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Opinion: Tackling Information Overload With Knowledge Navigators

January 28, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - One of my greatest challenges is information overload. Every day, Im pummeled by data: comments to my blog (http://geekdoctor.blogspot.com), 700 e-mails on my BlackBerry, RSS feeds, instant messaging and everything associated with my Facebook, Linked­In, MySpace and Second Life accounts. Its all escalating, and Ive realized that I need knowledge navigators who can triage all incoming information to separate that which is important from that which is just FYI. I dont have any yet for my personal information flows, but my medical librarians have become knowledge navigators for my institutional data flows.

As CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, I oversee the medical libraries. These have always been clean, well-lighted places for books. But with the advent of Web 2.0 collaboration tools, blogging, content management portals, on-demand publishing and digital journals, libraries of paper books are becoming less relevant. By the time a book is printed, the knowledge it contains may be outdated. So, libraries need to become clean, well-lighted lounges for digital media staffed by expert knowledge navigators. In my institution, the librarians have thinned the book collection, migrated paper journals to digital media and indexed digital knowledge resources to support our search engine optimization efforts.

Weve replaced the libraries with an information commons, and the Department of Medical Libraries has been retitled the Department of Knowledge Services. Librarians are now called information specialists. Here are a few examples of how they turn data into knowledge:

Every day, Harvard faculty members generate numerous presentations for students, residents and the medical community. Since all Harvard courseware is Web-enabled, all these presentations are placed online. But its not enough to text-index these materials, because search engines dont match concepts. Our information specialists apply metadata tags using the National Library of Medicines Medical Subject Heading concept hierarchy. That way, a search for brain will bring up a presentation about neurons, even if the word brain doesnt appear in the text.

Another challenge with search engines is that they rank based on popularity, not on authoritativeness or value to the patient. Our librarians ensure that our Web portals hundreds of links  to journals, books, databases and collections of medical references  are dynamically updated and refer to the most credible resources.

Our Department of Knowledge Services is also a lab for testing new Web-based and mobile knowledge resources, and we deploy those that are most relevant to our stakeholders. One recent project was to evaluate acronym- resolving tools and develop quantifiable standards for abbreviations.

Although we keep 5,000 journals online, we also have access to many predigital resources. Our Knowledge Services folks respond to requests for historical literature with desktop PDF delivery of scanned articles.



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