Everyone wants information, but too few people value the information management professionals who provide it. While 55 percent of knowledge providers say they add "a lot of value" to the enterprise, only 34 percent of executives say the same.
“The Evolving Value of Information Management” report was commissioned by the Financial Times and the Special Libraries Association to look at the “evolving value” of today’s information management pros, by which it means roles that might otherwise be called digital librarians or even heads of research.
The Challenge of Google
People seeking information often bypass information management professionals. Instead, they rely on DIY searches on sites like Google. And while that may seem efficient, it leaves many users struggling with information overload. An information professional could help, the report suggests.
Enterprise organizations understand that. It's a key reason why these info professionals are still in demand — and why nearly half of the surveyed executives predict an increased level of interaction with knowledge providers in the next three years.
The report appears to define information management professionals as those who were “once the custodians of dusty paper libraries” — i.e., librarians or library science professionals — where other times it seems to be describing what might be called data analysts, dissecting Big Data for insights.
By any definition, what qualities should these professionals possess? The report identified five key attributes. They should understand:
- How to communicate the value of the enterprise
- Understanding what drives the business
- How to manage the information process
- The importance of maintaining technical skill
- The need to provide decision-ready information
But information access and management of information continues to evolve at breakneck speed. And the trend toward self-service via Google and other services is the top challenge info providers face, followed, respectively, by the need to demonstrate ROI, stay within budget, control costs and overcome lack understanding by others.
Funding for information professionals in many organizations, especially public ones, have been reduced even as the volume of information has increased. For executives, the top challenges of information management are, in order: information overload, sifting through found information, information relevancy, obtaining up-to-date information and timeliness of the information.
A Good Filter
Matching up these two perspectives, it seems info providers are most concerned about users going around them and trying to do their own info searching/filtering, while executives are most concerned about not having good enough filters to manage information. In other words, the report indicated, information professionals provide the service that executives need — if only executives would use them.
Knowledge of subscription-based services and the most effective ways to use search engines are some of the ways that information management professionals can make the lives of executives easier. The report cites one information provider who noted “there’s a whole layer of the web that’s just not publicly available, and that’s where most of the best information is. But people don’t even know that.”
Essentially, this is the librarian’s complaint. The “unedited Internet,” driven by the “Google mentality,” means that non-expert searchers are getting low signal-to-noise by doing it themselves and then complaining about it. The role of info professionals, the report advises, is to prove how they can access or teach others "to access more information than they can do in isolation.
The report implicitly recognizes that information-seeking tools like Google are evolving along with the role of info professionals. Knowledge agents like Siri or Watson, better search tools within Google and Bing, and countless other developments mean that the librarian-versus-the-untutored-searcher may not be a long-term sustainable argument.
Instead of seeing themselves are being technical experts, working in a silo and providing information to others, the report advises that information managers to become skilled at coaching others to find information. In other words, leave the silo of the library and integrate within the organization.
From the report, "The Evolving Value of Information Management"
In fact, the report recommends that info providers try to become more like human versions of the preference filters in Amazon, Spotify and Netflix, where systems learn what users want. This is interesting advice, since it points to the long-term dilemma faced by info management pros — being replaced by software. This is an age when IBM’s Watson, available remotely, could soon outperform any information experts in such complex fields as medicine. Such possibilities are central to the need for info management professionals to evolve.