Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Super Searchers Make It on Their Own

Lina Coelho looks at the work and lives of independent information professionals prepared to share their secrets for starting and running a research business.

If you love Boolean logic, online research and would like to work from home - this book is for you. But before you get carried away - just a reminder that you need more than a computer and a phone line to make it on your own as an independent information professional.

This is a collection of interviews with eleven successful 'super searchers' who run their own businesses. They share their secrets, the challenges, the rewards, the big picture and the detail. The stories are both serious and funny. We hear from an aviation expert, a business researcher, a patent researcher, a search engine analyst, an expert on public records and more. They remind us of the many faces of information work and that we often search in archives, as well as on the Web or use commercial databases as well as phone interviews and personal contacts to find that elusive piece of the puzzle.

The book offers rich examples of exciting and imaginative ways of looking for clues and sources. The stories are not only useful, as a practical collection of tips and ideas but also have a very strong personal element which demonstrates that no two 'super searchers' are the same. There are those who cannot live without their palmtop and those who barely look at it, those who love having an office at home and those who appreciate the journey to work. The 'searchers' featured in this book do a mix of generalist and niche research and share a wealth of tips summed up at the end of each chapter in useful bullet-point lists.

These eleven information professionals let us in on more than their favourite Web sites and marketing methods. Running a business can be a daunting task and can make you feel very exposed - these people give you the courage to try it through their inspirational stories. They teach you how to establish visibility, how to learn to trust the experience of others and how to stay cool in the face of unexpected events.

The interviews deal with all aspects of working for yourself - from the practicalities of dealing with too much work, through subcontracting and careful negotiations with clients, to the merits of advertising through your Web site or through networking. Running a business is tough and the 'searchers' share their good and bad experiences in this respect as well. The stories highlight the need for getting professional help as appropriate and ensuring that all is legal and credible. Personal accountability, liability, the careful eye on contracts, claims and confidentiality agreements are all covered.

In spite of the diversity featured in the book, the 'searchers' all seem to agree that clients today require value-added work and that the shift is towards providing analysis rather than just information. Most users are relatively proficient Web searchers but coming up against the difficulties of finding the relevant information, they seek professional help and this inevitably increases the credibility of the information worker.

What comes across throughout the book is the need for hard work, an intelligent approach and the acceptance of calculated risk. Thirst for information, good time management and organisational skills, and a flair for networking are also a must. The 'super searchers' agree that information professionals will have to become more topically orientated and niche-specific and will, of course, do a better job if interested in the matter being researched. And since you never know where you'd find the answer you need an experimental streak and excellent imagination as well. Because of their various backgrounds it is unlikely that all of the interviews would be interesting to you from a technical point of view. But they are human stories as well, and even where researchers have ended up as independent professionals only because of a series of accidents, their commitment to information work comes through. Making it on your own as a 'super searcher' is no part-time job.

Author Details

Lina Coelho
The British Medical Association

Email: lina.coelho@bma.org.uk

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