Dr. Hock specializes in writing and teaching about advanced information retrieval
skills, and his clients include the intelligence agencies of three countries. He also
teaches a course in actionable intelligence as part of our library science curriculum
at the Catholic University of America.
Blane Dessy for a number of years ran the library and information services system
for the US Department of Justice, which is of course one of the sixteen Intelligence
Community agencies. Currently he leads Fedlink, the umbrella organization for
libraries throughout the Federal government. I might add that as part of his current
responsibility for coordinating various activities of libraries across the Federal
government, Blane oversees a coordinating council of Intelligence Community
For my part, I ran library and information services at the MITRE Corporation,
which over the years has worked closely with many if not all the IC agencies under
long term Federally funded research and development center programs.
But my colleagues and I wanted to participate in this workshop not just to represent
ourselves. Instead, we’re here to represent, to the best of our ability, the profession
of librarianship. When we saw the call for proposals, we all felt that librarians
should be part of this conversation. It’s our thesis that in fact librarians play a
significant, if sometimes overlooked, role in the intelligence process. Further, we
believe that changes taking place in our profession at present will enable librarians
to be increasingly valuable contributors in the years ahead.
One depiction of the classic intelligence process is the one shown here. It’s seen as
involving five major phases: Planning, Collection, Processing, Analysis and
Production, and Dissemination. (http://www.nrojr.gov/teamrecon/res_nro-
Both the traditional and emerging activities of librarians map into this process.
Librarians have often been involved with managing the information repositories
used by Analysts. They acquire, organize, manage, preserve, and disseminate
information. Much of the information they deal with is open source, or OSINT.
This includes regular, commercially published documents of all kinds, as well as
what’s known as “Grey literature” – the whitepapers, conference reports,
government studies, brochures, and other materials that are unclassified and openly
distributed, but not included in the mainstream publication system and thus not as
easy to discover and obtain.
Note that these activities apply to both the legacy world of print publications and
the dominant digital, web-based world. In fact, the age of digital content has made
this work more challenging than ever in some respects. For example, it has created
the illusion of free and easy access where in fact the deep web allows information to
hide in plain sight.
In fact it’s the shift to a digital information world that has both enabled and required
librarians to take on new roles that increase their value. Three of these new roles are
advising, analyzing, and teaching.
Probably the easiest role to identify is analysis. We even have an open source
example that discusses it. In November, 2011, the Associated Press put out a story
about the CIA’s Open Source Center – the unit set up in 2005 to make better use of
open sources in the intelligence process. It’s staffed heavily by librarians – the so-
called “vengeful librarians” of this title.
In fact, this little story is an interesting example of the characteristics of open source
material. You’ll note the shift in terminology in the Forbes article from “vengeful”
to “ninja”. The story was originally put out with the “vengeful” title, but apparently
someone thought that was too strong – I’ve heard that it was in fact a mis-quote –
and so in later versions the word was changed to “ninja”. The story no longer exists
on the AP site, but you can find both “vengeful” and “ninja” in various sources
around the web.
Anyway, the point is, “vengeful” or “ninja”, librarians have become integral to the
planning of open source collection, the analysis of open source material, and I
would add, teaching other analysts about open sources and methods, or tradecraft if
These new tasks have been added on to their traditional roles in collecting and
curating open source, processing it for future use, and disseminating it.
Librarians have moved from helping analysts turn information into intelligence, to
partnering in the intelligence analysis process.
Let’s turn to the competencies that enable librarians to fulfill these roles. There are
five that I’d like to highlight: OSINT collection; data and metadata management;
knowledge management; adapting our work to the realities of human information
behavior; and finally instructional design.
Again, OSINT collection is our traditional area of competency. It’s an extension of
the work in developing collections of published resources to meet the information
needs of any given librarian’s community. In the intelligence community it also
encompasses the acquisition of gray literature, and nonpublic information. For
example, when I was at the MITRE Corporation, one of the activities I managed
was the collection and stewardship of internal documentation, both classified and
I was in Florida last month soon after the Edward Snowden story broke. At my
hotel, I got a copy of USA Today one morning, which I wouldn’t see otherwise.
