by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine
The late, great lyricist, Johnny Mercer, once wrote a song built around the rustic term, “Druthers,” a contraction of the rube-ish phrase, “I’d ruther,” itself an adaptation of the more grammatically correct “I’d rather.” As I recall it, the song went, “If I had my druthers/I’d druther have my druthers/than anything else I know.” The rest of the song was an ode to inertia, to lazing away one’s life, apparently expending energy on nothing more challenging than blinking: “I’d druther watch daisies grow.”
However, in the hurly-burly of this dynamic Information Age, we information professionals cannot afford the indulgence of existential trances while watching lint accumulate in our navels. We have to move it not to lose it. But move where? To do what? And where is everyone around us moving?
Recently, FreePint [http://www.freepint.com] sent out a survey to samples from its network of 70,000 information professionals, most in the U.K. and the U.S. (For more information on the FUMSI reports and activities of FreePint, go to http://www.freepint.com/fumsi.) By the way, FUMSI stands for Find, Use, Manage, and Share Information. Cute, huh? Some things the survey expected to find and did, e.g., info pros influence data purchases, info pros spend a lot of time online and use subscription or licensed databases frequently. However, some of the findings surprised them. In the “everybody’s talking about, everybody’s writing about” categories, such as podcasting, webcasting, and enterprise social networking, the responses were somewhat negative. Thirty-five percent did not find podcasts useful. (Hmm! Looks like I should reconsider those 2 a.m. sessions for recording my Searcher’s Voice editorials in ambient silence.) Forty percent never visited social networking sites, and 49% never used social networking sites for business. Additional comments from the negative respondents indicated that it was too much trouble to integrate the technologies into workflow or that the work environment simply didn’t support some of the technologies. (You know, I’ve always wondered how many multicomputer work environments allow everyone to have speakers. My podcast, your podcast, everyone’s podcast. And with the number of people concerned with online privacy, it could seriously deter interest in social networks, especially with outfits such as Facebook now working user content for advertisers.)
When it comes to choosing new technologies, or even going along with fairly well-established ones, people have to make choices that both fit within the job that pays their salary today and the job that may pay their salary tomorrow. For some people, that means keeping current from a distance, e.g., by attending conference sessions or reading articles on the new technologies. Others, when they find a technology that really appeals to them, may leap aboard the platform, whether from home, at work, or both. The key for both lies in monitoring when and whether each technology has reached a tipping point. For example, mobile computing has made a platform for digital audio that reaches out to all kinds of people in all kinds of environments. Changes in pricing models or even battery capacity could dramatically expand the demand for information services via cell phones or their taller, PDA-like brothers (Apple iPhone, et al.).
We all have to watch for the “tipping points,” the moments when different factors come together — often without visible coordination — to produce a rush of acceptance for a technology. For information professionals, not noticing the arrival of those tipping points can make us look very overpriced to our employers. I mean, if an info pro can’t spot the arrival of an information technology, who can?
If I had my druthers, everyone everywhere would have good solid information service to answer every question they ever had and encourage them to add more. Everyone would have a good information professional to turn to, one who could protect them from error — even the errors clients made themselves, one who could ensure that good data never died or drifted out of sight. To get my druthers, all we information professionals need to have excellent training and superb networking. We must have a clear mandate as to the services we provide and a strong image as to what those services are and how only a good information professional can be relied upon to supply them.
Those are my druthers. What are yours?