Making Knowledge Work

October 25, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — virginiahenry @ 9:19 am

I’ve been the ‘away-from-it-all’ holidaying me – spending a few sunny (and a couple of rainy) days exploring Portugal’s silver coast and visiting lovely Lisbon.

In the days before leaving London, I was doing some thinking and talking about identity.

Met up with a group of willing thinkers at a Mindstretch run by Karen Drury and Gary Saunders – fe3 .  The session was “Who do you think you are?”, and Karen led us through discussion of some interesting definitions and facets of selfhood.  We talked about stereotyping, and about the various, sometimes transient, identities endowed by certain roles and events. We exchanged examples of the multiple selves an individual might employ, and looked at the implications of professional and ‘organisational identification’.  It was interesting to consider the predicaments of bank workers who might have identified themselves as being members of respected, responsible organisations, and of Exxon employees twenty years ago, when the Valdez laid waste to more than a thousand miles of Alaskan coastline.  And it was sobering to think about the effects on individuals’ self-perception when their organisations revise familiar corporate identities.

A few days earlier I’d been considering other interesting questions associated with identity and identification when I went along to a SLA Europe discussion on ‘The Google-isation of [Re]search’.  Professor David Nicholas, Director of the Department of Information Studies at UCL kicked things off by talking about some of the findings and recommendations of his ‘Google Generation’ study – that libraries are becoming decoupled from users who want “fast bag pick-up” information; that lack of e-consumer friendliness is a serious threat to virtual scholarship; that a proactive role needs to be taken by information professionals to get information skills onto the educational agenda.  Interfaces should be easy to use and personalised, should look and feel more like social network applications than impersonal, impenetrable academic research sites.

Kathy Jacobs confirmed the demand for ‘Google simplicity’ in her case study of implementing a federated search platform at Pinsent Masons.  Their Solcara solution has simplified access to multiple databases, and usage has consequently increased by 15-20%.  Although no user training’s needed, Kathy made the point that training in research skills is important – as are scare stories to deter novices from relying on popular, but unverified sources.  They’re opting for three levels of search: Basic, Do More and Expert, and in future implementations they’ll also look to cater for those who favour browsing. Kathy had begun by recalling a conversation with a senior colleague (and I found myself wondering if he’d identify himself as ‘Google Generation’) who couldn’t see the point of specialist libraries and databases “when we’ve got Google”.  I hope he’s converted to ‘Do More’ now….

The third speaker, Professor Roger James, Director of Information Systems at Westminster University had some neat, if accusatory, statements to make:  “Compete with Google and you’ll lose!”  “Everybody here works for Google”.  “For information professionals, creation is growing and curation is shrinking”.  The points he made were good, but it didn’t feel that he identified with his audience, and that somehow got in the way ….or maybe I’m meaning empathy rather than identity here.  Anyhow, I appreciated the energy with which he described his “Content Arms Race” – that it was impossible to put his arms about the corpus of information of his organisation because of its fragmented nature and the many inaccessible servers it was distributed across.  I think a lot of people could identify with that predicament.

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