Searcher
Vol. 9 No. 10 Nov./Dec. 2001
FEATURE  
The 2001 Scoug Retreat
by Carol Ebbinghouse Western State University
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The traffic was bad. People flying in faced airport delays and many arrived late. But it was all worth it when we arrived, checked-in, got our annual t-shirts, our SCOUG baseball caps, and our first glass of wine. Finally, all was well with the world. It was Friday afternoon, July 27th, and from now till Sunday afternoon, July 29th, immersion in the Southern California Online Users Group Retreat experience was all we cared about.

Hugging old friends and meeting new ones at the registration table, we all steadily reported in. Dinner was delayed because of all the late arrivals, so several people got in a massage right after checking in. Others strolled the lovely grounds, took short hikes up in the hills, checked-out the pool, or visited the two chapels at this former nunnery.

This is a unique experience. La Casa de Maria is a unique conference center. And, mainly because of the participants, SCOUG's annual retreat is a unique professional experience. Participants include librarians, information professionals, database vendor staff, content specialists, independent information brokers, academics, corporate types, and, this year, two husband and wife teams.

After a delightful barbecue, the attendees gathered in a big circle in the "big room." Randy Marcinko led the meeting and the introductions. John Dobbins put together an "ice breaker." He e-mailed everyone a questionnaire asking for three facts about each person, but the "facts" had to fall in three categories: One true, one false, and one that could be either. With results in hand, each of us started to talk to people, at least long enough to figure out which person was associated with each of the three statements. Old-timers had a distinct advantage, since many of us had attended 10 or more of the 14 SCOUG retreats. Several people became incredibly competitive, requiring prizes for those with the most correct answers.

The statements were tantalizing. Was one of us really writing female erotica on the side? Who had been threatened by people with guns in a foreign country? Or was that a lie? Was it true that one of us had planned Elton John's birthday party, and someone else had danced with Kurt Vonnegut? The answers would come only on Sunday, after the winners of the competition were announced on Saturday night.
 

"Winning the Future Together"
Winning the future together was the theme. We would look for the skills and other tools to bring us together and make us great, perfect searchers in a perfect world. But what are the skills the perfect searcher needs? Academic, corporate, government, private, public searchers will express their needs and solutions they have found. Database vendors, marketers, and others will share the skills that help them.

SCOUG Rules were invoked: What is said here, stays here. Everyone may speak freely about his or her company and/or competitors without fear of it ever getting out especially not through me. My role is to report on the process, the fun, the "'AHA' moments," as Oprah would say.

Skills was the main theme: what we are good at or envy in others and want to learn, what we can do but have not mastered, what we still need to discover. We will partner to acquire or generate new skills and create a synergy of skills. We will explore technology issues and infrastructure issues and identify the skills we will all need at our disposal. What skills we have not developed and internalized as our own, we must acquire through training or partnerships.

Skills help us succeed at what we do, make money for our employers, define our professions. Skills should be shared.
 

The Logistics of the Weekend
Tomorrow the SCOUGers will receive different scenarios of how the information industry might evolve in 5 years. Some of the scenarios won't be pretty. Will the future be what we hoped or what we feared? What will the information industry look like in 5 years and why? What skills will have created this vision of the future? What skills did not materialize, explaining all the problems that will emerge? Skills, technology and infrastructure what went right and what went wrong?

There will be four groups (each with a facilitator and scribe). For the morning, we will work from 10:00-11:00 in our small groups to identify the skills (or lack of skills) that explain why the information world evolved as projected (there is a different "future" for each group). From 11 to noon, we will review our progress with the flip chart and a reporter from each group. According to the schedule, we can expect a conflict to emerge right after lunch. After lunch, participants will be randomly reassigned to new groups. Then comes the challenge. Each of the groups will work on the situations, prepare a report on the skills needed to resolve it, then break until dinner (good time for a massage). After dinner come the presentations with a prize for the best group result.

On Sunday we will dissect what happened and solve any remaining world problems. For the rest of Friday night, however, attendees have the choice of watching Party Girl (she wants to become a librarian) or Desk Set (the classic Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn movie about a new invention, the "electronic brain," threatening the jobs of special librarians). Or we can go out to the patio to enjoy conversation and wine. Lots of wine.
 

