Correction: I exist not solely “to serve”

In reading my previous post, it has been pointed out to me by a fellow information professional that I’m wrong to say that “I exist only to serve”. In fact, says the colleague, you give strategic direction and advice, too.

The fellow information professional went on to say that, as a profession, we have an unfortunate tendency to feel ourselves subservient to other staff members and that we are there purely to serve. Upon reflection, this is a true comment, I’ve seen it many times.

I was wrong to limit my services to solely “serving” my users – which also sounds rather passively reactive, rather than proactive and I love to be proactive!

The more I know about my colleagues’ interests and needs, the better I can target information tailored for relevance. The more I know about the business and its direction, the better I can advise and suggest: spotting trends, up-and-coming markets, and new companies that may be worth approaching as potential clients. This is, of course, still serving the organisation, but it enables a better, more active service – delivered with a large helping of understanding and insight.

Understanding and insight come through communicating. I’ve always maintained that there’s no substitute for talking to people. I think I have tended to do this somewhat “invisibly” through an informal chat around the coffee machine or over lunch, rather than through pre-booked meetings, which my colleagues are constantly having. This may have been another error on my part as I sometimes get the impression that my colleagues weren’t sure if I ever talked much to anyone! Perhaps a few more pre-booked meetings would be a good idea, for visibility, if nothing else.

So, as well as existing to “serve”, I have reminded myself that the information professional exists to guide and advise, pushing relevant information through current awareness, providing market and trends analysis, spotting new opportunities and companies, finding and assessing new resources. The information professional needs to talk with colleagues (and be seen to talk with colleagues) regularly to find out about their pressures and concerns, business direction and initiatives.

Lesson re-learnt.

 

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How can I help you?

I ask this question, not as a random offer of my services as an experienced information professional, but as an open question from a professional searcher in 2019. Seriously, how can I help you?

You have Google, you have Siri or Alexa, you have Google Translate, news sites, image sites, patent sites, market data and statistics (to a limited extent), company data, social media – all free and at your fingertips.

So why on earth would you employ someone like me? How can I possibly be useful and needed in this day and age? Google and friends have taken over, surely.

Perhaps I need to ask some questions in return:

  • How much time do you have to search for what you need?
  • Do you know where to look, or are you content to “Google it”?
  • Do you find what you need, or only succeed in “oh, that’ll do for now” results?
  • Do you ever use Google advanced search, verbatim, inurl: or other additional search tools and commands? Do you know how these can help speed up and strengthen your search?
  • Have you ever used Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yandex, DogPile, know what the differences are or why you should care?
  • How do you keep up to date? Do you suffer from FoMO in your work? Fear of missing out on some new technology, piece of research, company news, not knowing about a possible new start-up that’s just had funding which you could approach, or an existing large company that’s struggling in its market place and could do with some product innovation, a patent search or market intelligence to help spot the white space and revitalise its sales.
  • Are you confident that you know all the major players in a sector, say the top 50 or even 100? How’s the ranking changed since last year?
  • What about checking out a market to advise said client company – are you confident that you’re not going to be teaching grandma to suck eggs? Where’s that extra gem that they didn’t know about? After all, a company should be an expert in its own sector…shouldn’t it and yet, don’t you have to go a little beyond to impress?
  • How do you approach that company? Do you go the initial sales meeting feeling confidently armed with a comprehensive knowledge of the company and its strategic thinking, its latest recent activities or do you only have time to have a quick whizz around the website and a flick at the latest news and hope your sector expertise will impress enough?
  • Ever need to search the academic literature space? Happy with Google Scholar?
  • How’s your knowledge of your competitors? Are you “keeping up with the Joneses”, or might a rival be stealing a march on you? Do you know who they are?
  • Is your internal company knowledge utilised effectively for the benefit of the whole business?

Phil Bradley, in his book Expert Internet Searching (5th edition, 2017), describes effective internet searching as “part science, part art, part skill and part luck”. He also says that most of all “it’s an effective blend of different resources, search engines, apps, websites and a willingness to look for information wherever it might be, and for however long it takes”.

