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
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 informationeverything 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.
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.
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 email@example.com.