‘Find It Fast’ research tome from print era seeks rebirth in Internet age
August 30, 2013 | 7:45 pm
By Dan Bloom
Meet Robert Berkman, a man with over 25 years experience as an editor, author and professor in the media and information industries. You might know him as the author of a curious little paperback from long, long ago titled “Find It Fast: How to Uncover Expert Information on Any Subject,” first published in 1987. The subtitle of the print edition sounds quaint now.
For the new edition in 2014, Berkman said he is hoping to release both a paperback and an e-book with live links so readers can view and try out the sources and strategies he provides. The original subtitle might get a rewrite, he said, noting that ”the new subtitle will integrate social media and/or big data, which are two key new areas of focus in the book.”
I called the book a “curious” book above because I came across it the other day at a yard sale in Taiwan, where most of the 100 second-hand paperbacks on offer were in Chinese. Berkman’s 1994 edition, with its orange cover, somehow caught my attention as I cruised the yard looking desperately for something—anything —to read in English.
Curious, I picked up Berkman’s thick volume and looked at the table of contents and the year of the copyright. I bought it for what amounted to about 30 cents in American currency and started reading it on a park bench.
I got to thinking: In an age in which information is instantly available, anywhere and anytime at the click of a mouse, is such a book in paperback form still needed, or even useful? Roughly 15 years ago, when the book’s fifth edition came out, the answer was irrefutably “yes.” But in 2013?
When I asked him what kind of logic there was in publishing a paperback about finding information on the Internet, and whether librarians or others would even use such a book, Berkman wrote back in Internet time and graciously answered my questions.
“Great question,” he wrote, noting that the last edition of “Find It Fast” came out in 2000, and that he’s planning for the book’s sixth edition now.
“There’s no doubt that today it is exceedingly simple to go online to look up a quick fact, get an answer to a question, or find a good summary of a place, person, or a concept. We certainly don’t need a book to do that. But in addition to these quick-answer casual queries, there is still a need for knowing how to effectively do more in-depth research and information searching.”
I was hooked.
Berkman continued: “For example, someone in market intelligence who needs to know how to research new markets and analyze customer discussion on social media; the graduate student who needs to do comprehensive archival research on their subject of interest; the investigative reporter who needs to assess sources and dig much deeper than what a simple Google search or Wikipedia look-up will provide.
“The Internet and social media provide us with new opportunities on how to learn, and this book, as a paperback, even in 2014 when the new edition is released, will provide the larger strategies on how to leverage it all to find relevant, substantive, credible information that provides new insights for today’s information gatherer.
“As for the benefits of print versus digital,” he added, “let me say this: Print still offers a certain ease of use and convenience not available from digital—for example, one can browse easily, pick it to peruse anywhere, read comfortably without a computer, scan pages. But digital is very important too, so that is why I am hoping the publisher will do a print book with a companion e-book.”
I asked the professor if he truly felt that his book and its upcoming edition would still have staying power, even in 2014 and beyond. And I wanted to know what might be the prime demographic of the new edition: libraries, companies, college research departments, researchers, writers, students? Who?
“There are always new information and communication technologies that need to be explained and clarified at a given point in time,” Berkman explained. “Today, it is all about how to make sense of and research using ‘social search’ — tapping into the knowledge and referrals from one’s contacts; as well as the use of what’s come to be called ‘Big Data’ — where to find and how to make sense of visualizations, sentiment analyses and analyses of huge realtime data sets. We’re at the point where people ‘know’ that these represent important new sources of information, but need practical and clear advice on how to use them smartly, when they are not good sources, and issues around credibility.”
Berkman noted that “libraries and librarians have traditionally been a huge market for his ‘Find it Fast’ book.
“Others include businesspersons (especially those in market research); entrepreneurs, college and graduate students, journalists, freelance writers, and those in fundraising,” he added. “Some professors have used it as a text, too, in library schools and sometimes in business (market research classes).”
Berkman was born in West Caldwell, N.J., and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1980. He later obtained a Masters degree in journalism in 1998 from the University of Montana and currently resides in New York state. Final question: I wanted to know if this information wizard was an information whiz kid when he was young, and Berkman told me an interesting story.
“Well,” he wrote, “when I was 10 years old, my aunt and uncle in Long Island sent my brothers and I an entire set of World Book encyclopedias. Our family was all impressed — especially oohing and ahhing about the fancy gold leaf on top of each page. I used to pull down a volume at night and read the different entries just for fun — as you can see, I was a pretty wild kid in those days! — and so I learned a lot in the process. My mother still has those books in her home.”
Dan Bloom is a freelance writer based in Taiwan.