Saturday Morning
Organized, confident, we identify some of the skills we possess and the skills we would like to have as we introduce ourselves around the circle again.

We are "Perfect Searchers in the Perfect World" developing our skills in the right way to create the future we want. We are vendors, librarians, information brokers, consumers, entrepreneurs, or publishers.

Our leaders have identified four categories of skills:

  • Skills we possess and think we are good at.
  • Skills we have always had (latent) that have not yet blossomed or developed.
  • Skills we can be taught or get by educating ourselves.
  • Skills that must be acquired by partnership where the whole is greater than any of the parts.
Infrastructure, people, technology, and the skills we focus on all of them. The tasks may vary, however. We can apply our skills to job hunting, improving the bottom line, building a better library, expanding database products and services, etc.
 

Review of the Present
Mea culpa! Librarians and information professionals should have developed the Internet more. We should have led, not followed. That is our fault. Instead, techies took over. Why? One leader chides that the information professionals lacked the boldness, forethought, vision, and gumption. Librarians had no business savvy and no way to tell management how they contributed to the bottom line. The "dot-com" kids and a number of entrepreneurs didn't know about business either, but they just went ahead and did it anyway.

Today, there's a lot of stuff online, but much is junk. Ask any media organization: The bottom line is that it costs money to be correct. Online makes errors more obvious, but the money to make it good is still not available.

The entrepreneurs would say, "I put it up on the Web," and we asked, "Yeah, but how will anyone find it? What have you done to make it available?" They believed, "If we build it, they will come." The love of the technology brought the first Internet content not devotion to quality information, provisions for intellectual access, organization, etc.

Librarians are service oriented they seek answers regardless of the patron's ability to pay. The "dot-com," e-commerce entrepreneur mantra seemed to be, "Show us the money and we'll get it for you." However, it is not all good versus bad look at the open systems people developing wonderful things and giving them away.

Techies pick who they will serve, librarians try to serve everyone. Dot-coms have tiered service levels based on income potential. If librarians were more discreet in services, would they be perceived as more valuable?

Librarians need to speak the corporate language. One leader chides that perhaps we need to take "library" and "librarian" out of the job title lest Human Resources take $20,000 off the salary. Or is it a gender issue?

If technologists make all the business decisions, the company will fail. The world needs librarians and lawyers and professionals who understand an industry going online. Preservationists, librarians, innovators/creators, the business-savvy the Internet world needs a combination of skills. It's not an either/or situation.

Dot-coms lacked respect for traditional information professionals and sought different searching approaches. Now that the dot-com boom money has dried up, it's time for the professionals to reemerge and save the Internet. It has been hard to get entrenched interests to share information in partnerships, strategic alliances, as well. Content is always more important than delivery.
 

Small Group Work Begins
Each group has a different scenario set at 5 years hence (2006). In each of the four following situations, a group must figure out how the world got to this point. What happened? What should or could have happened instead? What skills were valuable and which skills or traits stood in our way? In essence, here are the four scenarios:

  • Information professionals become ubiquitous and dominant. Bill Gates reports to Barbara Quint!
  • Information Professionals melt into the background in information retention.
  • Information is so important that the government believes it is a resource that requires a utility commission.
  • Information is provided within a network of corporate entities but not through or to information professionals.


Ubiquitous Librarians Rule the World
My group got to deal with the future scenario number one wherein the Information Professionals took control of the Internet with quality content and fastidious organization. Now we had to identify the skills that brought this particularly desirable "future reality" about!

Ruthlessness, assertiveness, confidence, perception, and flexibility came to mind. A "killer" vision of such a dynamic future would be essential, not to mention a constant devotion to quality. The key concept is the realization that people will pay for quality information that is well organized and efficiently searchable. Free resources may attract those who pay for information, but only if the search systems are precise and intuitive, and the information accurate, timely, and well organized.

