Magazine article Information Today

The Big Lie

Magazine article Information Today

The Big Lie

Article excerpt

Tell a lie often enough and it comes to smell true. Make the lie big enough and the sheer size will induce belief. After all, where there's smoke, there's fire. Where there's a forest fire, there must be a forest.

So who started the lie that professional searchers block end-user searching just to protect their jobs? And who keeps the big lie going?

It's not true, you know. Think about it. Who brought in CD-ROM? And what was the result? In many libraries, CD-ROMS have led to the near death of intermediated searching. Who develops on-line public access catalogs for end-user patrons? Who has expanded OPACS by leasing tapes of commercial databases and turned OPACS into a major new growth area for database producers? Who? Librarians, that's who. Professional searchers.

A friend and colleague of mine was once asked why she became a librarian. quick as a wink she replied, "For the money," and the room filled with gusts of laughter. Best professional joke most of us had heard that year.

No, dear industry friends, most professional searchers have not made their career choices based primarily on considerations of lucre. This certainly does not mean that we do not care about money, but other factors have at least equal value. What other factors? Power? That one ranks about the same as money. A service profession would not top the list of the average job counselor's recommendation for control freaks. Glamour? My memory flashes to the look on the face of a top researcher I had always served over the phone when he dropped down to the library once and saw me pushing a book cart. Of course, pushing book carts was not my job. World quality research support was my trade, but I've never known an information professional who didn't spend at least some of their time schlepping. Safety? That used to be a good bet, but no job is safe any more - a truth that has been apparent for some time. And how does that explain the librarians who become information brokers rather than leave the underpaid, underappreciated profession they have chosen?

Why do people become and remain information professionals? Is the "corn as high as an elephant's eye" yet? Dare I answer, "Service"? Well, perhaps I can dare when speaking to the information industry. From what I have heard, lots of information industry professionals are not exactly rolling in wealth, glory, and dominion either. Sure, you may be better off than your customers, but that isn't saying much. Most top executives among the largest vendors still work for wages not equity. Field representatives and middle managers may not earn much more or have much more clout than the average librarian or professional searcher. And as for glamour... what would that constitute? Travel? Oh joy, oh joy! The opportunity to traverse the corridors of major airports, to fly into the clouds clutching small packets of assorted nuts, to stand in a hotel room trying to decide whether the length of stay warrants an investment of energy and time in removing clothes from luggage or to stick with "Pony Express" style for a running start to expedited checkout.

Come on, folks. Why do we do what we do? Isn't it because we like it? Because we believe in information service or information technology? Because we want to be part of the world's solutions, not the world's problems? Because we love to see the look of satisfaction or delight or stimulation on a client's face when we find the answer or introduce them to the Answer Machine? Isn't there a little missionary in all of us? Or am I all alone out here?

Back to the original question. If professional searchers are dedicated to the service of their clients, then why would they deny them access to the best information tools? And there's no denying that they do. I've seen special librarians gear for battle when they hear that some overly enthusiastic manager has decided to bring in end-user systems outside of the library's control. …

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