Info Pros Are Searching

This week, the Special Libraries Association held its annual confab in Denver. Perhaps the SLA is improperly named now, as this gathering of over 5,000 information professionals is focused on finding and delivering appropriate online resources. It’s certainly not about physical libraries anymore.

When I spoke with attendees, many sounded more like well-funded web site publishers. They want to provide strong search functionality and have very specific requirements. They also are trying to upgrade their sites, create or use RSS feeds, and decide if blogs help. Success is measured by site visitors and overall traffic.

According to SLA Director Cara Battaglini, there are over 11,000 members and growing. They act as info tech purchasers and online curators for their organizations, including law firms, hospitals, news organizations, museums and non-profits, and companies.

At one session, we heard how Intel created useful access to proprietary and open web resources for its employees. Barclay Hill, who managed this year-long project, is a web and systems expert. He created a very straightforward search interface to meet the specialized and general needs of employees. His paper (see Federated Search at the Intel Library) outlines the entire project in detail.

Another professional oversees health information resources for a large hospital group. She’s unnamed here, because she feels her current role will diminish over time. Today she actively organizes her web site, working with different publisher interfaces and feeds. While her efforts are appreciated, this expert looks forward to the day when there are well-curated vertical searches and resources used by all health professionals.

Thomas Calcagni, SLA’s chief communication strategist, said the SLA embraces the changing roles of information professionals. They teach business skills right along with info technologies. The functional specialties are emerging, including SLA divisions covering competitive intelligence and knowledge management. Members know they must redefine themselves and are specializing quickly.

Librarians have become a nearly-extinct species within non-profits and businesses. They are rapidly transforming into information portal experts instead, and their search expertise will need to ramp up as well. If the SLA sessions are any indication, they are busy sharing how things work. I’m betting many visit SEW already.

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