Information Science Redux

The Anti-Copernican Revolution; or, back to Ptolemy

The Copernican Revolution refers to Copernicus’s paradigm-changing view of the sun as the center of the Solar System, away from that of Ptolemy, who considered the Earth as its center.

As a newbie fresh out of Library and Information school, I’d been forewarned that it would happen to me at some point: somebody would try to fob off LIS repackaged on me and sell down the river my trade.

In less cryptic terms: I have now been subjected to the spiel of consultants, whose groundbreaking concept it is to have corporate users know how to search for information and, what’s more, engineer search queries and finally tap into resource directories to track the right info. Also, thrown in for good measure was the possibility of monitoring “datasets” or “knowledge bases” and be alerted when selected, relevant keywords would be detected by a leading-edge algorithm (I’ll give it to you: no prior selection of keywords needed). Boggles the mind, uh?

When tasked upon to lay out some kind of rationale behind such service, the answer generally goes: “well, there’s no one who actually does that in our information-starving world.” Point taken.

In a jiffy,  I went from believing that trades gravitated around the Sun of all Jobs to believing that they actually revolved around myriads earths, with disoriented customers getting attracted to them for better or worse. Now LIS is the job of anyone and I really mean anyone.

Stereotypes Die Hard

I have absolutely no bone to pick with non-LIS people plying info as their trade, except when their pitch disregards and disparages info pros as asocial hermits bent on collecting newspaper clippings that nobody cares about.

Weak Signals and the Amorphous Shape of Competitive Intelligence in Its Formative Stages

I guess that you’ll want more context to grasp what I’m saying here, so here goes. I recently attended a great conference on competitive intelligence and I had a blast listening to and sharing with well-seasoned practitioners how they went about their daily jobs.

Big on their agenda was how they would pick up on weak signals to make sense of oncoming disruptive events or trends that will go unnoticed for their lack of visibility either in major online media or Deep-Web bibliographic databases.

Of particular interest to me was how such intelligence breaks the mold of peer-reviewed information, as it escapes expert validation for its very amorphous nature.

That intelligence takes its own time eventually hardening out to take definitive meaning and shape doesn’t mean that you cannot ferret it out in its formative stages. In order to do so, you must have in place some strategy to net it — setting up alerts, attending conferences, tracking company activity, and so forth.

At least that was what I thought made sense. But I was in for a big surprise.

Snake Oil Doesn’t Come Cheap

Everything was just perfect until I got to discuss with a consultant/academic rationalizing his brazen repackaging/ dumbing-down of LIS. I have tried rendering his semi-nimble rhetoric covered below. I have italicized my comments throughout.

  1. Nobody can afford info pros.
  2. Even when HUGE multinationals can nobody knows they even exist. When pressed on to outline who his client base was, the consultant let me know he would mainly solicit these multinationals, which didn’t come as a surprise.
  3. Even in the case that somebody even knows that they exist, they don’t go to them because they’re basically happy collecting newspaper clippings that nobody wants to read. And they’re women and men of few words.
  4. Info pros, when you can talk with them — no mean feat, I’ll tell you, considering theirs is a strange language, somehow reminiscent of Icelandic, I might add. The truth of the matter is that they have no idea how to look for information with no context, about no topic in particular, and finally flowing from a question that you as a user do not have nor look to have. My word, I wish I were making this nonsense up. Does anyone in our post-Ptolemaic universe have any idea how to go about that? If you do please let me know what the results are, I’d be glad if you shared, really. Of course, the person who mouthed those dull comments referred to weak signals and monitoring disruption, which are quite different from the nonsensical definition outlined above.  Obviously, you would operate from within a framework even to detect those, right?
  5. What our industry is sorely missing is directories of resources that one could go to, to know what to monitor. Weirdly, the consultant would always refer to sourcing — “We have a sourcing issue.” Right. There have never been put together these directories. How about the Internet Scout Project, for starters? Maybe ontologies could achieve that. See what I meant? Sure, I wrote a post on that lately. But what if you don’t know what you are looking for, are operating without a framework, and have no special focus or interest?

Well, go Google, then, my friend.


~ by iinformationvoyager on June 19, 2010.

One Response to “Information Science Redux”

  1. Amen, informationvoyager. Welcome to the enduring challenge of clarifying what info pros *actually* do.

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