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Magazines > Information Today > October 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 10 — Nov./Dec. 2003
DEPARTMENTS
Going Solo, Steno, or Stego
By Lauree Padgett

I should have known not to pick up the ringing phone when my new caller ID box flashed "unavailable." But what if it were the newly available Ben Affleck calling from an undisclosed, J.Lo-free location? So I answered it, only to find out it was not Ben, but some telemarketer calling to say that Chase Bank had an exciting new benefits package to send me. Before he could tell me more, I said, "Don't send me the package, and don't sign me up for anything," and hung up. The last thing I need after a free trial period is to be socked with some big monthly credit card charge for benefits I don't need and probably never will. However, there's definitely a benefit to the articles I'm highlighting from the October issues of Computers in Libraries, CyberSkeptics Guide, and Searcher. So don't hang up on me!

Solo-Me-O

While in some cases going solo can be a good thing (right, Ben?), at times it's a less than ideal situation, especially if you've just been hired to organize and manage the Information Research Center (IRC) for an environmental engineering consulting firm. This is what happened to Tom Nielsen 5 years ago as he was tasked with transforming a down-and-out library into a center that would serve the research needs of 500 employees spread out over 14 offices. In "Four Steps I Took That Transformed My Solo Corporate Library" (Computers in Libraries, October 2003, p. 22), Nielsen shares his strategies for accomplishing this feat.

Nielsen began by establishing patterns of communication and service for users. He created a monthly newsletter to succinctly sum up any changes to the IRC and to offer some Web searching tips. More importantly, he made sure patron reference questions would be answered or at least helped along.

Next, Nielsen wanted to get ahead of the curve by making sure he knew in which direction the firm was headed. Knowing that it wanted to develop an intranet, he took proactive measures, such as expanding his HTML and Web design skills, to make sure the IRC would have its own site. When the company intranet debuted 2 years later, the IRC site was its anchor.

Exceeding expectations, which he defines as taking risks, is another rung on Nielsen's transformation ladder. Thinking that employees could benefit from Web training, Nielsen kept his eyes and ears open. After Internet access became available to all employees, the timing seemed right. His suggested plan for an hour-long lunchtime training session was well-received.

Finally, Nielsen says, you must deliver on promises. While it took 2 years (not 6 months as he initially estimated) to get a new online catalog up and running, he was also able to select and set up a new library software package when the unexpected need to recatalog IRC's entire collection arose. These four areas have gone a long way in helping Nielsen establish a trust-based relationship with the firm's patrons and increasing the IRC's usage by 37 percent.

The Write Cyber-Stuff

If your need for good news sources goes beyond regularly clicking the TV remote to the E! Entertainment Network (the only place J.Lo may be able to currently get a look at her ex-fiancé), Marylaine Block, academic librarian and e-zine creator, recommends CyberJournalist.net (CyberSkeptic's Guide, October 2003, p. 4). Published and written by award-winning journalist and MSNBC producer Jonathan Dube, the site offers info pros a current-awareness tool and can also help users improve their Internet research skills, Web sites, and even their writing.

At CyberJournalist.net, you can get good, current background information—everything from 3-D maps of Iraq to an expert explanation of corked baseball bats. Dube keeps users up-to-date on new search engines and search features on popular sites. By providing articles such as "Tips for Making PDFs More User-Friendly" and "Top 10 Web Design Mistakes," Dube shows librarians how to improve their own sites. Noting that a librarian's reputation depends on how information is selected, analyzed, organized, annotated, and presented, Block suggests that "our most essential skill may, in fact, be writing." Again, CyberJournalist.net offers frequent tips on writing for the online environment. No wonder Block checks this site out every week for Dube's latest news and tips.

Spy Games

How much do you know about steganography, a method of transmitting secret communications in a multitude of media? If Affleck had read Denise Hamilton's "Spies Like Us" article (Searcher, p. 14), he could have sent buddy Matt Damon an SOS embedded in an online image of a lap dancer and J.Lo would never have been the wiser. While secret messages have been delivered since the fifth century, Hamilton writes that this form of"hush-hush" communication was revolutionized in the 19th century with the invention of microfilm. Encryption, which is only decipherable by those with the code, is a further advance in "information-hiding" techniques.

Steganography goes one step further by not only sending hidden information via text, sound, or most often, image files, but by concealing the fact that any information is being sent at all. Unless you know to look for it, steganography is totally undetectable. A common "stego" method employs the slight distortion of a sequence of pixels, which are individual dots of color.A three-byte sequence, in which each byte represents 256 values (or 256 x 256 x 256), would create 16.7 million color possibilities. By "hijacking" a "bit" of each byte, you can add in a message that cannot be detected except by the person who knows what to look for and where.

Check out this article for stego tools, places where you can see what a stego-ized image looks like, and variations on stego, such as digital watermarks. As Hamilton points out, "New technologies beget new threats." This article will help librarians and info pros stay on top of two important Information Age issues: copyright protection and anti-terrorism.

Call Waiting

Well, that about does it for me this month. Not that I'm going to be sitting by the phone or anything, but Ben, if you're out there and lonely, this "Jersey Girl" would love to hear from you!


Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s manager of editorial services. Her e-mail address is lpadgett@infotoday.com.
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