Exploring Information Brokering

By Rugge, Sue; Gullikson, Cindy | Information Today, May 1991 | Go to article overview

Exploring Information Brokering


Rugge, Sue, Gullikson, Cindy, Information Today


Exploring Information Brokering

What is an independent information professional, also known as an information broker (IB)? In 1972, John Berry, editor of Library Journal, predicted that fee-based information gathering services would be the "downfall of the public library system." Today they are a respected and integral part of the information industry.

In this column in the coming year, we will explore in-depth the who, what, why, when and how of this explosively expanding field. We will address such questions as, "When should I use an information broker?" and "Do I want to become one?" Topics, comments and contributors are welcome and encouraged.

The U.S. was introduced, albeit in a non-explosive way, to the concept of "information brokering" in 1971 when Georgia Finnigan (now President of the Information Store) and I on the west coast and Andy Garvin and Kit Bingham on the east coast started our respective companies, Information Unlimited and FIND/SVP. When John Berry editorialized that Georgia and I would be the downfall of the public library, I couldn't believe that we held that much power. Twenty years later information brokering is going strong and has forged new partnerships within the library and information industries. We have even served as role models for public, academic and corporate libraries who now offer fee-based information gathering services.

Information should be freely accessible, but that is quite different from being free. Within the library community, selling information has always been circumspect at best--but that is not what we do. We sell our expertise. As information professionals we are taught to locate sources and creatively devise strategies for ferreting out information. If accountants, lawyers, doctors and consultants can sell their expertise, why not librarians or other research people? One distinction between an information professional working from within a larger organization and an independent information professional is the source of compensation. Whereas librarians within organizations are paid salaries, the independent information broker is compensated by the project fees, but the reference tasks at hand are very similar.

Most of us information professionals consider ourselves problem solvers, not just online researchers. Part of our expertise is knowing how to question our clients in order to get to the root of what they are really trying to accomplish. It is a fact of human nature that people do not ask for something they don't think is possible to do. Therefore, doing a good "reference interview" is a vital service we offer. I am reminded of the client who first called to get the number of hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in

California. We assured her we could find this number. But when asked what she hoped to do with this count, she said that she wanted to prove to her boss that it would take at least six months for her to enter all the names and addresses from the yellow pages into a database he wanted to build. When we told her we could provide her such a database the next day, she was astounded. It never occurred to her to ask for the database because she was totally unaware of online technology.

Knowing when to go online and, even more important, when to stay off and open a book or pick up the telephone, is another aspect of our expertise. It is much cheaper and faster to open up the Encyclopedia of Associations to find a phone number for an association. However, if you need to know all the conventions in a particular field or geographical location, online is the way to go.

While in the beginning information brokers were at best misunderstood and at worst maligned or just ignored, we are currently seen as offering both an interesting career option as well as a professional resource for librarians and information specialists. …

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