3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

October 15, 1997 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France enewsletter, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on October 15, 1997.
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3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France enewsletter, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Enewsletter subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us .

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us .

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FYI France: The New Information Profession, Ch. 2 -- Allies

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The New Information Profession: a "digital book"

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

(This is a continuation of the text begun in the FYI France issue of May 15, available online in ASCII to subscribers at,

Fyarch/fy970515.htm

and -- as soon as I can get it done, I promise -- to everyone in HTML at, i.e., http://www.fyifrance.com/fyi91401.htm )

Chapter 2: Allies -- who is doing what, now

The Information Profession which currently is in operation, helping people to find and use digital information, consists of a loose alliance of existing professions, supplemented by a vast and growing army of non - professionals located in the US, in France, and increasingly anywhere and everywhere else.

Any "Information Broker" is an "Information Professional", by this definition. There now are thousands of such "brokers" online, charging often - high hourly fees for locating strategic information for investors, business managers, researchers and clients of various types. Yahoo currently lists over 50 such services, at

http://www.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Companies/Information/Information_Brokers/

and offline printed commercial directories listing them are multiplying.

One of the largest and oldest information brokerage firms in fact is French. SVP, the Paris research organization established during the late 1930s by Maurice de Turckheim, and continued today by Brigitte de Gastines -- http://www.svp.com -- maintains links now to a global "SVP" network, operating in the US as FindSVP -- http://www.findsvp.com -- and offering a wide array of information research services.

A broad range of conferences and associations tries bravely to represent information brokering as an already - unified industry -- from the "National Online Meeting", held every year in New York City with over 7000 attendees -- http://www.infotoday.com/nom97/nom97.htm -- to Learned Information Co.(UK)'s various events in Europe and Asia -- http://info.learned.co.uk/ -- such as their "Online Information", "Internet World", "Corporate Information Strategy", and "Information Management" conventions. And one suspects that such events still cover only a small percentage of this very new and relatively unorganized "information brokering" activity.

A better - organized and certainly older professional group, now increasingly involved in the Information Profession, is the Indexers.

The print publishing industry has employed indexers for centuries: individuals who comb through the body of a text looking for key terms -- words and phrases which will have "relevance" for a "reader" -- and who then arrange these in hierarchical tables which will be easy for readers to use. A vast array of published "indexes" has developed, performing the indexing service not just for a particular text but across an often - vast assortment of texts, arranging them by "author", "title" and "subject" and otherwise into lists enabling readers to find a particular text. Professional societies for these activities exist, such as the American Society of Indexers, http://www.well.com/user/asi/

Online the impact of indexers and indexing is being felt heavily now, as, with the growth of the number of online resources, the task of enabling "search and retrieval" has become the primary user service. Among the leaders in Internet investment excitement during the past two years have been online "indexing" services such as Yahoo, Altavista, Excite, Lycos, Inktomi and dozens of others. The problem of "indexing the Internet" is receiving attention in projects in numerous information science and computer science departments, and "digital library" projects, in various countries. The old questions of whether and how to arrange human knowledge, which faced the print publishers of the 16th and 17th centuries, are being re - opened for the digital age.

The assembly and publication of vast lists of books, periodicals, and other items -- held by libraries, museums and other collectors -- might best be considered an extension of the indexer's activity. Again, professionals, performing the service of helping people to find information, increasingly in digital formats and online. The print information industry and its associated library profession have built numerous professional "cataloging" organizations, claiming thousands of members, found in any country which has had a tradition of print publication or librarianship.

Great numbers of "librarians" and "curators" and "collectors" who are not formal members of these groups nevertheless are fully engaged in "indexing" and "cataloging" activities, in addition. Most have had to help users in the past, at one time or another, with physical indexing and classification systems, from "card catalogs" to shelf and file arrangements: explaining, cajoling, finding short cuts, rationalizing. Any one of them who recently has helped a user to find information online -- certainly directly showing someone "which button to push", but perhaps also indirectly, by organizing "indexing" and "cataloging" data so that it is easier to use -- has been working in the new Information Profession.