To achieve the optimal scenario presented to our group, librarians and other information professionals must learn how to give some data away, so they can charge for information later like Bill Gates gave away DOS and Windows so he could sew up the software markets, like Schick dropped the price on razors to make sure the blades would sell, like HP sells cheap printers and makes up the difference on expensive cartridges and other supplies. Information professionals can develop these skills, latent or learnable, or, if not, acquire them by partnership.

In addition to the obvious skills we first identified, information professionals would need to hire skill sets they didn't have (perhaps an MBA with finance skills) and delegate. Some information professionals have these skills, making partnering easier. Other skills that would have contributed to overwhelming success by information professionals would include the ability to thrive on change, leadership skills combining courage and vision, business acumen, and progressive technical skills. Integrity was also required. Striking success would require information professionals to deliver on their promises. Finally, information professionals had to be willing to take responsibility for a company, employees, a market, etc.

To prepare for our presentation on what skills would have brought information professionals to the pinnacle of success, we decided to break them down into four categories.

Realized Skills. The inherent skills of most information professionals include information organization, retrieval and dissemination skills; preservation; appreciation of and commitment to standards setting and accountability; copyright and content management; an understanding of the needs of the customer base; as well as creativity in designing products. Besides those skills, we would need assertiveness in marketing and public relations; visioning skills; flexibility; the ability to raise money and venture capital; the ability to delegate; high accountability and standard setting; eagerness to embrace change and challenges; a lifelong learner knowledge base; and discipline and decisiveness.

Latent Skills. These might include cold calling in the sales department (derived from the skill of telephone reference); global views and vision (forests, not merely trees); refocusing attention from users to markets, finance, mergers and acquisitions, marketing, and public relations; developing the discipline to do the important and challenging tasks instead of the urgent but unimportant; and finally, mentoring the next generation.

Skills from Training. These would include anything from the above list that wasn't latent or realized in any individuals who found themselves responsible for using the skill in their position. These might include understanding the intricacies of hardware, software, or technical skills, etc.

Partnerships and Alliances. Mergers would have brought these skills to the mix: attracting venture capital; taking corporations public; expanding through mergers and acquisitions; attacking secondary markets; and developing strategic alliances with other corporations.

Finally, we had to enumerate the skills and traits that would have prevented this fantastic future from occurring in 5 years:

Skills or Traits That Would Keep Us from This Vision. These include micromanaging; meekness; wanting to serve everyone, as opposed to those who can afford the service; inflexibility, resistance to change; and getting bogged down with the local and petty instead of working for the more global vision.
 

Saturday, 11:00 a.m.: First Reports by Other Groups

Group 1: The "Information Dark Ages."
This scenario describes a world in which people couldn't get good current information; all archives had been discarded; traditional information services collapsed only to be replaced by quick and dirty Internet sites; no money was being spent on indexing and archiving. People 5 years in this future couldn't make good decisions due to lack of reliable or timely information. Without historic data, people couldn't look to precedents or learn from forgotten experiences. With maintaining archives deemed too expensive, there has been a tremendous loss of valuable content. But there is a light at the end of tunnel: After it's all gone, the value of good information management is finally recognized and a renaissance begins.

What got us into these Information Dark Ages? Passivity; not proving the value of our services: doing a lousy job of marketing; inflexibility; fighting technology; not speaking the language of the corporation; not forming strategic alliances; inability to think creatively, to adapt and change; and lack of political savvy.

Group 2: The Government Utility Scenario of 2006
The government, having decided information is too precious to fall into the hands of corporate interests, has created a new utility the Internet Information Utility.

Passage of the 2003 McCain/Clinton Act established federal jurisdiction over the Internet. Privacy issues are now tightly controlled and equality of access to information assured. Internet II is now regulated through the telephone utilities. Lifeline service for the Internet is available to low-income households. Content still comes from private sources, but now all aspects of these businesses are regulated, having been co-opted as government contractors.

Skills. No one understood the structure and organization of information and dissemination. Information professionals were too comfortable with government wages and worked too well in structured environments. Their compulsion to serve everyone fit the government model, so they just went with the flow. Latent skills included expanding networking and social as well as political skills. The absent skills that led to this scenario were entrepreneurial and marketing skills and business savvy; foresight and vision; and a lack of comfort with holding or exercising power (political passivity). Partnering might have provided the missing skills.

