Information, Short and Sweet
By Marydee Ojala Editor
It might sound strange, but in these days of supersized
drinks, jumbo fries, and mega blockbuster movies, when
Internet search engines vie with each other to expand
the number of Web pages crawledor at least brag
about the number of Web pages crawledthe real
trend in information is heading towards being short.
For information professionals, small is beautiful.
Do I mean we want to have fewer sources, applaud
disappearing data, or restrict our research to a tiny
number of bibliographic and full-text databases? Of
course not. I'm thinking more in terms of information
delivery. As our lives become more rushed, we seem
to suffer from collective adult attention deficit disorder.
Information professionals are increasingly being asked
to deliver executive summaries, a few bullet points
for PowerPoint slides, and research snapshots. No one
seems to want to read hundreds of pages of research.
Counterbalancing the "large" of popular culture are
the "small" of instant analysis, 90-second sound bites,
and in-depth reports that last all of 2 minutes. Should
information professionals worry about research being
reduced to the bare-bones minimum? Does this concentration
on the small mean that we can do less research? Paradoxically,
the opposite is true. It takes a great deal of research
and analysis time to pluck out the essence of what
we've found so that we can condense it into the desired
delivery format. As we speed through searching, fingers
flying, we know that our real value lies in deciphering
what we retrieve, not in the retrieval process itself.
Let's ensure our organizations know that as well.
The online world is expanding rapidly, with new sources,
formats, and types of information. Information overload
(data glut) means it takes longer to produce less.
With more research possibilities opening up, processing
and distilling what really matters from the mass of
information found requires more time. This also adds
more accountability to the research function. If we
are the analysts, the filter through which others view
the world, we have the duty to fully understand the
ramifications of our research findings. Depending upon
the topic and the situation, that's an awesome responsibility.
When we are rushed to deliver short and sweet responses,
we may lose our ability to cogitate and reflect. If
our clients don't have time for reflection, are they
willing to give us the time? Or are they simply looking
for the data that will support the decision they've
already made? Selecting facts that fit the case and
ignoring those that don't? Making decisions on inadequate
Short and sweet is finein some cases. There
is joy in extracting relevancy from wretched excess.
It's also important, however, to understand real-world
complexities and how these affect the intent of the
research project. Though small may be beautiful and
short may be sweet, both can also be deceptive, if
adversely affecting the decision-making process. Along
with our small deliverables, we need to inform clients
of the extensive amount of information underlying what
we delivery. We need to be rewarded for saving people
time. We should demand recognition for our expertise
in shrinking raw data to usable knowledge.
Ojala [firstname.lastname@example.org] is
the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters
to the editor to email@example.com.