Provenance the Web Magazine

ISSN 1203-8954 - Vol.2, No.1 - November 1996

Quintessential Barbara:
Or Honey They've Shrunk Our Profession

by Teresa Murphy

Remember back five years ago, when an information professional only had to do their job with brilliance to be considered a star in the corporation?

Those days are gone and more changes are around the corner, according to information industry expert Barbara Quint, who believes that in the electronic marketplace, corporate executives increasingly see information professionals as overpriced hacks. Why? Because of the rise of the amateurs.

Barbara Quint has long been making her mark on the information industry. A recipient of the "online searcher of the year" award, former director of research at the Rand Corporation, editor-in chief of Searcher: The Magazine for Database Professionals, and owner of an information consulting firm, Quint makes it her business to know our industry. When she makes predictions we listen. When she gives advice, those of us who plan to succeed, pay attention.

"The coming changes mean there will be big winners and big losers. You may not agree with what I'm going to say, but generally speaking, I'm probably right."

The most deadly change, according to Quint, is this invasion of amateurs.

"Think about it for a minute," asserts Quint. Almost every person in your organization is continually bombarded with messages urging them to become part of the Internet culture. When you get that level of penetration, permeating every facet of corporate life, it's dangerous for us. If it continues, Quint believes at best we could find ourselves reduced to the level of handmaidens, at worst, our profession could collapse. Either way, Quint thinks we could be in a lose-lose position.

"Don't think these amateurs are harmless," warns Quint. "We work in perilous times, where in the corporate marketplace, amateur information experts are everywhere, in the form of end-users." They range from secretaries who spend hours surfing the Internet on evenings and weekends, to our bosses who, according to Quint, are just as likely to see themselves as information experts, or to listen to the amateurs, as they are to listen to us.

But characteristic of Quint, even the bad new she delivers is good. "While huge changes are underway and coming, if we can power through and take advantage of the changes, it will be better than good old success."

What does Quint recommend for those of us who want to win while working with and for amateurs?

First, Quint advises us to thoroughly understand change management. "Change is now the way of the corporation, and organizations will continue to undergo massive changes through re-engineering and outsourcing. "Whatever you do," warns Quint, don't compound your loss to amateurs by "hunkering down and waiting for things to settle down." Instead success depends on action, not reaction. Recognize the early warning signs and make sure you see what's coming. Be future oriented.

This means when you see new trends or unexpected problems or advantages with new technologies, think about how it all affects your workplace and your department. Stay ahead of it. Create new applications for the technology you have and variations on services you now provide.

Second, get feedback. "You live and die for feedback, says Quint. "That way you know what's working. Those who want information are the only ones who can gauge the value of it."

Quint advises information professionals to use reference questions as research, and to continually ask clients why they need the information and how they plan to use it. "Know where the information is coming from and where it's going to. Then develop user profiles and ensure that your clients get exactly what they want."

Educate your corporation on the trends. "Talent and knowledge are the new wave of the millennium," states Quint, who advocates that information professionals read management magazines and any other sources they can get their hands on. "Then educate your corporate through alerts." That way your bosses won't be blinking awake to discover they've missed new trends. Instead they'll be giving you recognition for your shared purpose. Third, Quint recommends information professionals become experts in delivering information in a competitive way. "We're in a time where the only things that are safe are things that sell. If you can prove you make or save money, your employer will keep you." To do that you must deliver information in a competitive way. Consider turning your library into a fee-for-service industry library.

Fourth, market yourself. Demonstrate how good you are and show your corporate big wigs how good you can make them look. When you do something, take credit for it and advertise it. As essential tool for your survival is getting in front of the people that matter and knowing what matters to them.

Quint also advocates creative ways of powering through change. For example, if your company starts outsourcing, carefully watch how it's done. And if the talent starts leaving, keep in touch with them. "They could be your future clients."

Let your company know you can help with the inevitable chaos that often surrounds re-engineering and downsizing. "Present your library as a service that can serve employees. Create a "library as your friend," a non-threatening place that is filled with service and fun," says Quint.

If your corporation or your clients view the Internet as the winner, and only Internet derived information as having value, "go with the winner," says Quint. "And put your talents into making the Internet reliable. Get every new piece of technology that will help you power search the Web."

The best way to design, build, acquire and market information for and to amateurs, according to Quint is by getting connected with colleagues. "Cooperate and coordinate with your colleagues. Share with them. Don't do things twice." Study others who are succeeding and learn their secrets. Master their techniques to eliminate trial and error.

And states Quint, "if you're going down, have some fun with it." Instead of being the incredible shrinking professional, look on it all as an adventure. "Develop a What's in it for me attitude. If the talent is leaving and you've get talent, hit the road," says Quint. "If you're connected and keep connected, you'll power through." And you'll show those amateurs who the overpriced hacks really are.

Teresa Murphy, is Director of Research, British Columbia Real Estate Association, and a regular contributing writer to a number of on-line publications.

© 1996 Teresa Murphy and The Provenance Electronic / Web Magazine

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