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The rise of the brand librarian

We live in the information age; what’s interesting is the lack of care we take of that information. Often we don’t respect the raw data, or process it correctly. We don’t store it under accurate tags, or reflect on how it can be used more effectively. Information management is, when it comes to business, an overlooked and under-utilised area. And the amount of data available continues to multiply.

Gartner, Inc. recently identified the modernisation of information management as a key trend of 2013. Regina Casonato, managing Vice President, talks of the “huge amount of value – and potential liability – locked inside all this ungoverned and underused information.” So who best to control, interpret, and protect this resource but the modern librarian?

Librarians have been the gatekeepers of information since the Sumerians appointed their first Keeper of the Tabletssince that time tablets have become papyri, then books, and now digital records, but the role of the librarian remains the same, and to gain your degree in Librarianship and Information Management nowadays you have to have an understanding of HTML and metadata as well as the Dewey Decimal system.

Global corporations are beginning to realise that along with the importance of big data comes the need for professionals who have experience of storing and protecting data, not just in the arena of customer care or financial management, but in order to safeguard their brands. Take, as an example, the Coca-Cola Company – in the United States alone the company has eighty-nine separate brands, each one needing to be promoted and valued as individual entities in order to be successful. And the drink we all recognise, with its red and white livery, is now over one hundred and twenty-five years old, and one of the world’s most valuable brands.

Once worldwide brands survive long enough to obtain a historical element in the minds of the consumers, it becomes hugely important to keep accurate data relating to previous advertising and marketing, and to turn that data into information that helps to keep the brand contemporary without jeopardising the long-term associations with the product.

And so the Coca-Cola Company set up the Coca-Cola Archives. It’s possible to browse the online collection, maintained by Archivist Phil Mooney since 1977, and the company enhances the branding of its product as a recognisable and historical element by encouraging amateur collectors to get involved. Interestingly, the Archivist himself becomes part of the brand – trustworthy, and dependable, and a well-ordered and understood part of life. Coca-Cola aligns itself with tradition.

It’s a shame that information management should be shown only in the context of the old-fashioned (even if Coca-Cola does embrace the benefits of the newfangled digital age effectively with its online museum); the benefits of the librarian/information professional when it comes to global branding are more than simply organising the past. Metadata is a crucial area where an information professional can make a huge difference to the speed and availability of data cross-platform, enabling conformity of approach from those dealing with marketing and advertising.

And it’s not all about the external experience consumers have. Global corporations employ vast amounts of people in so many different roles, and ensuring their understanding of the brand they are sustaining is an important part of improving their experience too. Librarians can record and update company intranets and communications to ensure that the information employees need on a daily basis is never out of date or mislabelled. Information overload can be avoided when a professional is on hand to control structure, in the form of an information architect.

Information Architecture is an emerging discipline with roots in librarianship; consulting firms offer their experience of creating web sites, intranets, and other interactive elements in order to improve their efficiency and usability. For instance, Semantic Studios have worked with some of the world’s biggest companies, including AT&T, HP, Microsoft, and Procter & Gamble. The president of Semantic Studios, and one of the founders of the Information Architecture Institute, is Peter Morville – who built on his graduate degree of Library and Information Science.

The benefits of employing an information professional to monitor a brand in the global arena are undeniable, particularly as corporations wake up to the realities of big data, and the fact that computer experts alone cannot organise the data into its most effective forms. As Martin White, the Managing Director of Intranet Focus says in the August 2013 edition of CILIP’s magazine, Update, “senior leadership teams… are already recognising that the problems of managing the growth of data and information will not be solved by technology alone…”.

Perhaps this new problem, born of the information age, requires a more traditional solution in the form of a Keeper of the Tablets, a Knowledge Specialist, an Information Architect – a Librarian.


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