UP FRONT WITH BARBARA QUINT
Over Our Dead Bodies
By Barbara Quint
Want an instant giggle? Try searching for a fiction book
titlemysteries especiallyon Amazon.com and
then check out the site's new "sponsored links" suggestions
("Customers interested in this title may also be interested
in ..."). Any grandiose notions of Amazon's marketing
infallibility get blown away in gales of laughter. A book
called Death with Blue Ribbon refers the reader
to Bags&Bows, "your Premier source for retail packaging."
While Case for Three Detectives actually does recommend
three P.I.-like services (apparently assuming that people
who read detective novels are looking for tips on how
to investigate acquaintances), I'm not sure the owners
of three shoe stores recommended in another search would
appreciate the co-marketing connection with Dead Men's
Jeez, guys! Didn't it occur to anyone that searches
for fiction titles would indicate that the searcher
is a book reader and not a prospective shopper? Even
in the nonfiction category, I would assume that someone
looking to read about Charles Darwin's voyage on the
Beagle is neither in the market for a Snoopy
doll nor a warm puppy.
Apparently, anyone can lose focus of marketing realities,
particularly those seen from the customer's angle.
When it comes to the information professional market,
there's at least one eternal truth: Info pros support
good data, even when it's not to their advantage. Look
at the Web and its Great God Google. Info pros may write
articles and give speeches that rebuke assumptions about
the Web's omniscience. And they may bemoan Google's
universal coverage of that omniscient Web. But the articles
don't ever attack the Web or trash Google. They just
recommend prudent use of these still-wondrous tools.
While library reference desks across the country report
declining numbers of requests, librarians still support,
recommend, and teach patrons how to use the systems
that seem to be replacing them.
Speaking of reference requests, though their numbers
may have declined, they are increasingly difficult and
present librarians with more of a challenge. The Web
and Google, with their free 24/7 service, seem to have
skimmed off the easy requests. But when questions get
tough, it's back to the library.
And frankly, vendors of the world, we information
professionals could use some help here. It's getting
harder and harder to sell the "high-priced spread,"
particularly when our clients ask us what makes it better
than the freebie. At this point, many of us could use
documentation that explains and defends the structure
of publishing itself. Why and when is a published article
better, or even different, from a blog or listserv message?
If currency is critical, how can one determine which
publications are more timely? When tens or hundreds
of periodicals report the same event, which one should
which clients read? How can I get all the information
I need with the least amount of time spent searching
In preparing such support documentation, let's try
to keep the self-congratulations to a minimum, please.
Explain the flow of information from a press release
to a newspaper or trade-press source. Explain how you
can distinguish the articles for which knowledgeable
reporters have gone out, investigated, and added substantive
value, even those initiated by press releases. (Explain
that last one, will you? I've wondered how to do that
little thing for years!) Explain how stories from the
general press (such as newspapers) can have details
that the trade press didn't get and vice versa. Tell
us why and how the publishing process improves the information's
reliability. Tell us how background pieces are pulled
together and how to find them quickly before we've wasted
a lot of time and energynot to mention money.
Oh, yes. Though this kind of information would certainly
serve to train future librarians and info pros, we cannot
realistically expect vast hordes of end users to sit
still for the documentary. If they ask, it would be
nice to have it available. But (sigh) they probably
won't. So after we information professionals finish
renewing our faith in published literature with the
help of your contributions, we'll still need ways to
implement the critical judgments of content-flow customizations
that are going to our end-user client communities. We
need systems that can generate smart, sharp packages
Value perceived is value achieved.
Barbara Quint is editor of Searcher
magazine. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.