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Becoming A Value-Added Information Professional

Those who search for and provide information, particularly for a fee to others must consider how value can be added to their products. Clients will be much more motivated to become repeat users of services if the output is user friendly. Frequent speaker Mary Ellen Bates outlined some ways of adding value.

It is important to get a different mindset and examine how you appear to your clients. At a minimum, are you as user friendly as a search engine? If there is no added value to your services, there is no perceived value to your clients. Here are some of Mary Ellen’s suggestions for adding value to your information products:

• Don’t just dump a long block of text on the user. Make the output user friendly.
• Use the special output features of the online services. Create customized attractive output formats. Users may not know that this is possible, so educate them.
• Find and use the hidden commands of search services. Most of them are not readily obvious on web-based interfaces. For example, Dialog has User Defined Output features and formats for producing reports from textual and tabular databases. The searcher can determine what gets printed and in what order.
• Design your own format to save yourself time cleaning up output. DataStar has WebCharts and (new) ReportAid, which creates title pages and tables of contents, and formats all articles automatically.
• Use RTF, XML, and/or HTML output.
• Think about how you can extract meaning from a database. For example, instead of simply looking up data on a single company, make a report to compare data on companies. It is possible to data mine many Dialog files that have directory or numerical data (D&B Market Identifiers, etc.).
• Add value to Web content. Look for “information-dense” files that have charts, graphs, or analysis. (One way to do this is to limit your search to files with the .xls extension.) A useful rule of thumb is that if a file is information-dense, it is probably not formatted in plain HTML.
• Look for sources your client does not have or know about (public records, phone research, podcasts, wikis, etc.)

Information about the information is often extremely useful to clients, who often want to know how something has changed over time. For example, BlogPulse’s Trendsearch will tell you how blogging activity on a top has changed over time. Google Trends watches search word trends over time and also maps news articles on topics and explains why there are spikes by providing links to news stories (which can help in preparing for a search in a fee-based service by suggesting time periods limitations for searches).

Furl is one of Mary Ellen’s favorite web sites. It can export bibliographies in different formats so they do not look like standard search results. You can keep the page up to date using Furl.

Here are some useful postprocessing strategies:

• Don’t just download a dump of data. Highlight the good material and extract it.
• Use Excel to generate charts and graphs and make something that people can visualize.
• Always write a cover memo, table of contents, and executive summary.
• Make the information as non-dense as possible.
• Brand everything. Seal the results in a PDF file, and put them in a distinctive cover. Hiring a graphic designer to produce a format and logo for your service is money well spent. To get branding ideas, look at the formatting of market research reports.

Finally, here are some useful tools:
• Shorten URLs with SnipURL or DigBig
Copernic Summarizer is useful for starting to analyse a report. One can give it the original data and it will produce the summary. Several options are available.
NewsBlaster (still in beta testing) performs a similar function. It extracts words from articles and indicates where it found them in the original material.
• Dialog has a workshop on adding value, the literature is available on its training Web site. . Also see Dialog’s “Successful Searching” documentation for information on the Report and User-Defined Output capabilities.

Mary Ellen’s presentations are always very practical, useful, and information-dense, and this one was no exception. The complete presentation will soon be available on her website.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

Want a Conference Bag?


There were lots of extra Conference bags to be had this morning, as well as Factiva calculators and LexisNexis mouse pads.

Marydee Ojala
Editor, ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals

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Mossberg and SLA’s Public Policy

What impressed me most about Walt Mossberg’s closing keynote was how aligned his views were with SLA’s public policy. I was pleasantly surprised, since I’d expected his speech to concentrate on new technology and gadgets. SLA staff must have briefed him before he went on stage because he clearly understood his audience and tailored his remarks to us. Plus, of course, his views on copyright, net neutrality, government’s involvement with information policy, and big telecom companies pretty much parallel most of the opinions held by SLA members.

Marydee Ojala
Editor, ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals

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The Current State of the Internet: Walt Mossberg at the Closing General Session

(Photo courtesy of John T. Adams III/SLA)

The Closing General Session (which ironically does not mark the close of the conference) was highlighted by a wonderful endnote address by Walt Mossberg, technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who reviewed what’s happening in the Internet, PC, and cell phone worlds.

Mossberg said that we need to think about the Internet in a new and different way. Most people think about it as a discrete activity done on a PC. That idea will look ancient in 10 years, and we won’t talk about “going on the Internet” or “going online”. The Internet will become 24/7 for everyone. We should begin thinking about the Internet like the electrical grid. You can plug a huge number of things into the grid, but we don’t talk about being “on the electrical grid”. The Internet will recede more and more into the background as it becomes more an integral part of life. The more the explicit references to it diminish, the more it will have succeeded. The Internet is a grid of information, entertainment, commerce, into which many number of devices will be connected by a plug. The devices will take just what they need to perform from the Internet.

The PC has peaked as the dominant digital device. It been superseded by devices like the Palm Treo, which have replaced a laptop in many respects. Impediments to advances lie with what Mossberg calls the “Soviet Ministries”—the telecommunications carriers. Like the Ministries, the carriers sit athwart the free market and presume to know best what the consumer wants. On a visit to Verizon Wireless, Mossberg observed a sign reading, “It isn’t a phone until Lou [the head of Verizon’s certification department] says it’s a phone.” So even if you have the best phone in the world, it will be useless until it receives approval from one of the carriers. We are seeing a repetition of the situation in the long distance business until the 1970s.