The information professional, super searcher, call us what you will (“fount of all knowledge” has also been used) understands the above and implements all those aspects, including a tenacity to keep at it. It means that even if the information required isn’t found then the information professional will be able to tell you why, eg. it’s available but only for a price or it’s not available and there’s no reason why it will be – this is especially true for a small US private company which has no legal obligation to file much about itself at all, but even then, there are ways, if you know where to look…

If none of my above questions bother you at all, then good luck and enjoy your searching. You’re right, you probably don’t need the likes of me any longer. Goodbye, The End, finis and this blog will be closing shortly. Thank you for your kind attention over the years.

***********

If, on the other hand, my questions start to raise doubts about lost opportunities,  inefficient ways of working and wasted time and money, maybe that’s why my long-ago chosen profession is still around today, despite all the technological advances.

Phil also says, with reference to the above quote, that combining all those aspects “comes as no surprise to an information professional”, but “the average user will in all probability not have the experience, knowledge, understanding or tenacity (and I would add time) to blend those together into a successful search”.

We’re also pretty good at looking after the finances – so if you do need a premium resource, we make sure that the right sources are subscribed to via an extensive knowledge of what’s out there, evaluating and trialling, so that there is minimum duplication of content and also negotiating that contract down to a sensible price.

At the end of the day I exist only to serve: to make sure you have the information and resources you need, when you need it, to do your job more successfully.

Let me know if I can help you.

(I might keep the blog open for a little longer.)

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Too much to pay upfront

In a first for US institutions, the University of California, the USA’s largest public university system, has decided to cancel its expensive subscription licence with Elsevier. The two organisations had evidently been negotiating for months, but talks finally failed over a proposed deal that would have allowed university researchers to publish in Elsevier journals under open-access terms.

The article suggests, in a quote, that the pirate site, Sci-Hub, may be undermining the ability of publishing companies such as Elsevier to continue operating as they have done previously, but I’m not sure that Sci-Hub carries that much weight in this case. I can’t help feeling that the very high pricing of these subscriptions – $11 million in this case, with an 80% uplift requested by Elsevier (yes, you read that right: 80% increase!) – is the main culprit and obstacle to renewal. I’m sure that Elsevier had made offers to mitigate some of the cost, but clearly it didn’t appease the University enough.

As regards Sci-Hub, no doubt there are students who’ll use it behind the scenes, it’s hard to prevent them, but universities will hardly be condoning access to the site for their staff and students. Although SciHub has undoubtedly had quite an impact on free access to papers, it remains an illegal way to get them, so a University is unlikely to say to Elsevier, “you know what? I think we’ll just use Sci-Hub instead”.

Additionally, for UC, the pain of not having access will be reduced a lot as it has a contract clause that enables UC to retain access to Elsevier’s back catalogue, only losing access to articles published in Elsevier journals after expiry of the institution’s licence.

And so the momentum builds…who’ll be next to cancel, and when does it reach a disruptive tipping point?

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Unpaywall: a site for finding academic papers that are free

The journal Nature recently reported on a website called Unpaywall, developed by computer scientists to help academics demonstrate how much of their work is freely available to download. Launched in 2017, the site has become a really useful place to find papers that have been legally archived and are freely available.

The site describes itself as “an open database of scholarly articles” and contains 19,838,357 free scholarly articles, so far.

Interestingly, Nature also reported that Elsevier is planning to integrate Unpaywall into its Scopus searches which will be a useful development and demonstrates that it is possible to create a proper open-access search infrastructure, without the dodgy not-so-legal element. Unpaywall is already integrated into Clarivate’s Web of Science.

Evidently there are a lot more papers freely available than people realise, because finding them really isn’t that easy. Unpaywall is taking a significant step towards solving this problem.

Pleasantly disruptive.