A less - obvious candidate for Information Professional -- less obvious than "Indexers" or "Catalogers", whose primary activity is "information", or than "Information Brokers", who carry the term itself in their name -- might be lawyers:

Lawyers are members of an ancient, disciplined, and elaborately - regulated profession of their own. Their professional activities span a very wide range. Lawyers may be found negotiating business deals, resolving family disputes, writing documents, doing research in books and online, as well as -- by no means their greatest time commitment -- arguing cases in court.

The research part of law -- including the part of it involved in advising clients -- increasingly is online. A large and increasing part of legal education consists of mastering digital information search and retrieval techniques. Attornies in firms devote considerable hours to helping each other find information online, and quite a number of them even help their clients with it -- no one law partner has a monopoly on Lexis, Westlaw or EC database research techniques, much less on all of the new state court Websites, and few attornies have been able to get all their clients "just to trust them" without showing clients how to get information themselves.

That information and those techniques increasingly are digital: the attornies have become Information Professionals -- the legal researcher today, "must live in two worlds: paper and electronic...", it used to be a world of "traditional sets of books", but, "that world is gone" (R. Berring, Finding the Law, West, 10th ed. pp.4-6).

Beyond lawyers and librarians, then, and the newer set of professionals working in information who call themselves "brokers", is a large assortment of people working in and around the traditional print publishing industries:

The variety of writers who now address digital information issues is vast, from the many authors of "how to" books about word processing or the Internet to journalists who compose, and mount online, increasingly - sophisticated pieces which test the limits of the online media.

In addition, though, the graphic designers and -- above all, perhaps -- the editors who have helped writers in the past in their often - clumsy and always - impatient efforts at dealing with the public, now gradually are emerging into the digital realms as well: word processor editing and Internet spell - checking no longer are sufficient -- Web browser WYSIWYG / "What You See Is What You Get" editors are not enough -- in a digital information world in which corporations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars designing and promoting their Websites. As the sophistication of the design, production and publication of digital texts has grown, so has the tendency for writers to seek out professional help for their illustrations, formatting, and text editing. Graphic designers and editors increasingly are learning to use email, and more.

Even if authors themselves do not seek out editors online -- relations between editors' skills and authors' egos always have been ambivalent -- publishers push them toward each other.

The business model for print publishers in the Digital Age has not yet been developed -- a matter more of its economics now than of anything else about it. The new digital publishers who are emerging, however -- econference moderators, webmasters, campus and corporate information policy committees, pioneering search engine and "push" technology news firms -- are urging authors toward the professional help of graphic designers and text editors, just as their predecessor print publishers did.

Whoever wins the various races to dominate digital publishing which now are under way -- the old print industry or the new digital publishing mavericks or some combination of the two -- it seems that publishers, at least, forever will guarantee a role for graphic designers and text editors, as well as for authors, as Information Professionals.

It would be unfair, and inaccurate, to minimize the role played by engineers in helping people to use digital information. Engineers, after all, invented most of the new techniques and the artifacts of those techniques.

The engineering orientation, however, is less toward people than it is toward those techniques and artifacts. For every engineer who has devoted her or his life to people, there have been a hundred who simply have been fascinated with the machines and techniques and systems. Bless the engineers: as with so much in labor - saving and human - helping technique, digital information would not be here today without them. But the Information Profession takes engineering's next step, asking, "now that we have the techniques and the systems, what can we do to help people to use them?"

Teachers are better at this. Helping students learn techniques is, after all, their profession. Yet one of the greatest ironies of the digital information revolution so far has been the lack of attention paid to training teachers to use it.