When I opened it up, I was amazed to see that the word “metadata” was in a mass
media news headline. That is something I had never imagined I would see. Amid all
the other ramifications of this case, it’s had the effect of putting “metadata” into the
So, we already knew that “Big data” had become a huge buzzword in the past
couple years, and that metadata was an essential element of the big data
phenomenon. The exploitation of “big data” plays to traditional strengths of
librarians, which are beginning to be leveraged in this new area. One reason for that
is because one of the keys to the exploitation of large, heterogeneous collections of
structured data is metadata – the description of the contents of the data repository.
Librarians have been managing metadata for generations – after all, that’s what our
library catalogs are.
Furthermore, we recognize the power of metadata, because in fact, it’s only a bit of
an exaggeration to say as this quotation does that “everything’s metadata for
something else.” The quotation, by the way, comes from a news report on a recent
conference of scholarly publishers, in which a central topic of discussion was the
interconnectedness of data.
For example, as librarians and analysts have understood for a long time, documents
are metadata for people: the people whose knowledge can only ever be partially
represented by the documents they produce. So if you really want to know
something, you use the document to get to the person. It’s metadata.
Outside the IC, librarians are applying their traditional competency in metadata
management to the new world of big data. They’re being written into biological and
health sciences research grants as data managers. They’re taking the lead in
standing up institutional data repositories in higher education and government
agencies. I don’t know if they’re performing these same functions in the IC, but I’d
Librarians are the natural knowledge managers in any organization. They are good
at “knowing what we don’t know”. As the information scientist Marcia Bates has
said, they follow the “red thread” of information through all human activity.
Because librarians are interested in the information dimensions of any activity, they
recognize and analyze needs, even those that are unexpressed, or “visceral” as
termed by the late Robert S. Taylor. Thus they can plan, develop, and execute
strategies to meet these needs, both in the immediate context and for the longer
term. Bringing in their knowledge of sources, they are able to contribute to the
integrated use of diverse sources to meet the information needs of analytical
There is a rich body of research in human information behavior that informs the
practice of librarians. The competence to apply the knowledge from this research is
Like analysts, librarians have learned that many factors affect the role of
information in decision-making. In part, this realization is informed by the work of
cognitive scientists, led by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who have
documented the heuristics we all use in making sense of the information we
encounter, and the biases that result. In part, it’s informed by scholars like Max
Bazerman, who have studied these principles as they apply to decision-making
But there are also principles arising within the field of information science. One is
the Principle of Least Effort, first articulated as it relates to the economy of
language by George Zipf. In Information Science, we take it to mean that as
information seekers we economize our efforts, preferring the most convenient
sources and methods over the highest quality. (I describe it to my students as the
principle that we are all lazy.)
Related to the Principle of Least Effort is the notion of “satisficing” – of settling for
“good enough”. In practice of course we must all satisfice, as no project of
information collection and analysis is ever perfect, nor can be. The question is, at
what level do we satisfice? We’ve learned that for the average undergraduate, it’s a
pretty low level. If the prof wants ten citations in the research paper, the undergrad
will grab the first ten plausible citations from Google, and that’s good enough. The
question for librarians, and for analysts, is “at what level do you satisfice?” What’s the
highest level of quality and completeness you can achieve, and still meet the practical
constraints on your effort?
Beyond the Principle of Least Effort is Mooers’“Law”, not a law, really but an insight by
Calvin Mooers that information is not always wanted – not even convenient information.
There are times and situations when decision-makers do not want information. This is a hard
principle for librarians to swallow, as information is our stock in trade. We believe
information is good, and therefore more information must be even better. It is a hard lesson
that every successful librarian needs to learn.
Finally, we’ve learned from all our research about the primacy of HUMINT in information
seeking – if you define HUMINT broadly as asking other people. In study after study of all
sorts of demographic groups, this principle emerges. As the librarian Jessamyn West has been
quoted, “when people have an information need, they’ll always ask people they know…”
(Lankes, p. 83) For librarians, therefore, the key to effective exploitation of the best OSINT
and other information sources is to make sure that, as West continues, “librarians are some of
the people they know.”
