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Magazines > Information Today > December 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 11 — December 2003
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 gift list.

'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 CI Technology.

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 problems—or 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
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