Put a Good Librarian, Not Software, in Driver's Seat in the Information-Gathering Business, the Human Touch and Expertise Are Irreplaceable

By Bonnie A. Nardi, Vicki O'Day, and Edward J. Valauskas. Bonnie A. Nardi is an anthropologist Technology Group Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction. " Vicki O'Day is a computer scientist . Edward J. Valauskas is a librarian and writer. He is co-editor of "Internet Initiative: Libraries Providing Internet Services and How They Plan, Pay and Manage. " | The Christian Science Monitor, June 4, 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Put a Good Librarian, Not Software, in Driver's Seat in the Information-Gathering Business, the Human Touch and Expertise Are Irreplaceable


Bonnie A. Nardi, Vicki O'Day, and Edward J. Valauskas. Bonnie A. Nardi is an anthropologist Technology Group Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction. " Vicki O'Day is a computer scientist . Edward J. Valauskas is a librarian and writer. He is co-editor of "Internet Initiative: Libraries Providing Internet Services and How They Plan, Pay and Manage. ", The Christian Science Monitor


The explosion of Internet resources, new software applications, and ever-faster, more-powerful computer systems has led many budget-cutters to replace people with technology.

But could an "intelligent software agent" do what, say, a librarian can do?

We conducted a study of corporate libraries at Apple Computer in Cupetino, Calif., and Hewlett-Packard Research Labs in Palo Alto, Calif., to find out. Our conclusion in this version of Kasporov versus computer chess: It would be virtually impossible for a software agent to replace librarians for several reasons not generally understood.

First, librarians are more than technicians. They are, it seems, information therapists who analyze problems as well as find answers. At Hewlett-Packard, for example, a client wanted to be enlightened about "the presence of HP in Japan and Europe." The librarian pointed out the problems with this request: "Is the person thinking about market share or the number of units? Does he mean plant size or relative presence? Does he need something economic like conversion ratios?"

A skilled librarian can focus the search and add other possible areas of interest to clients. This occurs through artful conversations that librarians modestly call "reference interviews," which would be impossible to duplicate or at least time consuming and incomplete if done through keyword searches.

Just the facts, please

Librarians can seek information even when their clients can't figure out just what they want. A management consultant described how he needed to get a feel for the size of a new industry: "... whether it's smaller than a bread box, bigger than a house - just size it." Perhaps someday software will exist that can evaluate such a request. But not today.

Librarians understand that information wears all sorts of disguises - as financial data, scientific articles, analyst reports, news, product reviews, and patents, just to name a few. Unlike software programs, librarians can judge the reliability of sources (are they rumor or fact?), estimate costs, and find material with a particular slant or perspective.

They also think of useful things clients wouldn't think of themselves. For example, one librarian said whenever she receives a request for all of an author's technical papers she asks whether the client wants the author's patents as well.

No wonder clients often become attached to a librarian who can personalize their searches.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Put a Good Librarian, Not Software, in Driver's Seat in the Information-Gathering Business, the Human Touch and Expertise Are Irreplaceable
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?