Magazine article Online

What Is the Role of the Intermediary in End-User Training?

Magazine article Online

What Is the Role of the Intermediary in End-User Training?

Article excerpt

The concept of interactive online searching for bibliographic information was described by Philip Bagley in 1951 [1]. However, the online industry did not develop until the early 1970s, when the technologies of timeshared computers, telecommunications networks, and low cost random access storage became widely available [2].

The original intention for online interactive computer searching was that it should be a tool for the information user. With a dial-up terminal and a password to an online service, a user would be able to locate references or information and order documents online or call them up in full text from a database. In theory, users could become information self-sufficient.

However, the early customers of the online industry were primarily information specialists. They became known in the trade as intermediaries. I believe that the intermediary market developed before the end-user market because: availability of dial-up terminals was limited; intermediaries were easier to market to; and online searching was considered a specialty. Intermediaries specialize in system command languages and knowledge about information sources.

The 1980s have seen increased activity in the end-user market. Personal computers which can function as dial-up terminals are widely available, the intermediary market is nearing saturation, and the level of computer literacy in the world has greatly increased. A scan of the literature shows that discussions have moved from end-user vs. intermediary to the enhanced role of the intermediary as an information consultant. Today, there seems to be a general acceptance that information specialists will survive and that the number of endusers doing their own searching will increase.

WHY DO END-USERS WANT TO SEARCH?

It is human nature to want control of one's life. Knowing how to search gives end-users the ability to find information when they need it. Generally the desire for information is greatest when the thought to look for it first occurs. That desire decreases rapidly with time. To use the services of an intermediary, the end-user must first make contact. This may be done by phone, writing, or in person. Next, the search must be scheduled. Finally, the results of the search must be delivered to the end-user. This process from request to delivery may take as little as 15 minutes or as long as a couple of weeks. By eliminating the intermediary, the end-user gains control over the timing of the information retrieval process.

The end-user with an information need is the best person to understand what is needed and to judge when the need has been met. It is frequently difficult for an end-user to tell an intermediary exactly what is needed.In some cases the information need is not well defined and interaction with the database is necessary to help clarify the question.

There are users who like computers and enjoy using them to do almost anything. There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from a successful online search.

Marketing is being directed toward endusers. They are given the impression that they should be doing their own computer searching. Instruction on how to do online searching is being integrated into the educational process at all levels. (See "Business Students Find Leverage Online," by Michael Halperin and Steven J. Bell in the July 1988 issue of ONLINE for insight into the student/online training programs available at Wharton.)

Cost is a factor that may stop many endusers from doing their own searching. Suddenly the cost of information becomes apparent in a way that was not obvious with the printed sources on the library shelf. No one has yet come up with an online pricing scheme that adequately relates costs to the value perceived by the user. One would hope that there would be an economy of scale associated with a large number of end-user searchers. However, large numbers of end-users do not translate into large amounts of usage, at least not at current prices. …

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