Mapping the Information Landscape

Mapping the Information Landscape

by Marylaine Block • Editor, ExLibris

My first rule of information, as noted in a previous article [„My Rules of Information“ Searcher, January 2002], is, „Go where it is.“ The reason librarians can do this stems from the mental maps we create of where information is to be found.

Note that I used the plural — not map, but maps. Librarians actually have a variety of information maps. They’re kind of like those anatomy illustrations in an encyclopedia, with multiple see-through plastic overlays that one can superimpose on the outline of the human form. Which map we use will be determined by the kind of questions we’re answering.

Why is it worth identifying our mental maps and thinking about them? To remind ourselves when we get bogged down in a question, that we can reorient ourselves to a different map and a different strategy for finding answers.

Mapping Our Own Library

Since we’ve all played a role in building our collections and worked with them for a long time, most of us start the process of answering questions with what is right at hand within our building (though some of the younger, technology-savvy librarians may tend to go directly to the Internet and only use our collections when that strategy fails).

Our mental map of our collection probably combines areas and functions, perhaps something like the one in Mental Map # 1 above.

A map like this has one major problem. Sometimes we don’t remember that information overlaps those categories. We may end up restricting ourselves to only one or two parts, like the reference collection and the stacks.

How many of us who are not government documents librarians remember to think of government documents as possible answers? When someone wants to know about college dance programs, how many of us realize that Dance Magazine is a valuable source? How many of us, given a how-to-do-it question, remember to look for videos? How many of us looking for images remember that the children’s collection is a great source for pictures? (Long ago, when someone needed a picture of the clown Emmett Kelley and the usual reference sources weren’t panning out, I headed to the children’s room for Robert Quackenbush’s book about him, The Man on the Flying Trapeze, which I had just read to my 3-year old.)

Here is a link to the Mapping the Information Landscape  full online version.

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