TRAINING OUR BOSSES
One of the more delicate situations information professionals face is tactfully training people who outrank us. We all have to do it, not just librarians, but technical people, too, who have to teach management and marketing folks about the systems they're going to produce and sell. As an academic librarian, I've had to teach faculty new databases and show them new search engines. I've had to learn a few tricks about doing this without making them lose face. [And mind you, tact is not my strong suit. People have this way of giggling when I tell them that my original career goal was to become a diplomat. This was before somebody pointed out to be that one of the job requirements was being, er, diplomatic.]
The thing is, our superiors are used to being the experts. Having to admit they don't know something is hard on them; having to learn it from someone they outrank is even harder. If we can convince them that you're not really teaching them CONTENT they feel like they should know, but just an improved TECHNIQUE, we can increase their comfort level. We can make it known that because it's part of our job, we have the time they do not to learn new search systems and check out new web sites, and that we'll be happy to notify them of any good sites in their areas of interest that we come across.
One trick we can use is stressing things like convenience -- Did you know you can get full-text articles from our databases at home or in your office? Or we can stress the newness of something, so of course they couldn't reasonably be expected to know how to do it already -- Can I show you this great new database we just bought?
All of us who've been in the biz for a while have gotten puzzled "How did you do that?" reactions from our bosses at one time or another. We can capitalize on those. If our organization has an intranet or a company newsletter, we could offer a regular "How Did She Do That?" feature, in which we present some of our more intriguing discoveries while searching.
If we've performed some of our magic for our organization's head honchos, we can seek their endorsement for our presentations. Knowing the boss thinks something is important can dramatically increase both attendance and attentiveness.
It's always good to give our audiences a stake in our presentations. One way to do that is ask them to send us some of the research problems they're working on -- professional or personal -- so that we can use them in our demonstrations. (One of my standard searches on any new search system is the dissertation topic of one of my faculty friends.) Another way is to play to the known interests of your superiors. If one of them is a classic car enthusiast, we might demonstrate how to find classic car clubs and meets, online magazines for collectors, discussion groups, or car parts for a Model T.
We have to be prepared to wing it. Many of our superiors make their living talking; they value people who know enough to handle the unexpected and improvise good answers on the spot. Our formal presentations should leave lots of time for questions and answers.
We do need to keep in mind that nobody learns from lectures alone, no matter how good our lectures are. Lectures are good for explaining the logic behind what we're showing them. But that's only half of what they need to know; they also need finger knowledge of the systems to run their own searches. That's why I always try to divide my formal presentations between lecture time and playing around time, so they can have the positive reinforcement of getting usable results with the databases or search engines we've been showing them.
I always like to give them cheat sheets. For any presentation I give, I build a web page that repeats the key points of my talk and links in the important web pages and databases I point to for demonstration. I hand out copies of it so they can follow along, which cuts down on the amount of note-taking they feel they have to do. I also offer handouts on how to connect from home, detailed instructions on how to use the databases, the passwords to use, and any tutorials I've developed or found online. And of course, I always give them my e-mail address and phone number and tell them how happy I'll be to walk them through any problems they're having with any of this.
We do want to sell our bosses on the notion that we know how and where to find information quickly and efficiently, because this is our profession. We just need to stress that this is a separate thing altogether from THEIR expertise in keeping up with the ever-expanding knowledge in their own fields. If we do this with tact, we should convince our bosses that we are not in any sense competitors, but invaluable partners in achieving their personal and organizational goals.
ALTA VISTA INTERFACE
I'm told by Arnaud Fischer, AltaVista Network Search Group Product Manager, that they have just gone public with a new search interface, developed with a focus on serving Librarians and other serious Internet searchers, user education, and developing a community around Search with messages boards. (The official press release is at http://doc.altavista.com/company_info/press/pr022800.shtml. I think it offers some interesting new features. If you'd like to try out the new search interface, it's available at http://www.altavista.com/cgi-bin/query?pg=aq&what=web. You'll find a survey on the page where you can register your opinion of the new interface and your suggestions for improvements. Please do.
NOTE ON READING
On a related note, check out Sue Feldman's report on the SIGIR Conference [Special Interest Group for Information Retrieval of the Association for Computing Machinery] in the February issue of Searcher. I was especially interested in the suggestions for interface design based on the panel's research, the research on speech interfaces, and the Guidelines for Effective Screen Display from Catholic University. AND, these computer scientists and engineers want us to send them real-life search problems that their systems aren't very good at handling!
The ocean flows of online information are all streaming together, and the access tools are becoming absolutely critical. If you don't index it, it doesn't exist. It's out there, but you can't find it, so it might as well not be there.
Barbara Quint, Searcher, 1994.
There is no greater authorial sin than releasing a book without an index. It should even be made an indictable offense.
S.R. Ranganathan in Library Book Selection
You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.