Search has been a tremendous democratizing force because it has become the way most people approach the Internet. But progress in searching has stalled—there has not been any real discernable improvement in the accuracy of results. Although there has been improvement in presentation of results, search should focus more on actual answers instead of a list of links. The biggest problem with search today is that the emphasis has left improving the results for the consumer in favor of selling ads.

Other issues that are obstacles to further success and development of the Internet include:
Copyright. Mossberg drew applause when he said, “We have an insanely bad copyright system in this country.” Intellectual property is good, but companies who have it have chosen bad ways to exercise their rights. We need a copyright law passed that defines consumers’ rights, not only rights holders’ rights. All our laws are written from the premise that nothing can be copied. This is backwards—most people are consumers not copyright holders. We need a law that defines their rights. It is ridiculous that software licenses only apply to one computer. People now have multiple computers, and licenses should recognize that fact. We need laws that recognize consumers’ behavior while protecting against rampant piracy.
Anonymity. The Internet situation will evolve into an anonymous Internet like today’s (the “fantasy Internet”), plus a more reliable network where people will have to stand behind what they say and write. People’s lives and reputations can be ruined by “anonymous cowards”.
Ethical responsibility and the view that random communities of people are just as smart as trained professionals. Yahoo Answers provides answers, not opinions, from any random person who wants to answer. Is this ethically responsible? For example, somebody could die based on an answer they receive to a medical question.
Despite these problems, Mossberg strongly feels that the Internet has a great future.

Mossberg feels that there is a big need for researchers like information professionals that are skilled at plucking out what users need—someone who understands the context of the research, and who can look for patterns that make sense. Many corporate level executives don’t have time to do this, even if they might have the skills to do it.

One of the great things about journalism is that there is no license to be a journalist. So citizen journalism and more voices in the form of blogs is a good thing. The problem is that standards and ethics policies are often abysmal or missing entirely. It will take time to find a way to find a solution to this problem.

Open source is not a religion that will save us. Open source today is mostly geeks making things for other geeks. Most people in that community would not recognize a consumer if they saw one. They don’t have usability labs to test products, and they usually only finish a product 80%. Someone has to be responsible for products. The virtue of Microsoft, Apple, etc. is that they are responsible—if you don’t like it, you can complain, get your money back, or ask them to fix the problem.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

Further Attendance Details

To supplement the total attendance posted by Marydee, here are the attendance figures broken down by type of attendee, as released by the SLA Public Affairs Department this morning:

SLA Members: 2,519
Non-Members: 1,406
Exhibitor Staff: 1,919

Total Attendance: 5,844

This compares with Toronto’s 2005 final registration of 5,283.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

Beginning the Ending Session

Rebecca Vargha gives awards to students and student groups.

Denver in 2007 (June 3-6) is being introduced by Ty Webb and Brent Mai to the tune of Rocky Mountain High. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, will be keynote speaker. Session topics include e-books on steroids, technology petting zoo, designer drugs , science of beer, and vendor speed dating.

Marydee Ojala
Editor, ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals

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There’s a Lot of Librarians in Baltimore

Pam Rollo just announced that total attendance at SLA reached 5,844. Wow!

Marydee Ojala
Editor, ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals

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Remains of the Exhibit Hall

An Exhibit Hall the size and scope of SLA’s is a massive exercise of organization and planning. It is likely that many attendees don’t realize the effort that lies behind that beautiful hall that they visit.

The Exhibit Hall closed at 5 PM yesterday, and above is what it looked like the next morning. Most booths have been dismantled, but there are a few still recognizable. And once all the materials have been shipped back to the exhibitors, the hall will be cleaned and the cycle will start again.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

The Lubuto Project

A session with no overflows, but which should have attracted more interest was Jane Meyers, speaking on the Lubuto Library Project , which is a project to build libraries for orphans in Zambia. With AIDS rampant in Africa, many children have been orphaned and need a library collection to ehlp them learn to read. Jane mentioned that the kids want to learn English and may not even know the language their parents spoke. There’s an architectural team from San Francisco coming to Zambia to design libraries that fit the culture of the country. She had models of the libraries to show us. She also mentioned that some things, such as labeling books by reading level, that seem discriminatory in the U.S. are accepted and welcomed in Africa.

The project is looking for books, but not remainders. They need both fiction and nonfiction. They’re developing their own classification scheme. They need funding and Jane asked if anyone could connect the project with funding. They can also use volunteers. They also need space to sort and package the books. At the moment, they have some donated space in Washington DC.

Marydee Ojala
Editor, ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals

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Overflowing Sessions

It’s always a challenge, when planning conference programs, to match room size with audience. You guess how many people will be interested in a topic, but you’re not always correct. In past years, there have been complaints about putting Mary Ellen Bates’ talks into small rooms. This year SLA probably overcompensated, since her venue was the 4th floor ballroom. On the other hand, Jenny Levine’s RSS talk yesterday was packed, with people out in hallways, as Don documented in another post to this blog.

This morning, it was the turn of Sylvia James, filling in for Vickie Connor. The topic “What Do You Do When Your Subject Doesn’t Want to Be Researcher,” all about the knotty problem of find information on privately held companies, had a standing room audience that also spilled out into the hall.

Marydee Ojala
Editor, ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals

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