These observations about human information behavior lead us directly to learning
theory and instructional design.
Under various names, “information fluency”, “information literacy”, “learning how
to learn”, our society is increasingly alert to the importance of the abilities to
articulate questions, seek and find information, analyze it, and use it effectively and
ethically. These are widely recognized as essential life skills for the 21st century.
Employers are demanding them. Educators are incorporating them into learning
goals at all levels of our educational system.
Simply put, these skills are what librarians do. So it’s natural that in a growing
number of institutions, librarians are taking the lead in integrating these skills into
the curriculum. Similarly, in the IC, librarians have the ability to infuse these
competencies into the intelligence process. However, that means developing our
ability to create and deliver instruction effectively. Increasingly, that’s just what we
Now let’s turn to the third and last section of the presentation. There are a few key
principles that form the foundation of the role of librarians in the intelligence
process. As we begin this, I want to differentiate this section from the section on
competencies. In the previous section, my coauthors and I have proposed some
distinctive characteristics that librarians possess. In this section, the emphasis is
more on shared principles that enable them to collaborate effectively with others in
the intelligence process.
The first is information quality. Information is a key element for both analysts and
librarians. We recognize the slippery nature of “truth” and the challenges in
assessing the value and quality of our information – yet the critical importance of
making that assessment in the process of developing “actionable intelligence”.
Thus we’ve developed the determinants of value and clues to quality that you see
here. I won’t go into these in detail here, except to say that for librarians, the
assessment of information quality has taken on new complexity and importance in
recent years. As noted earlier, our domain of collection has moved from commercial
and official publications to gray literature, internal documentation, and social
media. For the Open Source Center, the entire open web is their collection. As
we’ve done that, our old shortcuts to assess quality no longer work. We used to go
by reputation: of publishers, editors, and authors. We used to go by reviews
contributed by other professionals. These things now cover a much lower proportion
of our resource base, and so our approach to assessing quality, as a profession, has
moved much closer to that of the intelligence analyst: assessing motives, seeking
corroboration, and so forth.
A second principle is that of added value.
Tom Davenport is a scholar of management information, affiliated with Babson
College and Harvard University. A generation ago, in a paper co-authored with
Laurence Prusak, an information scientist and librarian, he advised “blowing up the
corporate library”. He wasn’t talking about explosives, of course – he was talking
about dispersing the librarians throughout the enterprise. In the ensuing years, many
smart organizations have done that.
Most recently, Davenport has been writing about the importance of analytics, as
shown in this quotation from a Wall Street Journal blog posting. Information is not
enough; analysis is key. Smart, effective librarians understand this. Added value
through better analysis of the best available information is essential for all
participants in the intelligence process.
Still, as our understanding of human information behavior tells us, sound analysis is
worthless without effective communication. In our information-abundant
organizations, attention is the scarce resource. So our principle must be to package
intelligence so that the intended audience will, literally, pay attention to it.
Last and perhaps most important of all is the mission focus, because the principle of
concentrating on the mission provides the motivation to learn the skills and perform
the activities that we’ve presented today. Librarians’ understanding of their mission
is undergoing a profound evolution. In his recent book, The Atlas of New
Librarianship, Dr. David Lankes of Syracuse University proposes this mission
statement: “The mission of librarians is to improve society by facilitating
knowledge creation in their communities.”
My coauthors and I believe that Lankes’ statement can be easily customized for
librarians in the IC, as you see here. Our mission is to “improve its effectiveness by
facilitating the creation and application of knowledge.”
So, I’ll conclude by returning to that article about “vengeful” librarians or “ninja”
librarians or whatever they were. The article quotes Doug Naquin, then-director of
the OSC, as citing the importance of a degree in library science for open source
We agree, and we hope that in this presentation we’ve been able to highlight some
important ways in which librarianship is aligned with the intelligence process, and
is becoming more relevant to it in our current environment.