Mind Maps: Hot New Tools Proposed for Cyberspace Librarians

Article excerpt

Nancy Humphreys is an online searcher, computer consultant, and back-of-the-book indexer living in Emeryville, California.

Experienced searchers are the explorers and sense-makers of cyberspace. The new virtual library built around Net-based online sources is not just changing our methods of working, it is also opening up new sources of income. Freed by the Internet from geographically-bounded libraries, searchers now can supply service and receive payments from communities of people sharing common interests and passions, though scattered all over the world. Such communities on the Internet are legion and can be found in the form of listserv groups, newsgroups, chat room members, as well as company intranets and extranets. All such groups have this in common: Each has a shared set of concerns and need information.

Online payment is in its infancy but we can expect an abundance of options in the near future that support new funding structures. For example, smart cards that insert into the computer and keep track of financial transactions are under development. These cards will make it possible to record transactions that cost just pennies as well as those costing large sums. Soon we should be able to plug in a smart card worth a set amount and let it take care of paying for the client's articles and Web downloads, along with our professional fees. ISPs and telecommunications services have begun adding new services and payment options as quickly as possible.

Taking a peek into the future, here is my wildest fantasy. I dream of becoming the online Springsteen searcher. I have my bookshelf full of books on my favorite rock singer and drawers of articles I have collected over the years, all indexed in my extensive personal database. In my fantasy, 2,000 listserv members chip in a tiny amount via their ISPs each month, and the ISP of the Springsteen listserve pays me for on-demand, on-call answers to members' questions. I can answer either by using my personal collection or my Internet searching expertise. Chat room hosts pay me for answering questions within specific scheduled hours. My information expertise and my bank account have converged in a wonderful way. I am the Springsteen librarian on the Internet.

What We Need

This kind of fantasy could soon become a reality With a new kind of online tool that has become feasible, professional searchers can better connect the needs of a client with a precise Web site or part of a Web site containing the answer. This new online tool is a modification of a traditional library tool that has existed for centuries: the book index.

For many years library organizations such as OCLC have researched how to use back-of-the book indexes to augment library subject catalog records. Software has been designed that uses tables of contents and indexes from books to search databases such as library catalogs or lists of books sold by sites like Amazon.com. I propose that we think bigger. I suggest that we use selected back-of-the-book indexes and existing software to help search the biggest database of all - the entire World Wide Web.

Let's see how online searchers could use a software tool based on back-of-the-book indexes to assist us in dealing with search engine databases compiled by spiders that crawl across the entire Internet or that crawl through deep Web sites. By deep Web sites I mean sites so large that the visitor must use a search engine to find information in them. The end result of using this new software tool would be faster and more accurate end-user searching.

For online searchers, this approach offers the financial benefit of being able to shift from serving individual clients to serving groups of clients who repeatedly need information on topics of great interest. For librarians, this means potential jobs as consultants who organize the subject matter of Web sites for easier, faster access. For back-of-the-book indexers it means a secondary product which can be sold to search engine producers or large Web site developers on a flat-rate or royalty basis. …