The new free-vs-fee calculations

Info pros have always worked through a mental checklist when they decide what resources to use for a given research project. “Should I use that fee-based service and pay, or should I see if I can find something similar in free sources, even if it takes me longer to find?”
With the proliferation of high-quality content in open access sources and the introduction of paywalls on reliable news sources, the old free-vs-free calculation no longer serves us. Here are the questions I ask myself today when considering which resources to use.

  • How much is at stake with this project? Is this a “get me smart on this topic” or “I am making a strategic decision and need information” request? The more at risk, the more important it is to use sources I trust.
  • What resources do I need to help me prepare for a good search? What background research do I need to conduct first?
  • What do I need to do with the results of my search in order to add value? Do I need information in a particular format or medium?
  • Who is likely to care about this topic — a government agency? a think tank? a trade publication? a professional association?
  • What does this client consider “authoritative”? Where is that type of information found?
  • How complex a topic is this? Search engines and other free finding tools may not support queries that involve multiple facets or require advanced filters.
  • Where can I find clues or pointers to other resources? Where are experts likely to be quoted or resources shared?
  • How dynamic is this subject? Should I be looking for information from 10 years ago in scholarly publications, or in this week’s social media posts?
  • Will the material I pull together be shared with others? Are there copyright licensing concerns?
What other criteria do you use to decide which type of information resource to go to?

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