A librarian for news

I was reading this terrific post by Seth Godin a few nights ago. One particular passage stood out. He writes that:

The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.

It got me thinking a lot about news and the information business. Who is the librarian in a news organization? Do we even have such a role?

A news organization is not unlike a library in many ways. It is an information fun house. The sheer quantity and quality of information contained in the archives of a major news organization is staggering. What’s missing, though, is a guide who can help us navigate all of this data.

In a way, the best method a news organization has for creating a paying, business class of customers is to include librarian-like services. In this situation there is a digital equivalent of walking in and asking for help with your project.

Perhaps it resembles the concept of a newsroom as café. Regardless, this news librarian is approachable, friendly, and community-focused. The librarian gauges the needs of customers and helps them make the most of the news product to which they subscribe.

The news librarian is one who can help the motivated but intimidated customer find the information they are looking for. More than that, though, they can help train them in the skills to get the most of their news product. They can teach different information gathering techniques and sources available to their customers. This serves two purposes.

First, the librarian has to ability to clarify what a customer’s subscription is giving them access to. By understanding the value of a product the customer is then better able to gauge whether that $15 a month is worth it to them.

Second, by having an approachable librarian who educates customers in information techniques the news organization creates an inherent value within their community. The more your community members know about your product the more likely they are to communicate that value to others. A passionate and educated community can do wonders for your product purely through word of mouth.

It’s likely a lot to accomplish, but if done correctly I think a librarian-like role would have a tremendous impact on the ability of a news organization to become a sustainable business and community. It’s one small step toward a greater move to changing how we think about news.