 

 

 

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No disruptive searching here

Google’s alleged development of a censored search engine for China has been in the news lately and not least because many Google employees are very unhappy about the prospect of having been kept in the dark about this project, while others are concerned that they may have unwittingly been working on the special search engine and thus contributing to the suppression of free speech. Google’s management has apparently gone into shut-down mode, not just as regards commenting externally about the project, but internally to its staff as well.

A recent article from The Intercept, which claims to have seen confidential documents, describes how the search engine, code-named Dragonfly, is being developed. The article explains how searches containing queries deemed sensitive – keywords such as democracy, human rights, peaceful protest and so on – will bring back no results.

What happened to Google’s strapline: “do no evil”? Or is Google going to issue a statement which aims  to explain why this censored search engine is actually a good thing?

What’s the reality? I see a risk for lots of fake news around this. Speaking of which, are we any better off in the West with our sound-bites and fake news? Aren’t these also a form of censorship – keeping us from the truth? More and more, I find that those I used to view as “authoritative sources” are themselves putting a strong slant on each story or lines of questioning that can’t always be called “objective journalism” so that often when I’ve decided to take the trouble to go and read the full original article that a news story is based around, I find that a very significant amount of context and other points did not get a mention – just the sensationalist headline-makers pulled out. This is nothing new, ’twas ever thus, but the modern difference is the sheer 24/7-in-your-face nature of news. It’s everywhere, all the time.

I vote bringing back “close-down” when broadcasting stations shut down over night. For a start they could do with the rest (and reduced pressure to produce so much drivel) and so could we, but also it would provide some useful thinking time – both for them and us.

Worth mentioning here that it really is worth using other search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo, not just to salve your conscience, but also because you may actually get different and better results. I recommend it.

Postscript: I had to come back and add to this post, as it occurred to me that the West isn’t so pretty as far as reliable information goes these days either.

 

Posted in About Google, Censorship, Featured sites, Future views, Information literacy, Psychology of search, Search engines | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The pleasure of writing: drilling into oil & gas information

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you will know that I’ve contributed articles and reviews to Jinfo (formerly Freepint) quite a number of times over the years.

Well, it’s a pleasure to be doing so once again. This time I’ve been exploring key information sources for the oil & gas industry, while avoiding making the numerous puns that come to mind (I see that some have managed to creep into this article, unfortunately).

It’s always an interesting and useful exercise to write about specific sources and searching as so much of the day-to-day work can become automatic and held inside my head.

Having to write about something brings it into the foreground and, in my case, makes me think hard about (as well as clarify and refine) what I do and how I do it. It has the added benefit of being a refreshing check to make sure that I haven’t got stuck in a complacent rut with the same selection of sources and the same ways of searching (“mindful” searching?).

When you’ve been “programmed to search” for as long as I have, avoiding stagnation becomes quite important. For me, writing is quite hard work, but it’s also enjoyable.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason that blogging became so popular.

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Robots are helping journalists write their articles

The Financial Times reported yesterday (12th Dec.) that the first articles jointly written by robots and humans are being published in the UK. In fact, the robot’s contribution seems to be largely that of fact-finder, providing statistical data for journalists’ articles.

The general opinion seems to be that the robots are providing a useful service and obtaining data that journalists might not otherwise have found, but humans will still be needed for the editorial process.

In February this year Wired wrote an article on the implications of “news-writing bots” for journalism. In their article “AI journalism” seems to have gone several steps further, the suggestion being that it could “generate explanatory, insightful articles”. It could be very helpful. Automated fact-finders could be a useful method by which to quickly identify fake news by scouring social media and calculating credibility of emerging stories. In the US, the software seemed to be, in the main, useful for doing number-crunching for election news which saved a lot of time, but it hasn’t always proved accurate. The hope is that “AI journalism” could free up human journalists to write the articles that require real analysis and “human thought”.

In both cases, the media is anxious to stress that human input is not being replaced, but that journalist time is being saved. I should imagine – as is so often the case with technology – time will certainly be saved for some articles, but new issues will arise that require careful sanity-checking and that will take time.

