Summary: find a Real Librarian. The narrative includes demographic trends and Bo Diddley.
What happened was, I read a couple of thought-provoking pieces in The Economist last year, and saw some graphs in the local paper, and I had this big idea about one particular direction the economy might be heading.
But First, Bo Diddley · A few years back, I was visiting Boston and going for a walk with a friend, and she said “Can we stop by the library? I need look up Bo Diddley’s real name.” The Boston Public library is a beautiful old space, especially the Reference room. I was thinking about Encyclopedias and Biographies, but my friend was a professional Librarian and she knew the right thing to do. She went straight to the Reference Librarian sitting behind the desk and asked “How do I find out Bo Diddley’s real name?” and the librarian said “Look in the Dictionary of Nicknames, it’s right over there.” Of course, these days, I’d go look here and find that the answer is either Ellas Bates or Ellas McDaniel, depending.
Back To the Economy · To test my big ideas on the economy, I wanted to look at some statistical numbers about proportions of the labor force in two or three increasingly-key economic sectors. Since I’m a Web geek, I poked around with Google and found a bunch of stuff, but nothing quite right, and my own government wanted to charge me real money (hundreds of dollars!) for the data.
It dawned on me that now I work for a big company, and big companies have libraries, and sure enough, we do. It has a nice site on the Intranet where you can submit research requests, and so I did. Within a couple of hours, this intelligent librarian called me and wanted some more details on the numbers I was looking for.
Bearing my Bo Diddley experience in mind, I said “Instead, why don’t I tell you the hypothesis I’m investigating” and he liked that idea and so I did. That was yesterday; today I find my inbox stuffed with big fat PDFs, mostly from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, that seem to have about what I need.
Why can’t search engines do that? Oh, I remember.