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Cybrarian sleuths the Internet

As a librarian backed by reference books, Glenna Rhodes gets a little thrill whenever she can sleuth out the right answer to a patron's question.

But as a cybrarian backed by technology, she's discovering that the quest -- and the thrills -- are even more rewarding.

It's like being a private detective without a gun, says Rhodes, 44. The hunt is so exciting.

In fact, the search has become so compelling that Rhodes is taking her services beyond her desk at the Ashland Public Library. While still working part-time there, she has started a home-based business as a freelance information specialist.

Informed Source, Rhodes' fledging firm, is one of about a dozen in Oregon aimed at helping businesses navigate the maze that is modern technology -- and use it to their best advantage.

It's part of a burgeoning field of information experts whose talent lies in knowing who to call and where to go to find out everything about almost anything.

Informed Source offers customized computer research services that range from the very narrow to the very broad.

What is it that you need to find? asks Rhodes. An object? A fact? An assessment?

In the past year, she has helped a half-dozen clients with projects that ranged from researching a medical condition to creating specialized mailing lists.

Library reference questions were great training for this, says Rhodes, who has spent more than two decades in libraries in Idaho and Oregon.

She always has loved the work, but it wasn't until last year, when she finished a master's degree in library science, that Rhodes understood the opportunities in this new field.

I saw my professors consulting globally, says Rhodes, whose degree is from Emporia State University in Kansas. I went to a seminar in the Bay Area and I realized: `This is what I should be doing.'

Starting a business from scratch is a scary proposition, she concedes. Rhodes intensified the fear by beginning Informed Source the same year she got divorced, finished graduate school, sold one house and bought another.

Suddenly she was a single mom of two daughters working at one part-time job and taking on another in a new field.

She's got a computer in her kitchen and another at the foot of her bed, but most folks she talks to aren't exactly sure about the service she provides, Rhodes admits.

People may or may not know they have a need, says Rhodes. I'm in the position of informing people that information has power and consequence in their business.

But she has forged ahead on the strength of a detailed business plan, setting her sights on mid-sized firms -- those large enough to benefit from Internet research, but too small to have in-house staff who can do it.

For such a firm, Rhodes might research the latest trends in the industry, provide a list of major players and profiles of the top five producers.

That's far more than any public library is able to do, says Rhodes.

A library will take you to the starting gate, but the professional will come back and wrap it up with all the bells and whistles and bows, she says.

Such a service complements library offerings, says Ronnie Budge, director of the Jackson County Library system.

There are situations when what the patron really needs is a whole lot of in-depth research into a subject, she says. They do not have the time, even with (library) staff directing them, to sit down and read through that information and to copy it and put it together. That's where the service such as the one Glenna is providing is really more appropriate.

Budge notes the library doesn't specifically endorse Rhodes' service over any others.

The cost for such a service? It depends on the project, Rhodes says. A simple search could cost under $100, but most efforts will be about $250.

The toughest part of the new business isn't the work, says Rhodes, who counts her research skills among her strongest assets.

I feel I have done this for so long at a variety of levels that this is just another variation of what both my professional and educational background has prepared me for, she says.

Her biggest challenge so far has been letting people know such services are available. That may change after this spring, when Rhodes offers a series of Internet classes aimed at owners of small businesses through the Mary Phipps Center at Southern Oregon University.

There's a huge demand for specialized Internet instruction, says Amy Sanpei, SOU computer program coordinator. She considers Rhodes a good person to teach the classes, both because of her library background and her Internet expertise.

Plus, if you've met Glenna, you know she's got a very engaging personality, Sanpei says. I really liked her personality and I thought that it would come across in the classroom.

For class dates and other details, call 552-8110.

Meanwhile, Rhodes continues her work at the library, where colleagues say she has managed to put a technological twist on an old service.

This sort of business has existed, but it used to be done with print resources, says Budge. What that really meant was that the only people who could do it would be people who lived in big cities. You'd have those services in San Francisco or Washington, D.C., but you couldn't have such a business in Medford.

Like any new entrepreneur, Rhodes has her fingers crossed for success. Though she harbors her share of worries, Rhodes is optimistic about the future of Informed Source.

The fear? You leave it for the night time, she says. A new day means new opportunities. They're just waiting for me.

Glenna Rhodes does research on the Internet and other information systems out of her Ashland home. - Photo by Bob Pennell