Socrates once stated
that his greatest claim to wisdom was that he did not think that he knew
what he did not know. The prime wisdom — to Socrates — was the critical
eye, the cautious and even skeptical examination of all knowledge and especially
any knowledge one was cocky enough to claim to possess.
Sounds like Socrates
would have made a good information professional. But could he have made
a living in the 21st century?
According to a
Gartner DataQuest report, sometime last April, the one billionth personal
computer was sold. Gartner forecasts that we should expect to hear of the
sale of the 2 billionth computer in 6 years. The leading tool to handle
knowledge has become a mass-medium product and online information has followed
information professionals pride themselves on having the critical eye,
on inspecting and evaluating their sources of knowledge, on educating clients
to distrust unexamined claims of expertise. Unfortunately, with the Web
turning information into a liquid commodity that flows like water from
a tap into every home and office, people no longer look to information
professionals to provide information in bulk. What they want from an info
pro are answers, final, complete, authoritative. What they want from us
now is pertinent, decisive, final Truth.
"Houston, we have
As a profession,
we claim that we can handle any information request in any field from anybody,
but we can only make that generalist claim because of our skills in critiquing
sources and data. We do not delude ourselves that we will always have sufficient
personal knowledge of every subject that a client could need. We do assert
that we can find information on any subject and then judge its general
value. We also claim that we can work with clients until — together — we
can make sure that the material we have found covers all the necessary
points that the client needs. But on no account will we allow the client
to trust information more than its inherent worth or the client's individual
requirements would warrant.
the market for this cautious, meticulous approach to handling information
has dried up and it looks like the drought years have only begun to wither
our professional futures. People are drowning in information. What they
want are answers — answers upon which they can make quick and effective
So now what? As
usual, the October issue of Searcher focuses on technologies. More
and more, technologically advanced information products and services focus
on just that approach — the Answer. However, as several articles demonstrate,
technological advances in delivering information relevant and sufficient
to serve client needs workbest when information professionals assume the
driver's seat. We need to direct the tools, to design the services, to
monitor their performance, and — most of all — to make sure that the clients'
interests and needs remain the only criteria of success.
professionals need to keep current with new technological developments.
We need to acquire new skills and to structure our jobs so that we have
the time and resources to acquire more. In many cases, we need to hire
missing skills. We should expect to employ professionals outside of our
own field throughout our careers. However, although we must pursue Answers
to survive as a profession, we should never forget our obligation as a
profession to educate clients to distrust any source of information they
have not tested rigorously — including us.