Tomes for the Holidays
By Lauree Padgett
A lot happens in December. Jews observe Hanukkah,
the Festival of Lights. On Dec. 25, Christians celebrate
the birth of Jesus Christ, while those with a more
secular view welcome the arrival of Santa. A day later,
African-Americans begin the weeklong cultural festival
Kwanzaa. Not an official holiday, the winter solstice
occurs on or around Dec. 21, giving the Northern Hemisphere
its shortest day of the year. December is capped off
with the year's biggest date night, aka New Year's
Eve. The 31st is also the last day to make those heartfelt
donations to your favorite charities in order to claim
deductions on your income tax returns.
So what doesn't happen in December? Well,
while Information Today rolls off the presses,
all other ITI magazines have been put to bed for the
year with combined November/December issues. Since
my column is supposed to highlight articles of interest
from these "napping" publications, I was in a bit of
a bind. Luckily, the ITI book department came to my
rescue with some new selections that just might come
in handy for those hard-to-buy-for people on your holiday
'Tis the Season to Assess
Unlike those cutesy nightshirts you see hanging in
store windows this time of year, when it comes to competitive
intelligence, one size does not fit all. Recognizing
that it can be difficult for firms to compare the multitude
of available CI software, information specialists France
Bouthillier and Kathleen Shearer co-authored Assessing
Competitive Intelligence Software: A Guide to Evaluating
In Chapter 1, "Value-Addedness and Information: Two
Notions, One God," the authors write, "[W]hat is value,
how can value be added to information, and what types
and degrees of added value are necessary for CI?" The
answer to this complex question is a multifaceted process
that includes turning data into knowledge, defining
the notion of value, and outlining the value-added
processes of information, expert, and intelligent systems.
Chapter 2, "A Conceptual Framework for Competitive
Intelligence," looks at the evolution of CI, offering
an explanation of the terminology, the CI process,
and the identification and acquisition of CI needs.
The following chapter, "Identifying the Value-Added
Processes of Competitive Intelligence," gets into the
specifics of evaluating information technology while
targeting the value-added dimensions involved.
Chapter 4, "Overview of Competitive Intelligence
Software Applications and Related Products," begins
with a "typology" of technologies and then goes on
to talk about CI technology and provide a six-product
overview. In the final chapter, "Evaluating Competitive
Intelligence Software," the authors present an evaluation
guide and the criteria and questions that go with it.
They address methodology and compare software products
across several categories, such as organization, storage,
retrieval, information analysis, and product development.
Here We Come an IRR-ing
In the preface to Information Representation and
Retrieval in the Digital Age, Heting Chu asks, "Another
book on information retrieval?" She goes on to explain
that yes, another book on this subject is more than
warranted now that we have branched out of the Information
Age into the digital age.
In her systematic, thorough, yet nontechnical examination
of the field, Chu uses simple language to explain complex
topics, emphasizing the principles and fundamentals
of IRR rather than specific procedures, practices,
or systems. After starting out with an overview that
will be especially helpful to those who are new to
the field, Chu looks at the basic approaches to information
representation and related topics. Next comes a section
on the various types of IRR language, including controlled
vocabulary and natural language.
Additional sections examine retrieval approaches,
modes, and systems as well as the retrieval of information
that's unique in content or format. Chu looks at the
user aspect of IRR and describes user needs, user interaction
within the command language, menu selection, error
rates, and user satisfaction. She explains that user
satisfaction in part correlates to how long it will
take a user to learn an information retrieval system
before he or she can actually conduct a search.
Chapter 11, "Evaluation of Information Representation
and Retrieval," is the most detailed part of the book.
Chu outlines IRR evaluation measures, evaluation criteria
for information retrieval systems, and major IRR evaluation
projects. The book's final chapter brings artificial
intelligence into the IRR mix.
Walking in Internet Danger-Land
All but newbie information professionals know Marylaine
Block. A frequent contributor to a number of ITI titles,
this former librarian also publishes two weekly library-oriented
e-zines and speaks at many industry events. In her
spare time, she edited Net Effects: How Librarians
Can Manage the Unintended Consequences of the Internet,
an anthology of nearly 50 articles that offer solutions
to many of the problemsor what Block defines
as "opportunities in disguise"that librarians
come up against while using the Internet.
Each of the book's 10 chapters looks at a specific
problem currently facing librarians. Most begin with
Block's summation of the challenge. What follows are
a number of different solutions to such problems as
selection control, the book crisis, user training,
access issues, and disappearing data.
In Chapter 7, "Running to Stay in Place: Continuous
Retraining," Block asks librarians, "How do you keep
up with the changes in our technologies?" The essays
in this chapter provide several different options,
including how to make time for individual professional
learning, where to find room in the budget for training,
and setting up systemic, ongoing, in-service training.
A Wish for All
As we close out 2003, I'd like to raise my glass
of Pepsi and make a wish that in 2004, peace on Earth
and good will to all humankind comes a step closer
to being a reality. And to quote singer John Denver,
who would have turned 60 this Dec. 31, "If peace is
our vision, let us begin."
Lauree Padgett is Information
Today, Inc.'s manager of editorial services. Her e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.