Abby Goodrum: Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions about strategies for staying up to date in the changing world of online information. To start, could you tell our readers what you do?
Paula J. Hane: I’m the news bureau chief for Information Today, Inc. (ITI). My main focus is to monitor and assess the news of the library and information industries. I cover information products and the companies that produce information as well as the concerns of users of information products—both librarians and end-users. I monitor trends and new technologies.
I’m responsible for the news coverage on the Infotoday.com website, including our weekly by-lined NewsBreaks and the Weekly News Digests. I write a monthly news column for the print Information Today newspaper, as well as occasional feature articles and interviews. I write a monthly spotlight article for our free e-newsletter, NewsLink, and the monthly specialty scan column about news resources for CyberSkeptics Guide to Internet Research. I provide weekly news updates and ongoing alerts to the ITI editors and company executives.
How did you come to this work?
I’m a librarian and have worked in both public and academic libraries. I was humanities reference librarian at the State University of New York at Purchase for 12 years. I did collection development, taught research methods, and worked closely with students on senior projects. After authoring a number of library technology related articles and deciding to leave academia, I became editor of Database magazine (published by Online, Inc.) from 1988 to 1996. I’ve been with ITI since 1996. I’m also the editor of Great Scouts!: CyberGuides for Subject Searching on the Web (by Nora Paul and Margot Williams; 1999) and the author of Super Searchers in the News: The Online Secrets of Journalists and News Researchers, (2000).
Have you ever worked with journalists from mainstream news media?
I get phone calls and e-mail requests from journalists looking for background, insights, and comments on companies, trends, and issues in the library and information industry.
Getting to interview 10 top journalists and news researchers while working on my Super Searcher book was a wonderful experience for me—and the reason I agreed to do the book. I learned so much from their stories and insights.
What educational courses or degrees helped you to prepare for this job?
My Bachelor’s degree in English literature is from the University of Minnesota. I have an MLS (Masters in Library Science) from Columbia University and a Masters in English from New York University. My research skills and writing capabilities—honed over many years of school and work—are really what allow me to do what I do.
I’ve been an online database searcher since the early 1980s (back when acoustic couplers were cool). I was an early adopter and promoter of PC technology, e-mail, and the web.
What information resources do you turn to every day?
E-mail/press releases from company and industry contacts, my 70+ RSS feeds (via Bloglines) and news alerts, and:
And, of course, there’s ITI’s own e-newsletters and blogs (that I just happen to think are essential reading…):
Marydee Ojala’s Online Insider
What information resources do you turn to at least once a month?
Print journals: Online, Searcher, EContent, Information Today, Computers in Libraries, Information Outlook, Information World Review
How do you find new resources or tools?
The resources I listed above help greatly with this. I also monitor key blogs and discussion lists for scoop and buzz and network with colleagues extensively—by phone, e-mail, and at conferences. It also helps to read broadly and stay alert to larger venues than just the library world and information industry—I read Wired, the Washington Post, San Jose Mercury News, etc.
What one free resource or tool would you consider paying for if you had to?
The Wayback Machine from the Internet Archive. I’m able to trace back to find information that’s been removed from websites—a very useful resource for investigative reporting.
What frustrates you the most about searching for information?
I’m frustrated by the “noise” on the web. The openness, immediacy, and proliferation of all manner of content and opinion on the web mean a tradeoff with quality and credibility of information. The challenge is to sift through the noise and distractions (and the restatements of press releases) and get to the solid content.
I’m also frustrated when people think that everything is searchable on web search engines. While it’s true that Google is out to digitize books and everything else it can get its hands on, there’s still a huge body of human knowledge not currently searchable with a general search engine. Libraries make a wealth of content available from subscription sources—if only people can be made aware. There are still many hidden and important resources.
Where do you see search engine technology evolving over the next few years?
Search engines are beginning to make serious connections with library content—working with OCLC’s WorldCat and other collections. I hope we’ll see additional cooperative approaches to making the technology functional for seamless user access to library content. I think we’ll also see more personalization features, with the expected tradeoffs in privacy and more obnoxious presentation of advertising in our search results. Users will gain increasing search capabilities for multimedia—photos, audio, video, and many more entertainment options. And options for mobile computing (for handhelds and cell phones) will continue to grow. We may see more visualization capabilities in search solutions—from companies like Groxis, Silobreaker, and Visual Analytics.
What trends should we watch for in databases over the next few years?
Increasing numbers of digitization projects will make many new resources available, such as archives, manuscripts, out-of-print books, public records, etc. We’ll see a range of media that mixes text, audio, video, graphics, and data. We’ll see more emphasis on user-generated content. Social networking and interactivity will enhance the depth of our content. I expect we’ll have additional text mining capabilities, as software enables sophisticated entity identification, extraction, and correlation of unstructured content. Privacy and security concerns and the recent rash of data thefts may cause some restrictions in database content availability (such as SSNs) or in permitted access.
What is your thinking about podcasting?
It’s very popular and can provide interesting access to personal interviews. I don’t personally enjoy hearing news read in podcasts but it is a good medium for getting a personality across and for adding immediacy and depth to news coverage.
Could you comment on RSS feeds — their utility and their drawbacks?
As you can guess from my previous responses, I’m a huge believer is getting content via RSS feeds rather than cluttering my e-mail inbox. There’s an amazing array of content types available by feeds (trade articles, e-journal contents, blog updates, even EDGAR filings and Supreme Court arguments). But, it’s important to keep your feeds to a manageable number (I try to stay around 70)—reevaluate regularly and purge redundant or unhelpful feeds.
One excellent source for news feeds is Moreover, a headline aggregator. This page lets you choose feeds from pre-built topical categories and even create your own feed with a keyword search. Moreover also offers a comprehensive line of online news solutions for corporations and commercial websites that provide more sources and features.
Do you ever go to blogs for information?
Yes, absolutely. There are some key bloggers that I must monitor regularly. Bloggers can be a fabulous resource—when you know who and what is involved and have developed some trust for their credibility. Blogs can also provide the “pulse” for topics and issues. But I also caution folks to watch out for bloggers that rush to break a story but don’t have all the facts. Whatever the source, we can’t forget the importance of cross-checking and verifying.
What advice do you have for journalists trying to keep up with rapidly expanding and ever-evolving information resources?
Keeping current is really an ongoing process that takes some planning and effort. It’s not just a list of the best resources.
First, work closely with your librarians—they’re your best friends.
Second, here are my theories of keeping current:
What advice do you have for librarians trying to help journalists keep up?
What question should I have asked you but didn’t?
Would I choose this work again? And my answer would be: absolutely.
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