Information Insights

Frank Parry (Academic Librarian, Loughborough University)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




Parry, F. (2000), "Information Insights", The Electronic Library, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 285-304.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Culled from articles in ASLIB’s journal Managing Information, Information Insights is a collection of interviews with leading information managers from a wide range of information services. Here you will find, rubbing shoulders, the mighty institutions such as the BBC, Department of Social Security on one end of the scale, and the smaller specialist organisations such as Xerox Europe Technical Centre and Guinness Archives on the other. Each has its own unique information demands and needs. The object of the exercise is to see how each institution’s information managers view the changing role of information and how they set about managing it.

An intelligently written assessment, or state‐of‐the‐art, of the evolving information environment prefaces the interviews by the editor. This is a time of great change in the profession and Simmons picks up on the uncertainty of the information professional’s role, which is exemplified by the plethora of names which such professionals adopt – information specialist, scientist, knowledge manager. She agrees with one contributor that there is still an important role to play so long as specialists concentrate on “the networking of information products and our role on knowledge support and global contract negotiation, acting as internal consultants and advising our users how to get the most of the wide resources we manage.”

Simmons asks the contributors to consider six questions while framing their analyses of institutional information requirements and management: the challenges facing the information manager; the contribution to the organisation’s strategic objectives; information evolution; the digital library; a diminishing or growing role for the information professional; and the title best suited to the post. This gives a structure and cohesiveness to an otherwise disparate group of case studies, although some descriptions still come across as little more than job descriptions or thinly disguised company PR.

The responses vary tremendously according to the institution concerned, although there are a few constants. As can be imagined, technology dominates in virtually every sphere. Still, the benefits of the digital age seem to have enhanced the role of the information professional rather than diminish it. This is especially the case in the light of the importance of the information product that has grown with its increased availability. Deutsche Bank Research, for instance, is a small unit that has disbanded its traditional library and opted for a hi‐tech solution to its information needs. Yet it continues to employ information specialists to search and manage its resources even though other staff are trained for, or capable of, using these resources.

Information professionals still appear to be recruited from library and information schools or from similar posts in other organisations. But in specialist organisations they are increasingly working in small groups with personnel from varied disciplines where professional “boundaries” have become blurred. The degree of such integration is one of the more interesting aspects of this book. Of course, this is also a reflection of the organisation’s culture, structure and purpose, and it has to be said that in a few cases the information unit’s functions and modus operandi are as traditional and unchanging as the organisation itself. However, the picture that most strongly emerges is that to be successful, an information manager should be able to tune into the organisational Zeitgeist.

Information Insights provides a fascinating glimpse of how information is managed in such a diversity of settings. If there is a criticism to be made, it is that some of these studies are a little insubstantial. It is also surprising that none covers the university sector. However, the book as a whole is a good read and certainly lives up to its name.

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