For the past three weeks I have been working at a new job. I’m happy to say that I’m part of the team at Switchboard of Miami. Switchboard has been in existence since 1968, and we provide information and referral services for the Miami-Dade area. We make over 10,000 referrals a month for people looking for assistance in a variety of areas, including emergency housing assistance, health care, child care, legal assistance, and other issues primarily in the human and social services area.
Most of our callers come through 2-1-1. 2-1-1 is a Federally designated phone number (like 911 or 411) and different agencies in different communities are authorized to offer 2-1-1- services. 2-1-1 is the go-to number for anyone looking for help for a variety of purposes. We also offer information & referral (known as I&R) services for agencies like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and we operate services offering phone-based assistance and information for seniors and families with young children.
I am working with a colleague maintaining our database. We have over 6,000 records consisting of agencies and the programs they offer, and the database is constantly changing. Some agencies have just one or two programs, and other agencies have fifty or more programs. My work consists of connecting with existing and new agencies, delving into the nature of their programs, and describing them thoroughly and consistently so they’re findable in our database. I utilize a taxonomy administered by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) to describe and index the agencies and programs in our database. We also operate under accreditation guidelines from AIRS, which include mandates for how information is to be collected, stored, and disseminated. For my archive and library friends, this is akin to utilizing Library of Congress subject headings and AACR2 to catalog books.
The really interesting part of this work is that these agencies and their programs are constantly changing and expanding. This means that on a daily basis I get the opportunity to talk to interesting people doing interesting work to help the community.
If you don’t know about 2-1-1 services in your area, visit http://www.211us.org, or better yet, just dial 2-1-1. And if you’re an information professional, this kind of work is a great example of the unique and outside-of-our-field work that is to be had.