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Magazines > ONLINE > July/August 2007
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Online Magazine

Vol. 31 No. 4 — Jul/Aug 2007

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Silos, Us, Them, and User-Generated Content
By Marydee Ojala
Editor • ONLINE

I’ve never been a fan of information silos. The opposite—looking in one place for everything I need—is compelling but appallingly lacking in many libraries. It’s frequently the case, certainly in my local public library, that users can’t find periodical articles, government documents, vertical file materials, or items in special collections when searching the OPAC. It’s a problem that’s plagued information professionals for years. Federated search tries to overcome the silo effect (an example from Marist College is profiled in this issue).

In the early days of online, back when this magazine started, Dialog was the poster child of silos. You had to search one database at a time. Dialog fixed this, however, with OneSearch. Dialog then enhanced it with the ability to remove duplicate records. Today you can combine the databases you want or choose a category that Dialog has preselected. That doesn’t help, however, when it comes to the silos of information outside of Dialog, particularly when it comes to de-duping.

Web search is also prone to information silos. Most Web search engines display separate tabs for searching Web pages, images, videos, news, audio files, and other content types. Recently, Google made news by introducing “integrated search.” Nomenclature aside, the effect is the same as Dialog OneSearch; your search
runs against multiple content types, but only those within Google’s universe. Technorati, profiled in Mary Ellen Bates’ Online Spotlight column, has made its own moves toward de-siloization. It now returns photos, images, videos, and music as well as blogs.

I usually consider silos in terms of content, but what about users and user-generated content? Is there a silo for information professionals and a different one for library users? Library 2.0 encourages participation, wants to empower users, and represents a major power shift. Silos are anathema to the 2.0 crowd. From an us-them dichotomy, we’re moving to one platform of equals. In this sense, Library 2.0 is a Utopian vision. It envisions patrons contributing to a library blog or wiki
and librarians communicating as equals via instant messaging. User-generated content breaks down the silos between us and them.

When I think about information professionals and their various constituencies, I notice some key differences. Even sophisticated users of information don’t think strategically about search construction. They concentrate on end results. They want information in support of a task at work or to fulfill a personal need, such as healthcare, hobbies, travel, genealogy, or homework. They are not particularly interested in how they get it. The thrill of the chase, something information professionals frequently cite as a positive component of their jobs, lacks excitement for end users. An us-them split may not be unwarranted; it might actually be beneficial. Despite our best efforts, information silos are likely to continue, and users, whether they generate content or not, will need our help to find what they need in whatever silo it’s stored.


Marydee Ojala [marydee@xmission.com] is the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to marydee@xmission.com.

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