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Magazines > Information Today > June 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 6 — June 2003
Over Our Dead Bodies
By Barbara Quint

Want an instant giggle? Try searching for a fiction book title—mysteries especially—on and then check out the site's new "sponsored links" suggestions ("Customers interested in this title may also be interested in ..."). Any grandiose notions of Amazon's marketing infallibility get blown away in gales of laughter. A book called Death with Blue Ribbon refers the reader to Bags&Bows, "your Premier source for retail packaging." While Case for Three Detectives actually does recommend three P.I.-like services (apparently assuming that people who read detective novels are looking for tips on how to investigate acquaintances), I'm not sure the owners of three shoe stores recommended in another search would appreciate the co-marketing connection with Dead Men's Shoes.

Jeez, guys! Didn't it occur to anyone that searches for fiction titles would indicate that the searcher is a book reader and not a prospective shopper? Even in the nonfiction category, I would assume that someone looking to read about Charles Darwin's voyage on the Beagle is neither in the market for a Snoopy doll nor a warm puppy.

Apparently, anyone can lose focus of marketing realities, particularly those seen from the customer's angle.

When it comes to the information professional market, there's at least one eternal truth: Info pros support good data, even when it's not to their advantage. Look at the Web and its Great God Google. Info pros may write articles and give speeches that rebuke assumptions about the Web's omniscience. And they may bemoan Google's universal coverage of that omniscient Web. But the articles don't ever attack the Web or trash Google. They just recommend prudent use of these still-wondrous tools. While library reference desks across the country report declining numbers of requests, librarians still support, recommend, and teach patrons how to use the systems that seem to be replacing them.

Speaking of reference requests, though their numbers may have declined, they are increasingly difficult and present librarians with more of a challenge. The Web and Google, with their free 24/7 service, seem to have skimmed off the easy requests. But when questions get tough, it's back to the library.

And frankly, vendors of the world, we information professionals could use some help here. It's getting harder and harder to sell the "high-priced spread," particularly when our clients ask us what makes it better than the freebie. At this point, many of us could use documentation that explains and defends the structure of publishing itself. Why and when is a published article better, or even different, from a blog or listserv message? If currency is critical, how can one determine which publications are more timely? When tens or hundreds of periodicals report the same event, which one should which clients read? How can I get all the information I need with the least amount of time spent searching or reading?

In preparing such support documentation, let's try to keep the self-congratulations to a minimum, please. Explain the flow of information from a press release to a newspaper or trade-press source. Explain how you can distinguish the articles for which knowledgeable reporters have gone out, investigated, and added substantive value, even those initiated by press releases. (Explain that last one, will you? I've wondered how to do that little thing for years!) Explain how stories from the general press (such as newspapers) can have details that the trade press didn't get and vice versa. Tell us why and how the publishing process improves the information's reliability. Tell us how background pieces are pulled together and how to find them quickly before we've wasted a lot of time and energy—not to mention money.

Oh, yes. Though this kind of information would certainly serve to train future librarians and info pros, we cannot realistically expect vast hordes of end users to sit still for the documentary. If they ask, it would be nice to have it available. But (sigh) they probably won't. So after we information professionals finish renewing our faith in published literature with the help of your contributions, we'll still need ways to implement the critical judgments of content-flow customizations that are going to our end-user client communities. We need systems that can generate smart, sharp packages of data.

Value perceived is value achieved.

Barbara Quint is editor of Searcher magazine. Her e-mail address is
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