Sunday, June 8, 2014

Information consulting today: Some insights from Marcy Phelps @ SLA 2014

So I arrived at my first session of my first SLA meeting with the stress of:

  1. having lost my cellular phone between Toronto and London
  2. Coming straight to the conference convention centre with my luggage to discover that there was no bag or suit check available, which meant that I had to lug with suitcase and suit carrier to all the sessions,
Nonetheless, my travel stress could not take away from my gaining some insights from Marcy Phelps, the principal  or founder of Phelps Research. According to her website:

Marcy M. Phelps, founder of Phelps Research, provides professional research, analysis, and research training services that help clients make better business decisions. She founded the company in 2000 after obtaining a master’s degree in library and information services from the University of Denver. (Phelps Research, 2013)
The session that I attended from which Marcy Phelps presented was entitled “Data Visualization” (Phelps, 2014). However, the session yielded more than just insights into Data Visualization. In addition to the information on data visualization, Phelps provided insights into the modern trends and shifts from information brokerage to information consultancy (a topic already discussed in this previous blog post).

Marcy Phelps provided a very interesting context to her presentation on data visualization that highlights the shift in information work of locating sources for clients and providing value added services to the information retrieved. Drawing on her experience as an information broker and consultant for a number of clients including marketing agents, Marcy Phelps suggests that in the past information brokerage was about librarians being in business to help clients find more and better information. She however suggests that today, the clients no longer want more or better information, but actually want more value added to the information. In fact, her argument is that clients are drowning in information, and do not have the time to deal with the large quantities of information. She further opined that clients don’t have the time to sort through a while lot of information and as such want information professionals to provide them with information that is “decision ready” (meaning information that they can use immediately to make decisions). Now they want to know what does the information mean? They do not want to search for the story but want information professionals to supply the meaning of the information to them.

Phelps went on to discuss the steps and process to be undertaken in creating or adding this value to information for clients, by using and creating visual analysis and presentations for information. (This discussion itself warrants its own blog entry). However, another key insight that Phelps stressed was that librarians need to use their reference interview skills in the process to get at what clients really want from the data or information that is to be supplied. She mentions that this is key, in order for the information professional to deliver the value-added result that clients demand. She went on to suggest, that sometimes clients have a hunch or theory and wants the information professional to conduct the research  to prove their theory. Our research as information professionals in this regard is to provide the message from the data that clients need to know and use to make their decisions. 

A question was asked of Phelps as to whether or not she has to provide clients with information for which she did not agree with the decisions that they intend to make. Phelps in response stated that this is why she always includes an executive summary or a cover letter contextualising the information being supplied as well as presenting the limitations of the data.

These few insights into the work of information consulting are indeed valuable for the troubles and expenses associated with my conference attendance. It is further insightful for me to be in such conferences to be part of the community of practice surrounding information consulting work. And hopefully, all these insights will transfer into helping me better understand my thesis research. And there's more to come. :)


Phelps, M. (2014). More than pretty pictures: A guide to data visualization for info pros. Presentation at the Special Libraries Association 2014 Conference, June 8-10, Vancouver, B.C. Retrieved from

Phelps Research (2013). About Phelps Research and Marcy Phelps. Retrieved from

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