This could be quite disruptive for journalists, changing the way they search for information, and for some types of news it sounds like a very interesting move, but I can’t help thinking that there might be some really good material generated for Radio 4’s The News Quiz, which always likes to finish with a selection of unintentionally funny quotes from newspapers.

Posted in Future views, Information literacy, Latest news, Psychology of search, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It’s hard to find something, if it’s not there anymore.

It’s also hard to find or recognize something if you don’t know what search terms to use, what it’s called or anything about it. Searching requires curiosity and interest.

It’s about an intelligent and planned, strategic and enthusiastic way of looking for something. If you’re searching on a topic you know little or nothing about, you mug up first to get at least a basic understanding. This is often best done by asking your enquirer to explain more about what they are asking you to find as well as conducting some preliminary searching around the topic to get the best keywords.

The problem comes when, although the right names and descriptive words and clues are readily available, people are no longer interested or bothered to notice or know what things are called, so they don’t search and they don’t find and it’s a big loss. This video with the naturalist and author, Robert MacFarlane, illustrates the sadness of this. He and Jackie Morris have published a book called The Lost Words about the need for children (and adults) to spend more time interacting with the natural world.

It makes the point that more and more people no longer know what common birds and trees are called or how to identify them. This means they don’t notice what’s around them, or have that joy of realisation through identification. It means trees start to merge into one generic “thing” with a trunk, branches and leafy shapes. Birds are…just birds, with some variation in size and colour.

I feel very sad if we are really becoming less and less able to experience the pure joy of searching and finding plants and animals in the natural world. It’s a massive disconnect from nature and results in us valuing and understanding it less and enjoying it less. It often seems to me as if we don’t really think that we are an integral part of this world. Instead we are separate and nature is to be battled and subdued with weed killer, chainsaws and concrete and replaced with plastic grass because the real thing is soooo inconvenient. It’s a resource for us to plunder and exploit for what we judge to be our lifestyle needs (the Disruptive Searcher isn’t guiltless here, uses far more than she needs and yes, the conscience pounds and yes, she’s thinking about it and making changes to her life…but I’m sure she could do better!).

Why bother D.S.? Because wildlife and nature aren’t separate from us. We live alongside wildlife and in nature all the time. We depend 100% on the natural world for our survival and yet we are becoming blind to it and its gradual disappearance.

Oh, you can search with the best skills all you want, but year on year there’s less and less of the natural world to find.

We’re happier when we’re more in harmony with nature, numerous studies confirm it. Mental health is a huge issue, people say they’re lonely. More and more we’re told we’re on our own. That there’s no other planetary life but ours, no God of any sort any more (religion’s just a “fairytale”, eh, Richard Dawkins?) no obvious reason for our existence…so, no point? Eventually, we won’t be found either, for we’ll have ruined what we were given to live on and will cease to exist too.

Perhaps that’s what some of us ultimately want. We’re certainly heading that way, unless we start again to look around us, searching and finding out about the world we live in, joining those (like Robert MacFarlane) who treasure it. Then we’ll realise we’re not at all alone: there’s still most of a whole, beautiful world out there…for now.

 

 

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What I’ll be reading: Expert internet searching

You’re never too old to learn. I may have been embedded in the world of professional searching for around 20 years, but that doesn’t mean I know it all.

Keeping existing skills refreshed as well as learning new ones is vital as well as fun and interesting, which is exactly what I hope reading Phil Bradley’s latest edition of Expert Internet Searching will be.

He hopes so too, which is a nice sentiment. I look forward to diving in for some disruptive searching techniques. Thanks, Phil!

Posted in Digital books, Information literacy, Psychology of search | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Peer review: not much fun?

Just a quick post to flag up an interesting article in 3rd June’s issue of the The Economist on how to make peer review less onerous: Preview and prosper.

Whoever thought there’d be a statue dedicated to peer review?

 

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