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Magazines > Online > May/June 2003
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Online Magazine
Vol. 27 No. 3 — May/June 2003
HOMEPAGE
Empowering Researchers
By Marydee Ojala • Editor

A word I've never been comfortable with is "end user." I don't know of anyone who is a self-described "end user." Information technology departments deploy computers, software, advice, and training to "end users." Librarians provide research, mediated online searches, advice, and training to "end users." But the recipients of these goods and services don't consider themselves "end users." They're salespeople, managers, accountants, consultants, engineers, chemists, lawyers, reporters, and a host of other job titles.

Many don't even consider what they do to be research. They use the Internet. They search for information. They view data on their intranet. Unless they're in a research-related field—market research, competitive intelligence, patent searching, scientific research—they tend to view their activities in a different light than do information professionals.

Microsoft's Office 2003 will put several important research tools at knowledge workers' fingertips. Basic reference works will reside alongside recognized research sources, only a mouse-click away. Librarians who aren't the least bit threatened by office workers consulting a dictionary, a thesaurus, or a map become worried when it's the more advanced forms of research that are made readily available to the world at large. They're concerned about inaccurate, out-of-date, irrelevant data accepted at face value. They're concerned about individuals missing important pieces of information when they do their own research without the intervention of information professionals.

However, this isn't the open Web that Office 2003 is offering. It's information culled from highly reputable sources. No self-respecting information professional would claim that Factiva's Publications Library contains bad information, or that Gale's Company Profiles aren't valid. Given how most people use Microsoft Office's tools, the research capabilities to come bundled with Office 2003 favor the quick look-up over the intensive research process. It will simplify the research process, but should not be a substitute for projects requiring deep, sophisticated, professional-level research skills.

What should information professionals do? First, consult with their information technology departments as to whether the enterprise will adapt Office 2003. If the answer is yes, then collaborate with IT on the rollout, making sure that the library/information center is seen as an important partner technologically. Although it appears that customizing the Office 2003 Research Task Pane is difficult, if not impossible, see if something can be done to make the library/information center's research capabilities extremely obvious. Ideally, there would be either a link to the library/information center's Web site or a mechanism for sending e-mail to the information researchers if results from an individual's research aren't sufficient.

What should information professionals avoid? First and foremost, they should not become overly controlling. They should not dictate that all research go through their department, nor insist that all payments for information products be approved by them. People want autonomy. If they need help, they'll ask. Information professionals can provide guidance and advice, along with actual research products.

Putting such powerful information tools in the hands of millions of Office 2003 users raises the possibility that there are no more "end users," that we're all researchers now.


Marydee Ojala [marydee@xmission.com] is the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to marydee@xmission.com.

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