Group 3: Library as Co-Op (model) or Corporate Entity
In 2006 the Internet is a network of small corporate entities, all fee-based, with information professionals as staff. A buying cooperative does what libraries do now. There is quality in the products, diversification, and a consolidation of the marketplace. There are information intermediaries to serve the rest of the market. The producers and aggregators sell to the top 20 percent of the economy that can afford the services and the same goes for intermediaries and document delivery services. Only the profit-generating top 20 percent of the population is served, leaving 80 percent of the population as information have-not's.

Established skills that created this scenario: Knowing what the customer wants; content knowledge to keep customers coming back to corporate sources; knowledge of information architecture (how to structure information and its presentation for the different levels of customers).

Latent skills that need developing to escape the scenario: management skills; marketing/sales; tier-based market segmentation; different products for different markets; appeal to underserved; and promote libraries that step into the micromarket selling information to individuals.

Learnable skills: quality control in the information itself (which justifies the high fee charged by the corporations); negotiation skills to acquire/then sell the information with vendors at both ends.

Acquired skills through strategic alliances aimed at acquiring people with the needed skills: knowledge of how to recognize a good economic model; business savvy regarding who to sell it to (must lose the "information for everyone" trait and instead regard information as a valuable commodity); how to sell information at a good price.

Skills or traits that block the future: micromanaging, a lack of integrity, getting bogged down in details (like the cataloger mentality of thesaurus building), and losing one's focus.
 

Saturday After Lunch: New Groups, New Assignments
In the afternoon, we created entirely new groups. It was nice to meet, work, and network with new people.

This time each of the members of the group was assigned a specific role and given a set of skills. I became a vendor with the skills of creating revenue and negotiating. Other roles were information professional and entrepreneur. The skills around the group included speaking the language of the organization; ability to set priorities; risk taking; comfort with power; instinct for quality information; organizational skills; training and analytical thinking; interface skills; knowledge management; integrity.

No one individual or group had all the skills needed for a money-making project, but together, we could accomplish almost anything!

First the entrepreneurs, vendors, and information professionals in each group met with their peers to determine the skills available to them and to decide which ones they would need to acquire by partnership or training. Then we came back as a group.

What product do we want to create? Do we design the delivery system first or the content to be delivered?

Entrepreneurs met, since they had the risk-taking and priority-setting skill sets. They worked out the concept of an alliance to repackage data from vendors for the academic community. Others in our group thought that this would be a good opportunity to use quality vendor products to gain market share and increase cash flow and the customer base.

Deliverers were the information professionals with their instinct for quality, organization, assessment, and training abilities. However, the information professionals had decided that technological developments had opened up a great opportunity to deliver library services from one place to many, much like distance education for corporations. They felt that with a little development of latent entrepreneurial skills, they could gather content from vendors and build a system, much like Jones' e-global library. The vendors on the team have the legal and business skills, so together we can market to corporations and law firms. Our motto: a library on the desktop of every user.

We decided to go for target (e.g., rich) market segments first, then expand. The large corporations and law firms have big bucks. We just needed to look for some common functions. Finally, we decided to work on an e-corporate library or e-legal service.

Some suggested we make video-on-demand training plus dial-up or chat training/help. Voice recognition software for question-asking would be employed, matched with some cheap microphone add-on at each customer's workstation.

With a product and market in view, we agreed that our first job was to verify the market for this product idea. People are spending money on this right now. Should we aim at a broad, horizontal market or target vertical markets, e.g., Fortune 500 corporate legal departments? The group decided to first attack the corporate legal departments, then to expand service in the same corporations, expanding our marketing to go after the business development/marketing departments, then human resources, and finally the R&D departments.

What is our product? Whatever our users need. We know they need high-quality information content, and we have the contacts, information, business skills, and the courage to tackle those needs.
 

Saturday Night Presentations

Healthband International
Healthband International, the creation of a well-traveled group, had developed a medical device able to track people's vital signs remotely from anywhere in the world. Not only that, but it could diagnose anything from a heart attack to irregular heartbeat, locate the patient by using global positioning satellites, and determine the nearest facility with the appropriate equipment and specialists. Even a patient on an elephant safari could have their medical records transferred to the nearest specialist, even one a hundred miles away, connected by computer, video, etc.