Computers have been donated to schools, now, and campuses have been wired for massive information networks, on every continent in the world, in some cases for many years. But little effort has been put anywhere into instilling enthusiasm and skill -- and making available time and resources -- for the teaching personnel charged with training students in the use of the new techniques.

In many cases -- perhaps most -- the computers just sit there. The new Ethernet and ISDN plugs hang on the paint - peeled walls of ancient and decrepit buildings. There is inadequate plumbing and heating and electricity, except for the current newly - supplied to the computer power grid. The underpaid teachers face 37 children every morning, and have no time to work in new curriculum even if they had personal knowledge of how to use the new techniques.

Just as engineers are perhaps ill - suited by temperament and training to aid users of digital information directly, so one of the professions best - suited for the task -- teachers -- has found itself, for various complex reasons, largely excluded from the digital learning curve.

A few politicians are coming, at last, to realize this. In his prescription for the "wiring" of his nation for the digital information age, the new French Prime Minister declares, "The computer may not substitute in any way for the teacher... Three types of action are important and inseparable: generalizing the equipment and the access to information networks; educating the instructors; and supporting the creation of appropriate curriculum" (L. Jospin's speech of August 25, translated and reported in the FYI France ejournal for Sep 15, 1997 -- http://www.fyifrance.com ).

One further, perhaps least - likely, group among those currently involved or in a position to become involved in helping users with digital information are artists. Digital techniques, like any other, offer possibilities for self - expression. As the techniques improve, the range of possibilities for self - expression which they offer not only increases but enables more subtle variations. Artists are attracted to such variety and, increasingly, artists are being attracted to digital information technique and the Internet.

Perhaps artists do not "train users" as directly as teachers do, or might. But artists do stretch the boundaries of whatever techniques or media they adopt, almost by definition, and this boundary - stretching teaches the rest of the users about new possibilities which they themselves might never have considered.

So, at http://www.hotwired.com/rgb/ , a teacher or an engineer or an attorney now may find -- or perhaps a Web developer, wanting to make an easier or more interesting if at times more confusing life for one of these hard - working Information Professionals, now may find -- "RGB Gallery", an online running digital information art exhibition, which features things like,


Summary

The traditional differences among these various groups -- information brokers, indexers, catalogers, lawyers, writers, graphic designers, editors, publishers, engineers, teachers, and artists -- are many. Their new similarity is that many of their members now are engaged, indirectly or very directly, in helping users to find and use digital information.

Does this mean that the Information Profession of the future will be composed of a combination of all these groups? Are these various professionals allies, or are they competitors, or will some of them fall by the wayside -- or under the wheels -- as the digital information juggernaut trundles by?

The answers to these final questions are not clear yet. For now perhaps it is enough to note that increasing numbers of information brokers, indexers, catalogers, lawyers, writers, graphic designers, editors, publishers, engineers, teachers, and artists -- and others -- are having more fun, and perhaps even becoming more productive and already earning more money, helping people to find and use digital information, than they were when they practiced only their traditional professions. There may be a budding Information Profession in this similarity alone.

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FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal                   ISSN 1071 - 5916

      *
      |           FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic journal,
      |           published since 1992 as a small - scale, personal,
      |           experiment, in the creation of large - scale
      |           "information overload", by Jack Kessler. Any material
     / \          written by me which appears in FYI France may be
    -----         copied and used by anyone for any good purpose, so
   //   \\        long as, a) they give me credit and show my e - mail
  ---------       address and, b) it isn't going to make them money: if
 //       \\      if it is going to make them money, they must get my
                  permission in advance, and share some of the money which
they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their
permission. FYI France archives are at http://infolib.berkeley.edu (search
fyifrance), or http://www.cru.fr/listes/biblio-fr@cru.fr/ (BIBLIO-FR
econference archive), or at http://www.fyifrance.com , or at
http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html . Suggestions, reactions,
criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all will be gratefully received
at kessler@well.sf.ca.us .

        Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.

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Last update: October 29, 1997.