What Is Networked Information?

There’s data, then there’s information. Information is meaningful and self explanatory, data need to be aggregated and analyzed before they become information. Networks — Ethernet and the internet — transmit data, but our web browsers and the back-end applications they connect to turn it into useful information.

“Networked information” is what results from building connections between multiple information sources. Displaying an author’s biography inline with the library catalog holdings of books by that author is one example of how the value of information sources grows when they’re networked.

The nature of librarianship requires a natural ability to combine information from multiple sources and present that to a patron, but technology has so far increased the number of discrete information sources while it limited the librarian’s role in helping to connect the dots between them.

What vendors haven’t delivered, and librarians have largely been unable to provide, is some electronic representation of the value that librarianship brings to information sources.

Part of the problem is that vendors within the library market have or control lots of valuable information, but they’re often inward facing, and the Googles of the world outside the library market can’t access the full range of library information (despite some high profile efforts).

One effort by libraries to solve this is to implement metasearch, where a search is simultaneously executed on several information databases. The promise of this is that it sidesteps the question of “which of the 20 databases at my library has the answers I need for this research paper?” But the result is actually more data, not more or better information, and certainly not better answers.

Instead, libraries need to use their automated systems to provide thoughtful advice to their patrons. When a patron searches for drug abuse in the library catalog, they need to offer links to the Opposing Viewpoints database for that subject.

Interoperability, via RSS or some other XML schema is absolutely essential for this to work. Library vendors will have to start building support for this interoperability, and librarians will have to work hard to find ways to take advantage of it.

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