I cannot begin to describe the drama of their skit, with a patient dropping off an elephant during a safari, slapping his "healthband alert" bracelet, just before losing consciousness. A calm medical professional monitored the patient, established contacts with the patient's medical records, located the closest hospital with a coronary department and expert, brought the images and records to the doctor's screen, and gave instructions to the tour people on his care pending the arrival of a helicopter to evacuate him to a hospital.

www.connect-ed.com
Stuck in a dead end job? In danger of losing your professional license? MCLE late?

"'Connect-ed' to connect for success. Go to www.connect-ed.com. Saves time and money while renewing your legal or medical license with continuing education. Exhaustive research says distance learning is the wave of the future. Law first, medicine, business, and education."

Information professionals organized knowledge to develop training modules. The vendors and entrepreneurs took care of the rest.
 

GigaLibrary Corporation
The infomercial commences with a person running down the aisle of an applauding audience of clapping, cheering businesspeople.

"We are GigaLibrary Corporation!

"Our products are E-Legal for corporate counsel and law firms who work for corporations

"E-Think for research and development and patents departments

"E-Pitch for business development and marketing

"If you subscribe to more than one service today, you can get E-Legal, plus 20 percent off of two other services but only for the first 50 callers...."

And here come the testimonials! Testimonial of lawyer and reformed librarian: "It's e-legal! It saved my job!" "My company was saved by e-pitch! My sales force is no longer selling lifetime memberships at the senior center." "With e-think R&D time improved to save 50 percent!"

This group recognized a growing need. Corporate, legal, R&D, and marketing departments need information. In the old days, they had a corporate library with people to help them. After downsizing, budget cuts, etc., the corporate library was closed down, abandoning its clientele to find information themselves. Realizing the chaos that this caused, they put the library on the desktop, reducing expenses by serving many corporations at same time.

"It's GigaLibrary! We got print, film, CD-ROMs, microform, online we'll slice it, dice it, and double the price!"

It should be a showstopper!

Yourmailbox.com
[Voiceover film clips of busy people in urban setting] "People today are too harried trying to get life taken care of. The bank, store, post office, card shops are all closed when you have time to get there."

[Voiceover clip of woman looking peacefully out of a window] "Dream: A world without paper a digital world with no faxing, no mail, no paper. We all want everything to come to us easily, seamlessly, without junk mail clogging our mailboxes. Lives are too harried, we cannot meet deadlines, we want a personalized solution to paper traps."

"The solution! Yourmailbox.com environmentally friendly, universally available, communication brokerage, one-stop shopping convenience and time-saving service with a secure server to protect your privacy. Using PCs, cable TV, and neighborhood brick-and-mortar locations like Kinko kiosks, home delivery of just about everything you need is available. Mail on Sunday; active filtering for junk mail (for a fee). Fee-based services, including an information brokerage and a 27/7 Ask an Attorney, are also available. Bills paid with a click. Birthday and other cards sent with a click; reminders optional.

This group decided that to form a stronger array of services they may partner with the medical group for GPS and health info and/or "e-legal" to expedite development and reduce costs of the Ask an Attorney service. Now that's using partnering skills!

Voting
So which team won? It was really close:

  • Healthband (Elephant group) 12
  • GigaLibrary Corporation 3
  • yourmailbox.com 13
  • connect-ed.com 3
With the moderator's vote, Healthband medical service and yourmailbox.com tied at 13 votes, but the group rejected a tie outcome. After a merger failed, a re-vote gave Healthband the victory.

Exhausted by all the excitement, participants turned to leisure. The movie began to roll and the wine began to flow.
 
Fascinating People 
Make Fascinating Meetings

The icebreaker exercise served as a quick way to generate interest in each other among participants and an instantaneous group bonding. The exercise required all participants to write down three statements about themselves of which at least one had to be true and one had to be false. The third was dealer's choice. At the opening meeting, people had to try to figure out who matched which set of statements.

