Why you need an Information Professional – Checking your Sources

I watched an episode of CSI a few nights ago, # 180 – The Theory of Everything.

The episode itself is pretty amusing, for a former physics geek like me the name-dropping of famous scientists was a lot of fun. The big issue with this episode (and it’s huge) is their choice for the portrayal of certain small, ground dwelling animals. The ground squirrels were miscast.

The first image is the ‘ground squirrels’ depicted in the CSI episode. This is a Grey Squirrel. It lives in trees.

Grey Squirrel

Below, is the ‘Ground Squirrel’ I grew up with in Alberta. This particular variety is called the Richardson Ground Squirrel.

Richardsons Ground Squirrel

There are a great many species of ground squirrel around the world. None of them looks like the Grey Squirrel. Bushy tails are of little use underground.

I’m confused as to the reasons for this error. There are times when the ground squirrels appear to be CGI, and some where they appear to be trained animals. Perhaps it was an executive decision to use the cheaper trained Grey Squirrels with the assumption that very few people would notice.

Have businesses done the ‘squirrel swap’ thinking no one is going to notice? When are two products interchangeable? Even more important, when are two sources of information interchangeable?

In the knowledge economy, simple errors in information like this can have significant implications. Take the example of the Mars Climate Orbiter. Lockheed Martin used English measurements to program the Orbiter. NASA has been using metric since the 1990s. When the two systems tried to communicate, an error happened an a $125 million dollar project became an example in textbooks.

Solving these problems is what Information Professionals do.

External Learning – Finding Trusted Sources

One of the classic examples used by librarians to emphasize the importance of their profession is to type something into Google. Try this example

Paris

The context sensitivity of the results has increased significantly since the last time I tried this experiment, but the question still remains. Which Paris am I searching for? Paris, France; Paris Hilton, The Paris Hilton (as in the hotel) or Paris Idaho? I would then draw your attention to the number of results (580,000,000 as of 4:30 PM Eastern Time). The purpose of this example would be to show ‘JUST HOW MUCH INFORMATION IS OUT THERE!!!’.

Of course, research has shown that most people don’t click beyond the first few pages of a Google search and use strings of search terms that limits the amount of information pulled up by search engines.

One way to limit your overflow of information is to identify a number of trusted sources to go to for specific information. For example, when I am looking for information on American business trends, I tend to use Business Week. For international business, I turn to The Economist. For Web 2.0 software in public libraries, I turn to Jessamyn West at librarian.net. For business Knowledge Management software I like The App Gap . For general software, computer and personal information, I turn to MetaFilter.

I use my RSS reader, Google Reader to pull information from all of these sources into one central inbox. From there, I share any information I really like and will probably read again on my Google Reader share page. As you can see; American and Canadian politics, feminism, business, history and religious studies all interest me a great deal.

What you can do to ‘externalize’ your learning:

1) Identify individuals and groups providing information that you can depend on.

2) Aggregate that information any way you can. Clipping services, Factiva’s reminder service, RSS feeds are all solid and proven aggregation tools.

3) Review your sources periodically and remove outdated sources as needed.