Book Review: Find it Fast

ROBERT I. BERKMAN. Find it Fast: Extracting Expert Information From Social Networks, Big Data, Tweets, and More. Medford, NJ: CyberAge Books/Information Today, Inc.

A recent issue of the American Libraries Direct newsletter led me to a recent edition of Karen Muller's Librarian's Library column, where she regularly highlights books of interest to library professionals. On the topic of "Accessing Information", my attention was drawn to a book called Find it Fast, which is now in its sixth edition. The author, Robert Berkman, is not a librarian (his background is as an editor, author, and professor in the media and information industries), but this did not put me off. On the contrary, the prospect of getting a non-librarian perspective on the contemporary research process was quite attractive. But make no mistake, Berkman is very much pro-libraries and librarians, as this quote from his chapter devoted to libraries makes abundantly clear:

The antidote for the current malady of information overload is not some pseudo-smart software program, but a knowledgeable person - the librarian as the human filter.
— Find it Fast, p. 54

Indeed this chapter starts off with a "top ten" list of why libraries remain valuable in the digital age. There is nothing in this list librarians won't have heard before (personal assistance, atmosphere, access to fee-based databases, etc.), but it's always heartening to see someone outside of the profession extolling our virtues!

Worried about Google tracking your every search? DuckDuckGo does not collect any personal information.

Worried about Google tracking your every search? DuckDuckGo does not collect any personal information.

I got a lot of value out of reading this book, in particular in learning about new tools and sources. Berkman provides a list of "super sources" that includes the usual suspects (WorldCat, The Wayback Machine, etc.) as well as plenty that I had not heard of before. I will definitely be following up on some of the paid ones that look like good additions to the HKBU Library collection. I also learned about a neat free search engine called DuckDuckGo, which caters to the privacy-conscious. This is just one example of many interesting resources covered in Find it Fast.

Reading this book has influenced my practice in other ways. In Chapter 5, Berkman writes clearly and powerfully about the research process, and how things have changed in the digital age. He notes that some things have undoubtedly been gained - the ability to access factual information and answer simple questions instantly, for example. Other things have arguably changed for the worse, such as the claim that in general our ability to engage with and focus on longer texts has diminished. Berkman also discusses the importance of popularity as a means for ranking search results, and the implications of this for researchers. We are in the middle of revamping our required workshop for first-year undergraduates, and I am thinking about how we can incorporate some of these ideas.

Newsle no more... resources recommended in the book may no longer be available.

Newsle no more... resources recommended in the book may no longer be available.

Although I do highly recommend this book, I do so with a couple of caveats. The first is that a lot of the useful resources identified by the author will inevitably go out of date. In fact, this has already started happening. On p.119, a site called Newsle is called out as being a great way to keep up with trusted sources. But a quick visit to the site reveals that Newsle was swallowed up by LinkedIn at some point in the recent past, and its technology is now integrated into that social networking platform. Of course, this sort of obsolescence is to be expected with a work like this, and it in no way detracts from Berkman's key points regarding the research process.

The second issue that I have with the book is that is that there is a focus on North America with regard to the sources that it recommends. This is to be expected of an American author publishing for a primarily American audience, and many of the sources identified are useful to international readers as well. However, as an information professional working in Asia, it would be nice to have a similar list of regional "super sources" (hmmm... a possible HKLC project?).

Overall, a useful read that helped crystallize my knowledge of information sources and the search process.

Text by: Chris