Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Today's Knowledge Workers Need 'Knowledge Hedges'

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Today's Knowledge Workers Need 'Knowledge Hedges'

Article excerpt

Continuous change has been the norm for information professionals since the Industrial Revolution, but it is easy to lose track of the long arc of change for two reasons. First, knowledge workers of every stripe are immersed in their immediate workloads and bogged down by a lack of time to monitor broad trends. Second, just as with investing in equities, the cascade of new technology presents us with continuous change at a fast clip. Much as we might like our present suite of technology platforms, the logic and jargon of financial planning are instructive: Past performance offers no guarantee of future success. In other words, knowing how to plan for the future is as much an exercise in instinct and intuition as it is a logical process. The investment world offers another useful analogy for info pros too: the hedge fund. Hedge funds exist to protect investors from the unknown, and they "hedge" against myriad possibilities. As info pros, we also need hedges against the unknown, but our hedges rely more on ideas than profits or market share. Essentially, we need "knowledge hedges" to interpret not only what is in front of us today, but also to understand what is coming at us at the industry level.

For example, one of my favorite hedges is to monitor how other knowledge workers grapple with the digital revolution and pose the question of whether their experience has something to do with us. Sometimes, this hedge can spot a new trend early on, such as the sudden ascendancy of the World Wide Web among computer scientists. In other instances, such as the explosive boom in the app market, trend catching may depend on how much we use our smartphones.

My knowledge hedges help me get through my own workday. So I am going to use the Get 'er Done theme of this issue of CIL to look at what other knowledge workers are doing to get things done--as well as what they are finding out about their own professional environments.

Journalism's Long, Hard Slog

Journalists may be struggling to keep up with the pace of change, but now that I have your attention with that catchy heading, let me give you the good news first. Journalists have roared back from the terror of reactive responses to digital media, and they are thriving, albeit in different ways. As recently as 7 years ago, leading newspaper editors openly speculated whether there would be any future whatsoever for print editions. Revenue was falling, and it was hard to chart a course as digital media atomized. Since then, industry leaders such as The New York Times have been growing rapidly in new forms, and they still retain their legacy print editions. The change process is tough and constant and demands the full attention of all news publishers.

To discover how journalists have found their way, it helps to assess how they are learning their craft. Journalism schools (j-schools) have morphed into hotbeds of innovation--a challenging process to be sure, but well worth the effort. Early responses to the ascendance of Lexis-Nexis and other industry-level changes were earnest but not sufficient; new ideas were needed. Before long, j-schools started taking a page from others in the knowledge industry, including those in the library profession--perhaps unbeknownst to us.

Computer-assisted journalism reframed the writer as a researcher, piling top-notch online search skills on top of writing. This trend works well and continues to drive change. Data journalism is so sophisticated that practitioners can reframe themselves as data analysts--a lucrative jump in status. It is clear that j-school faculty members had realized--perhaps just in time--that the key skills journalists must have were missing at j-schools. However, they were being taught elsewhere: in law schools, library schools, and even the social sciences. The push to incorporate the spirit of online discovery from other fields into j-school curriculum has worked sensationally and continues to fuel innovation. …

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