Sunday, 11 May 2014

There should be a rating system for information resources

The Idea

Someone or some organization should develop and promote a system of "rating" information resources, possibly including anything from databases and full text collections down to individual books and articles, that describe the "quality" of the resource within some framework.  The rating could be applied by different players (and be clearly labelled as such) such as the creator, the publisher, academic societies, libraries or library consortia, or consumers or consumer groups.  This rating could include suggested audience, value to specific audiences, to what degree of analysis the rating was subject to (with reference to documentation of the analysis), and how recently such analysis was completed.

The Inspiration

Reading "Realizing the Value of Non-Purchased Content" (, which discusses the value of free resources in a library's collection.  Thinking of my own library's process of dealing with this, my concern is that, because they're free, they don't get as much evaluation before "adding it to the collection" as do paid-for resources.  This might be fine but our patrons don't always understand the work that goes into deciding on whether something goes into a library's collection or not and so may falsely believe that a free resource, linked to on the library's web site is just as good as an index for which tens of thousands of dollars was paid.  Some level of information about how much consideration was made should be included.  But perhaps this can't or shouldn't be done for every single resource, and other perspectives can be just as valuable as the library so this assessment could be made by almost anyone, given a similar procedure.  It brings to mind Cochrane Systematic Reviews that thoroughly provide the "final answer" on a clinical issue and keep that answer up to date.

The Reasoning

There seems to be a dearth of assessment information out there, particularly about information products.  They are already difficult to compare since no two journals, no two books, no two articles, no two collections are really comparable in the same way as, say, a toaster or a car or a banking service is.  Some kind of systematic and therefore more trustworthy method of providing at least some perspective of value should be provided to consumers (meaning libraries or end users).  This would be a complex measurement of course, but something's better than nothing.

The Impact

As mentioned above, this would be a complex and multifaceted measurement and would therefore require a lot of work on the part of whoever's evaluating the product.  Some products might not be suitable for such a system.  But, if done properly, this could streamline the use of information products by everyone in the demand chain (almost the same as the supply chain but from the opposite angle), as well as motivating creators and publishers to meet certain criteria and hopefully tend toward improvement.

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