Information Brokering or DIY
Chair: John Allred, Information for Learning
Speakers: Philippa Dobson, Head of Information Services, Information for Business and Anne Day, Information for Business, Leeds Library and Information Services
The two speakers presented two arguments for discussion: should individuals be helped to find the information they require/want or should they find it themselves.
The national scene was set by Philippa Dobson where important issues for information brokering have been raised by the proposals in the New Library: the People's Network, the National Grid for Learning, the University for Industry, The Learning Age green paper, and Learning Direct. Collaboration, rather than the creation of parallel universes, is likely to be the order of the day but, as Leeds Libraries have discovered, we cannot always refer people to other sources of information with confidence. It is easier to broker at local than at national level. Leeds 'RIDING' Metropolitan Area Network, part of the Yorkshire and Humberside 'clump', is hoping to develop access to Superjanet.
As well as the politics of national, regional and local collaboration there are concerns about serving users who may be the last in a chain and distant from the original information providers. How much do the providers know about the users? Who is looking after the content as well as the presentation? Funding, contracting, selling services and charging the users are difficult transactions to manage in the information world where so much of the intellectual property law in our area is untested. Collaboration and partnership must make learning for life a reality:
"Even the most misfitting child
Who's chanced upon the library's worth
Sits with the genius of the Earth
And turns the key to the whole world."
By Ted Hughes from his poem 'Hear it again' written for the report 'New library: the people's network' 1997
Anne Day continued by showing how, at local level, libraries had adapted to the vast range of information available by entering into partnerships. Leeds has partners with the TAP database, Leeds Careers Service, Business Link Leeds, LINX (Leeds Information Exchange), ON LINE @ LEEDS (an SRB project with the Education Department with specially appointed Learning Librarians) and with the BBC.
The discussion which followed considered the implications for users. It is always important to give them a choice between mediated help, or DIY. Independence in users is a valued achievement but requires training in information skills. How effectively do schools do this? It is an essential component in a culture of rights to information.
Even if people have the skills to retrieve information are our systems up to it? Do they really allow "exploration in high rewarding environments"? Scotia is available for use as a stand-alone service which makes the user interface critical. Libraries are in a good position to offer direct help to the users as appropriate, and to direct them to further help as needed. Our databases are gradually appearing on systems developed by others such as libraries. Are we moving to a state where there will be one distribution system for public access information. That has advantages in requiring users to learn only one system but puts a high premium on consistency in the data.