Professor T.D. Wilson
Department of Information Studies
Internal information resources|
on activities, operations, personnel, etc.
Graphic materials—maps, charts, diagrams, etc.
External information resources
People outside the organization
Internal information resources of other organizations
'Published' information—books, journals, reports, etc.
Electronic databases and data banks
Even if this list is incomplete it is enough to draw attention to two things: first, the potential importance of information which is produced outside the organisation, and secondly, the fact that 'information' is a multi-media phenomenon—it involves sound (e.g., voice), numbers, text, pictures, moving pictures, graphics, and so on. This fact is recognised in the ESPRIT programme which is devoting much attention to ways of integrating the computer storage and manipulation of these different media.
Whether information is a stuff or a process the essential fact is that it serves people in organisations in the performance of their tasks—and the stuff, and the processes whereby it is obtained and used vary from person to person, from task to task, and from level to level in the organisation.
An 'information requirements' study is an essential part of any strategy for information management and, such a study must use a wide definition of information resources. Clearly, it will not be possible to control all resources (particularly as some external resources that would be desirable will not be accessible) but a requirements study should examine all needs, not just those that are satisfied already by systems within the organisation.
On the basis of existing work in information science in the area of information needs we can hazard a guess that a requirements study will reveal a very complex situation. For example, Figure 2 (based on an observational study of twenty-two social workers and social service department managers and administrators) shows the types of written documentation which passed across their desks in the course of an ordinary working week.
|Type of written information||Communication 'events'|
|Central govt. & other statistics||9||0.7|
|Client records, referrals, etc.||266||21.0|
|Internal personnel/financial information||274||21.7|
|News of developments in social work||133||10.5|
|Research in social work||30||2.4|
|Reports on experience or ideas||69||5.4|
|More than one of the above||188||14.9|
When 151 people in the same organisations were questioned about the frequency of their needs for information in a similar range of categories the result was that shown in Figure 3. It is of interest to note that the frequency of occurrence of document types does not necessarily equate with perceived frequence of need for access to such documents.
|Information type||Modal responses & % respondents giving modal response|
|Names, addresses, tel. nos., etc.||Daily||80|
|Training information||Less than monthly||48|
|Central govt. statistics||Less than monthly||50|
|Internal statistics||Less than monthly||50|
|Client records, etc.||Daily||53|
|Personnel/financial information||Less than monthly||33|
|News of developments in social work||Weekly||48|
|Research||Less than monthly||40|
|Reports on experience & ideas||Monthly||36|
However, we must be careful about aggregated information of this kind: tasks and people differ, even within the same job category. Consider, for example, the two people represented by the job descriptions (offered by themselves) each of whom had the same job title of Assistant Planner (Figure 4).
|Self-descriptions of roles|
|Assistant County Planning Officer A|
|1. Preparation, monitoring and review of structure plans for the county.|
|2. Coordination of public transport within the county.|
|3. Providing information and data to other departments, public and private bodies and individuals, relating to planning, social, economic and environmental matters.|
|4. Liaison with public agencies on questions of strategic planning policy.|
|Assistant County Planning Officer B|
|1. Historic buildings and conservation areas.|
|2. Industrial and other archaeology.|
|3. Countryside planning and management.|
|4. Coastal planning and management.|
|5. Landscape planning, management and ecology.|
|6. Environmental projects.|
|7. Nature conservation.|
|8. Tree and woodland management.|
|9. Derelict land reclamation.|
|11. Tourism and recreation.|
One can see very readily that these two people will want rather different kinds of information—and the same applies on the level of departments within an organisation. In this case, two departments in a local authority (see Figure 5 below).
And the lesson to be learned from this? Systems (particularly computer systems) like stereotypes, but people differ. 
There has been little emphasis on information technology in this paper, quite deliberately—the journals are full of papers on that topic by others far more competent than this author. But to look at information management largely in terms of the technical resources needed is to court disaster. Information management calls for the development of a strategy within the organisation which will encompass the user, the information resources and the available and appropriate technology.
A number of questions must be asked in developing a strategy:
Evolving a strategy based on these questions means that a new look must be taken at information and its role in organisations—for as long as people predominate as information processors there is a tendency to take information for granted. As soon as capital investment is needed and some of the costs of information processing are more readily identifiable as a result, new questions begin to be asked. Unfortunately, many of the questions have no ready-made answers, because taking information for granted means that none of the relevant data is collected so that, for example, discovering the true costs of present systems can prove to be very difficult indeed.
Now where is the 'electronic library' in all of this? Is it reasonable to think of such a thing as a physically-located unit with special responsibilities for the acquisition and organisation of a limited range of document types and online modes of access to bibliographic and data files? Or is the 'electronic library' more likely to be just that combination of electronically-accessible resources that happen to be located somewhere in the organisation? Access to information is going to be distributed— is already distributed; individuals with the responsibility for generating information for special purposes will be creating their own electronic files (some personal, some generallyaccessible). With distributed resource generation, distributed computing power, and networks as commonplace phenomena in organisations the 'library' in the traditional sense no longer needs to exist.
Does this foreshadow the end of the information scientist, then? If information scientists and information science education cannot change to meet the challenge of the 'distributed electronically accessible library' (!) the answer to this question must be 'Yes'. However, there will remain a role for information science and it is important to note how much more widely this term is being adopted and how many advertisements are now being seen for information system analysts, information managers, information system managers, and so on, where only one or two years ago the word 'computer' was seen instead of 'information'.
An information policy and an information strategy are going to be key management issues in modern organisations as the installation of information technology gains ground. It would be better to evolve the policy and the strategy before implementing the technology—and as a moral here is a true story:
|In a major company, known to be to the fore in the implementation of office automation, decisions had been taken to base the implementation on IBM equipment, a mixture of mainframe computers, IBM PCs, and IBM word-processors. A total of approximately 2,000 terminals was to be installed. Having taken this decision, the organisation then established a 'Data resources working party' to discover what data existed which could be incorporated into the new system—the working party has now almost reached the point of defining itself as the 'Information resources working party'—but not quite!|
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Office Technology Seminar in July 1984, organised by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency, H. M. Treasury. This version was originally published in The Electronic Library, 3(1), 1985, 61-66.
 Project INISS has an extensive bibliography, available from the author. The final report was published as: T. D. Wilson & D. R. Streatfield. You can observe a lot...: a study of information use in local authority social services departments. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, Postgraduate School of Librarianship and Information Science, 1980. A shortened version was published as: D. R. Streatfield & T. D. Wilson. The vital link: information in social services departments. Sheffield & London: University of Sheffield Joint Unit for Social Services Research & Community Care, 1980.
 Project LOGI resulted in two 'self-help' manuals: G. Francis, C. Mullings & T.D. Wilson. A manual for the evaluation of current awareness bulletins. London: British Library R. & D. Department, 1981. (BLRDD Report No. 5584) and C. Mullings, G. Francis, & T. D. Wilson. A manual for the investigation of local government information needs. London: British Library R. & D. Department, 1981. (BLRDD Report No. 5585)
 Organisations of the same type and of apparently identical functions may also vary in their information management practices. For example, see: T. D. Wilson & I. M. Masser 'Environmental monitoring and information management in County planning authorities', in: H. J. Dietschmann, editor. Representation and exchange of knowledge as a basis of information processes: proceedings of the Fifth International Research Forum in Information Science (IRFIS 5), Heidelberg, F.R.G., September S-7, 1983. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1984.
Wilson, T.D. (1985) Information management. The Electronic Library, 3(1), 61-66 [Available at http://informationr.net/tdw/publ/papers/1985InfoMgt.html]