Magazine article Information Today

Round the Clock, Round the World

Magazine article Information Today

Round the Clock, Round the World

Article excerpt

What this globe needs is good 24-hour virtual library service. At least, that's this searcher's opinion after attending the SCOUG (Southern California Online Users Group) annual workshop in late April.

This year's topic was the "Radical Redesign of Reference and Research." To put it mildly, the workshop was fabulous. [See this month's Report from the Field by Doris Helfer on page 21 and next month's Searcher for more details.] Anyone who knows me knows how near and dear SCOUG is to my heart, but believe me when I tell you that it was a magnificent session. It also constituted the most successful seminar in SCOUG's 21-year history. Over 500 people attended the meeting. The previous attendance record for SCOUG workshops ran around 375. The leading journal for reference librarians, RUSQ (formerly RQ), plans to publish the proceedings from the workshop as a theme issue.

Several key points stuck in my mind. The saddest was a statistic. With traditional reference service, librarians reach 10 percent of their potential clientele on average. If that's true or anywhere close to true, that's sad. The most challenging statistic came from a leading academic librarian. To educate the world of people heading toward college age across the world, we would have to build a major university a week for years.

Basically, traditional reference/research operations combine labor-intensive personal interfaces (a k a librarians) with collections of locationally restricted resources (i.e., reference collections), which users must visit physically or call, if lucky, at specific buildings during open hours. As accomplished and comfortable as this kind of structure may be to the lucky ones who have a good library and know how to use it, the model simply will not "scale" to meet the tasks ahead of us. You just can't get there from here.

The Task Ahead

Only digital data has the flexibility to satisfy future needs. You can merge it, move it, reformat it, even print it. With the Web growing by leaps and bounds, the infrastructure is under development to reach every potential user, and that's everyone on the planet, ultimately. Efficiency, cost constraints, and our professional duty and responsibility require today's information professionals to aim their best efforts towards creating the very best information services we can build or find on the very best delivery medium the world has ever seen. Print will not die, but it will become an adjunct, a secondary medium.

Speaker after speaker at the workshop addressed different aspects of the task ahead, but one common note ran through many of the presentations. In today's (or tomorrow morning's) world, the standard for service is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most of us now assume that any mail-order catalog we get will have an 800 number and that we can call that number at any time to find someone waiting to take our order. Of course, people who want our money must expect to grovel for it, but even computer support godlings offer day and night service now. If you ever have to re-install Windows (crying towel anyone?), call at 2 a.m. for quicker and more leisurely support. And, of course, anything run by a computer-like ATM machines or stock portfolio checking systems-clearly must operate round the clock. After all, computers don't have labor unions or OSHA to protect them.

As more and more information goes digital and more and more people get comfortable with using digital data (remember, some children learn to use their home computer before they can read), the standard of round-the-clock service becomes a basic quality measure for any information service.

Some Good News, Some Bad News

So what does this all mean for vendors? I can see many of you licking your chops from here ("Mmmm, end users ... I love 'em-especially with mint sauce."). True, the online information industry has 24hour service to sell. It has masses of data from established, often world-renowned, sources. …

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