time, this is not a particularly tricky problem, but sometimes it
is. I was with a computer whizz the other day who was roundly slagging off
Wikipedia for its widespread errors – I don’t suppose it occurred to him to put
them right. The truth is that some Wikipedia stuff is probably incorrect, either
through malice or ignorance, but that doesn’t invalidate it as a fine starting
point for research. And, by looking at the edit history, you can get a good idea
of what’s going on and who’s grinding which axe.

Of course, what this means is that more investigation than just a quick visit
to Wikipedia is needed. Before the poor enquirer knows it, they are up to their
eyeballs in time-consuming searching and filtering. It’s meat and drink for
information professionals but a pain in the backside for most people.

I wonder if there’s a service role that responds to questions like ‘give me a
profile of the most promising solar energy start-ups in the last year’. I’m
guessing that the cost of the seeker’s time would more than compensate for the
cost of the information professional’s. A net gain to the organisation.

But having located what a customer wants, how does the info pro get it to
them in a usable form? If we’re talking about web pages (which is quite often
the case), then a new family of free bookmarking services has materialised
recently which might interest you.

Unlike Del.icio.us, which is undeniably useful, these services are a bit more
friendly and leave less to the imagination. They grab web page images and turn
them into a slide show. They let you create a trail of useful stuff, add your
own comments and share it with your client.

I’ve used a couple of these tools recently and both seemed to go down well with
my colleagues. One, called JogTheWeb, worked exactly as I’ve just described: you
collect web pages, add comments, then publish.

Another, called Diigo, has a strong social dimension to it which includes
friends and groups and is much more geared to friendly collaboration. But its
WebSlides option is more like JogTheWeb. Both provide links back to the original
web pages.

If your research turns up material that is in digital form but doesn’t live
on the web, then you would need to use something which works with local files.
At this point I would urge caution. The provenance of the material you share is
important, as is the location it’s stored in.

I’m thinking here of programs like Freepath and MyFreepath, which are good
for assembling and presenting a mix of local and web-sourced material. But they
are stored locally, or remotely if using the MyFreepath extension. Both can
include video, PDFs, Word files, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets
and so on.

The point of all this is not to pick out any particular programs, but to
suggest ways you might have of introducing new value into the information
professionals’ world. ‘Storyboarding’ the found information can make clients’
lives much more productive.

We’ve heard this ‘information is free’ mantra for far too long. And it can
only ever be true if people don’t value their time.

And that, of course, can never be true in a commercial environment.

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