Information Brokers Career
Information brokers, sometimes called online researchers or independent information professionals, compile information from online databases and services. They work for clients in a number of different professions, researching marketing surveys, newspaper articles, business and government statistics, abstracts, and other sources of information. They prepare reports and presentations based on their research. Information brokers have home-based operations, or they work full-time for libraries, law offices, government agencies, and corporations.
Information Brokers Job Description
An interest in the Internet and computer skills are important to success as an independent information broker, but this specialist needs to understand much more than just search engines. Information brokers need to master Dialog, Lexis/Nexis, and other information databases. They also have to compile information by using fax machines, photocopiers, and telephones, as well as by conducting personal interviews. If you think this sounds like the work of a private eye, you are not far off; as a matter of fact, some information brokers have worked as private investigators.
A majority of research projects, however, are marketing-based. Suppose a company wants to embark on a new, risky venture— maybe a fruit distribution company wants to make figs as popular as apples and oranges. First, the company’s leaders might want to know some basic information about fig consumption. How many people have even eaten a fig? What articles about figs have been published in national magazines? What have been recent annual sales of figs, Fig Newtons, and other fig-based treats? What popular recipes include figs? The company hires consultants, marketing experts, and researchers to gather all this information.
Each researcher has his or her own approach to accomplishing tasks, but every researcher must first get to know the subject. A researcher who specializes in retail and distribution might already be familiar with the trade associations, publications, and other sources of industry information. Another researcher might have to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible, about the lingo and organizations involved with the fruit distribution industry. This includes using the Internet’s basic search engines to get a sense of what kind of information is available. The researcher then uses a database service, such as the Dialog system, which makes available billions of pages of text and images, including complete newspaper and magazine articles, wire service stories, and company profiles. Because database services often charge the user for the time spent searching or documents viewed, online researchers must know all the various tips and commands for efficient searching. Once the search is complete, and they’ve downloaded the information needed, online researchers must prepare the information for the company. They may be expected to make a presentation to the company or write a complete report that includes pie graphs, charts, and other illustrations to accompany the text.
The legal profession hires information brokers to search cases, statutes, and other sources of law; update law library collections; and locate data to support cases, such as finding expert witnesses, or researching the history of the development of a defective product that caused personal injury. The health care industry needs information brokers to gather information on drugs, treatments, devices, illnesses, or clinical trials. An information broker who specializes in public records researches personal records (such as birth, death, marriage, adoption, and criminal records), corporations, and property ownership. Other industries that rely on information brokers include banking and finance, government and public policy, and science and technology.
“This isn’t the kind of profession you can do right out of high school or college,” says Mary Ellen Bates, an independent information professional based in Boulder, Colorado. “It requires expertise in searching the professional online services. You can’t learn them on your own time; you have to have real-world experience as an online researcher. Many of the most successful information brokers are former librarians.” Her success in the business has led her to serve as past president of the Association of Independent Information Professionals, to write and publish articles about the business, and to serve as a consultant to libraries and other organizations. Some of her projects have included research on the market for independent living facilities for senior citizens and the impact of large grocery chains on independent grocery stores. She’s also been asked to find out what rental car companies do with cars after they’re past their prime. “Keep in mind that you need a lot more than Internet research skills,” Bates says. “You need the ability to run your business from the top to bottom. That means accounting, marketing, collections, strategic planning, and personnel management.”
The expense of the commercial database services has affected the career of another online researcher, Sue Carver of Richland, Washington. Changes in Dialog’s usage rates have forced her to seek out other ways to use her library skills. In addition to such services as market research and document delivery, Carver’s Web page promotes a book-finding service, helping people to locate collectible and out-of-print books. “I have found this a fun, if not highly lucrative, activity which puts me in contact with a wide variety of people,” she says. “This is a case where the Internet opens the door to other possibilities. Much of this business is repackaging information in a form people want to buy. This is limited only by your imagination.” But she also emphasizes that the job of online researcher requires highly specialized skills in information retrieval. “Non-librarians often do not appreciate the vast array of reference material that existed before the Internet,” she says, “nor how much librarians have contributed to the information age.” Carver holds a master’s degree in library science and has worked as a reference librarian, which involved her with searches on patents, molecular biology, and other technical subjects. She has also worked as an indexer on a nuclear engineering project and helped plan a search and retrieval system on a separate nuclear project.
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