Re-intermediating research

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Estimated reading time 2–2 minutes

A fine example of how much inspiration you can get from randomly talking to the people who are actually engaging with customers was given to me by our Research Guide last week.

She wants a video-tagging tool that includes chat functionality, some kind of interactive “pointing” facility, and plenty of metadata fields for adding and describing tags. When she is helping a customer to find the perfect bit of footage, she often finds herself in quite detailed discussions trying to explain why she thinks a shot meets their needs or in trying to understand what it is they don’t like about a particular scene. If they could both view the same footage in real time linked by some sort of online meeting functionality, they would be able to show each other what they meant and discuss and explain requirements far more easily and precisely.

This struck me as exactly how we should as information professionals be seizing new technologies to “re-intermediate” ourselves into the search process. Discussing bits of video footage is a particularly rich example, but what if an expert information professional could have a look at your search results and give you guidance via a little instant chat window? You could call up a real person to help you when you needed it without leaving your desk, in just the same way that online tech support chats work (I’ve had mixed experiences with those, but the principle is sound). I’m thinking especially of corporate settings, but wouldn’t it be a fantastic service for public libraries to offer?

It seems such a good idea I can’t believe it’s not already being done and would be very pleased to hear from anyone out there who is offering those sorts of services and in particular if there are any tools that support real time remote discussion around audio visual research.

‘We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die’

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Estimated reading time 2–3 minutes

I heard Umberto Eco lecture on the search for a perfect language about 20 years ago and still find myself referencing him (trying to create a taxonomy that suits everyone would seem to be a similar quest). The lectures were nothing to do with my course really, so I benefited from that serendipitous knowledge discovery that just happens when you have time and space to explore ideas. So I was pleased when a few weeks ago this interview with Eco in der Spiegel happened upon me in the twittersphere (what’s the protocol for referencing tweets?). In the interview, Eco asserts that ‘We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die’ .

It’s arguable that we do most things because we don’t want to die, but I was struck by the depiction of how fundamental the urge to collect and classify is to culture. At the LIKE dinner in early December, Cerys Hearsy said “we like hierarchies. We understand how they work” and she was talking about modern records management. Jan Wyllie in Taxonomies: Frameworks for Corporate Knowledge points out that taxonomies have been used for millennia (something I also reference frequently). Perhaps we like dualities because our brain has two hemispheres and we dream of a taxonomy of everything because then we would have conquered infinity and death itself, but such ideas are way beyond what I can speculate sensibly about. What I can say is that lists and taxonomies have been useful for so long that anyone who bets they are going to vanish anytime soon is facing very long odds. We will create them differently as technology advances, and we will manage without them in many situations where they would be helpful (if New Scientist had a taxonomy, I might have found the article about duality and the brain), but when we really need to be sure, we will create them.