Here are some of the responses we got:


a. I perform as a jazz vocalist in the evenings.

b. I am a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.

c. I live by the beach. 


a. Arabic is my mother tongue.

b. Honesty is NOT always the best policy.

c. I have visited Africa on several occasions. 


a. I have a cat named Harry Potter.

b. I had Shirley Temple ringlets when I was young

c. I drive a Ferrari. 


a. I am leaving for Hawaii in 3 weeks.

b. I am the oldest child in my family.

c. My mother-in-law was in Auschwitz 


a. I own a teal motorcycle and I love it!

b. Skydiving is my favorite activity.

c. Backpacking at 10,000 feet or higher is my type of "high." 


a. Who Wants to be a Millionaire regularly calls my library to verify their "answers."

b. Fifty percent of my library's books are signed, first editions.

c. Roger Tory Peterson once had a yogurt in my library while he signed his books. 


a. My tomato garden is not bountiful this year.

b. I am a natural blonde.

c. I've never been to Istanbul.

Sunday
What have we learned? We have learned to apply skills we already have, identify and develop latent skills, and go out for training or get partners for those we don't have. We can't live in a vacuum. We must form partnerships and alliances to provide balance and produce viable products and services.

We must pay attention to our own skills, both those we have and those we lack.

Teamwork is essential. Organizations must reflect myriad skills, diversity in background, training, experience, education, and natural inclination.

Each group had the same skills cards, but each had fewer people than cards, so that randomized the skills split among the vendors, entrepreneurs, and information professionals.

We discovered that marketing is as important (if not more) than the idea itself. Marketing was not a skill in each group. However, people's talents in this emerged with creative spins, infomercials, and sales ideas. Everyone needs to be able to express themselves and their ideas in a compelling way. We all also need to use humor to communicate. The scenarios took people out of information professional roles and pushed them to consider creating revenue. It was interesting to change roles, if only for a day.

The roles many of us have today the tasks we perform were never covered in library schools when we attended. Do the library schools teach these skills now? Business entrepreneur skills? Communication and public speaking? Group dynamics and team building or partnering? Do they partner with Business and/or Engineering schools? Systems management? Do they teach marketing and political skills? Does the information brokering class include a business plan requirement? What didn't you learn in library school? Which classes in library school were best at preparing us for professional life? Or, do we want a trade school? Professional schools, several members argued, should be theoretical and prepare one to learn for the rest of their lives.

Knowing ourselves and knowing the skills and traits we need in order to fill a position, we can develop skills in our current staff. Professionals go out and get the skills they need on their own. With continuing education budgets shrinking, acquiring new skills has become the individual's responsibility. They also commit to lifelong learning. We can continue the education of our clerical and other staff members to make the department or corporation stronger. We can all teach our peers and subordinate staff members, at library schools, community colleges everywhere people want to learn about information. We can share our skills and be sought out as partners.

A consensus emerged that we should learn information theory in school and hard practical learning on the job. Many combine library school with library work to build skills before entering the profession.

Getting the whole picture in an organization is helpful, also. One person broke her foot and was pulled off the front customer service lines to the back room where she learned how indexers made entries. Another substituted at a library and filled in for everyone taking vacation, sitting at each of their desks. Is there a better way to get the whole picture? Smaller libraries and one-person shops can also help a professional put the forest and trees in perspective.

New question to ask of interviewees: How have you continued your education? What is the most recent skill you have acquired?

We learned that we can always build alliances to broaden our skill set. Information Technology departments are there to help, but information professionals partner as equals. Basic communication flows are a necessity. Learn the vocabulary of your partners (be it the IT department or anything else).
 

The Final Farewell
In the end, we knew we had to go back home some time. This year we did not come up with a master plan for anything. However, in past years we came up with the SCOUG quality scales, the "ideal" online search system, or what to do with Dialog Corp.

Each year, the SCOUG Retreat enriches and invigorates participants returning to our own worlds of vendors, entrepreneurs, information professionals, database creators, publishers and searchers. This year I think we appreciate each others' talents just a little bit more, and perhaps see a little more of ourselves in each other.

It really comes together at the SCOUG Retreat. See you next year?


Carol Ebbinghouse's e-mail address is carole@wsulaw.edu
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