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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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?
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
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:
become ubiquitous and dominant. Bill Gates reports to Barbara Quint!
melt into the background in information retention.
Information is so
important that the government believes it is a resource that requires a
Information is provided
within a network of corporate entities — but not through or to information
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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
The "Information Dark Ages."
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
The Government Utility Scenario of 2006
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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
What product do
we want to create? Do we design the delivery system first or the content
to be delivered?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Stuck in a
dead end job? In danger of losing your professional license? MCLE late?
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."
organized knowledge to develop training modules. The vendors and entrepreneurs
took care of the rest.
commences with a person running down the aisle of an applauding audience
of clapping, cheering businesspeople.
"We are GigaLibrary
"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.
We got print, film, CD-ROMs, microform, online — we'll slice it, dice it,
and double the price!"
It should be a
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."
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."
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
So which team
won? It was really close:
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.
group) — 12
connect-ed.com — 3
Exhausted by all
the excitement, participants turned to leisure. The movie began to roll
and the wine began to flow.
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:
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
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.
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
c. I've never been
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.
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
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?
Ebbinghouse's e-mail address is email@example.com