Information Location and Synthesis
The location, synthesis, and translation of information into intelligence for various client groups is ultimately about finding information for and about specific people, groups, or organizations. Beyond simply giving people the answer to their questions, information location and synthesis involves helping people understand what resources they have at their disposal and how to effectively use them.
The process of delivering actionable information to clients is therefore threefold: in addition to locating sources for the information, it needs to be put into context, or synthesized, while the process of making data actionable or relevant to a client’s specific needs can be called “translation,” and answers the client question of “How does this information source fit my needs?”
On a day-to-day basis, much of what information professionals do revolves around the process of organizing information, making it accessible to users, and retrieving information for specific user inquiries. This is especially true of librarians that are patron-facing, such as reference librarians. Put simply, the ability to locate, synthesize, and translate information is at the heart of the information profession.
As an information professional, my personal goal is to work directly or indirectly with patrons, ideally at an academic library, where I will be locating, synthesizing, and translating information for them on a regular basis. This process goes hand-in-hand with content development and management, and serves as one of the primary motivators for me to go into the library profession, as it enables me to write, edit, and help people, all at the same time.
The entirety of my Organization, Access, and Retrieval of Information (LIM 503) course dealt with the location (retrieval), synthesis (organization), and translation (access) of information. Throughout the class, I used these skills to locate different kinds of information, synthesize it into actionable form, and translate it for a specific purpose. An example assignment from this course is the abstract series consisting of a research question I developed relating to the information profession. This series included an introduction to the research question, related sources to aid in the answering of the question, and original abstracts to serve as synthesis and analysis of the sources in relation to the research question.
Artifact course context and relationship to goal. The creation of the abstract series as an artifact demonstrates not only my comprehension of what information location, synthesis, and translation entail, but how to perform those tasks. Though normally an information professional would not be coming up with the research question, for the creation of this abstract series, I chose an area of inquiry related to the library profession and the need for information organization, access, and retrieval. Specifically, I focused on the possibility of an information center wanting to move away from either the Library of Congress (LC) or Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) systems and switch to the Book Industry Standards and Classification (BISAC), and factors would be involved in making such a move.
Roles, responsibilities, and process. I was solely responsible for the creation of the abstract series throughout each of its steps: identifying a research question, locating relevant information sources, synthesizing my findings into practical implications, and translating the findings into original abstracts to serve as actionable access points.
I began the process of locating relevant information sources using the USC Libraries’ Search tool, which encompasses the Homer catalog of “books, e-books, government documents, videos, audio recordings and more” (Muglia, 2016) along with records from specialized USC libraries, articles from many periodicals, including journals; content from databases; digital library content; finding aids; open access collection, and other records. With such a specific inquiry, it wasn’t possible to simply type a single keyword into the search field and expect to get quality results. I had to search not just for articles relating to the library and information science discipline, but ones relating to classification systems and their efficacy; information centers that have moved or are considering moving to new systems and the factors involved with their transitions; and specifically the use of the BISAC system in libraries, rather than just bookstores.
Retrieving information sources alone does not answer a research question; I had to organize the information that I found into a coherent set that would allow me to answer my research question and adequately discuss the implications of a library moving from either LC or DDC classification to the BISAC system. Organizing multiple articles for the abstract series entailed breaking down the research question into its constituent parts: explanations of the different classification systems used in libraries, the strengths and weaknesses of each system, and the factors involved in switching from established library systems to the newer BISAC system. To that end, I grouped the information sources according to whether they related to the BISAC system itself or to the process of moving from another classification system to BISAC or similar reader interest classification systems. Providing access to those abstracts in a coherent manner reflective of the research question meant writing original abstracts for each source, regardless of whether the source had an abstract already associated with it. I intended these abstracts to clarify what each source dealt with (the BISAC system itself or the process of switching from LC/DDC to BISAC), the methodology used by organizations that did switch, and what the reader could learn about the factors and implications of making such a switch.
As an information professional seeking to locate, synthesize and translate sources for users, it is not my job to draw original conclusions, or “do the work” for the client. Instead, by retrieving data, organizing it, and providing access to it, I am equipping users to think critically and assess the information provided so that they can make their own decisions, without me leading them in one direction or another. The abstract series does not aim to answer whether or not a library should switch from LC/DDC to BISAC, but to identify the factors involved in such a switch, should a library be considering it.
Skills and abilities. For any assignment submitted throughout the MLIS program, I utilized various technology skills, since the program exists entirely online. Using WebJunction’s Competency Index for the Library Field (Gutsche & Hough, 2014), these technology skills can be broadly classified as Core Technology Competencies, and include E-Mail, Hardware, Internet, Operating Systems, Software Applications, and Web Technologies for accessing course materials online, creating and editing shared documents, and compositing multiple videos together for submission.
Additionally, for the creation and use of this artifact, I used a combination of Learning & Innovation and Reference skills to research an area of personal interest that intersected with the study of information organization, access, and retrieval. Learning and Innovation skills require flexibility in regard to the process of locating information (developing innovative search strategies to locate both viable sources, and information in a variety of formats), and critical thinking for organizing and assessing a source’s value to the research question. Reference skills include the ability to identify a user’s needs through a deconstruction of the research question or area of inquiry, as I did by breaking down the question of “What factors are involved in switching from LC/DDC to BISAC or another reader interest-focused classification system?” into two parts: the efficacy of different classification systems, and the factors involved in switching from an entrenched system to a reader interest-focused one. Knowing about the USC Libraries’ discovery layer and its search refinement tools enabled me to use it as an excellent starting point, rather than defaulting to Google or another search engine that would likely pull in too many irrelevant sources. Patrons may turn to reference librarians when they have attempted to locate something on their own and have failed to find what they’re after. Not only are librarians in possession of reference skills able to directly help more people, but they are able to share their research strategies with users and thereby build a network of future researchers.
Future Work Environments
Mastery of this goal can be applied to future work environments on a day-to-day basis. Whether I end up working in an academic library or not, the location, synthesis, and translation of information sources is a vital part of what many librarians do. Whether this process is simplified as “reference services” or goes by another name, librarianship as a service-oriented profession inherently entails this process of organizing, accessing, and retrieving of information.
Gutsche, B. & Hough, B. (Eds.) (2014). Competency index for the library field 2014 (2nd ed.). Dublin, OH: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.webjunction.org/documents/webjunction/Competency_Index_for_the_Library_Field.html
Muglia, C. (2016). Research guides: USC libraries search, users guide: FAQs. Retrieved from http://libguides.usc.edu/mainsearch/faq