Sometimes, during this world of electronically created and electronically stored information it’s easy to overlook the full range of challenges presented in information management. Last week I was reminded of the vast array of considerations necessary for creating, maintaining and retrieving information in multiple formats.
- I spent time considering the best methods for an internal digitization project.
- I received a call during a whirlwind trip to Silicon Valley that the new roof had leaked right above my desk and thus right above some very delicate materials that I had pulled to be sent for conservation treatment.
During dinner in the Silicon Valley my companions asked me what the best method was for conducting a search corpus.
With those three activities being but a miniscule illustration of the challenges of managing information I wonder if technologists and information professionals are really working cooperatively to meet the challenges.
It was truly the dinner conversation that made me think more deeply about the capabilities and communications of information professionals. When I was asked if the majority of current information school/library school students were trained as well as they should be on some of the more technical issues in managing information; I had to say probably not.
Granted, I may be underinformed, I know that several I-Schools are doing a really good job of introducing more technology into the curriculum. However, after two years of consulting and seeing the front lines of organizational challenges in managing information and advising clients on retrieval of information, I think some gaps exist.
The tech guys that were asking me about the search corpus were pleased to discover that sophisticated and/or simple search methods could be employed for the activity. They did seem a bit surprised for this demonstration to work, the information being searched had to be a known set. I analogized for them, saying that if I were testing a search system for Kentucky legal materials, I would conduct a search on summary judgment. If Steelvest wasn’t retrieved, that would be a failure.
I think using technology is a strong focus in I-schools now. I think a gap exists in understanding the power of search methods within those technologies. I know I didn’t pay enough attention during the Reference course, because I often forget the best sources to use for known questions. (That’s why I call a great reference librarian, when I really need something.) The problem of using appropriate search techniques, in any technical search solution, is similar.
It is so easy, for even professionals, to type in a few keywords and get results. It puts a great trust in the creators of the search engines in understanding Boolean structure and creating the algorithms that work. Information professionals using those search engines are also given a great deal of trust in that they are searching within the right context and or database and they know what they are seeking. That is the major challenge of information retrieval.
Are we seeking content from the correct bucket?
Is the search structured correctly?
Did the search engine programmers test the structured searches thoroughly with a well established corpus?
If we can answer yes to those questions, the challenges of managing information are made that much easier. If you don’t know the answer to those questions and you don’t understand what information should be retrieved, problems exist.
In this age of global electronic information and the joy of Google, information professionals must be informed about more than keywords. We must understand the technical structure and the body of information behind search solutions. That knowledge is the emerging challenge of information management and retrieval.