Friday, October 28, 2005

Greetings from Monterey: Internet Librarian 2005, Libraries Embracing Web Technologies.

Now in its ninth year, this annual gathering has become the must attend conference for information professionals involved in Internet and Web based strategies. Presenters and attendees are at the forefront of implementing search technologies to deliver library services in innovative ways, with lessons learned from public, academic and corporate settings. Even Google, noticeably absent in previous conferences, participated this year, with challenging questions from this group of expert users, familiar with the dark side of information not acknowledged in the Google mantra.

- Keynote speaker Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet and American Life Project, spoke on
"Shifting Worlds: Internet Librarians at the Forefront", focusing on changes in Internet usage from the previous year (he was also a keynote last year) and the social implications. Internet technology, per se, is increasingly part of the fabric of everyday life and increasingly simply included in applications, such as public toilets in France with IP addresses and RFID tags on golf balls. Though broadband penetration has increased significantly in the last year, there is still a sizable component of the population termed
"cold" users (approximately 20% of adults) who do not use the Internet, due to philosophy or indifference, with an additional group of
"tepid" users who choose dialup, rather than the more expensive broadband.
Libraries are uniquely positioned to provide an
"Information Habit" for reflection as well as expertise thus meeting the
"long tail" needs of these groups, as well as the "hot" users (87% of American teenagers!).

- Elizabeth Lane
Lawley's
keynote speech on "Social Computing & the Information
Professional' was a whirlwind of evolving trends she observes in a dual role as founding Director, Rochester Institute of Technology Lab for Social Computing, as well as Visiting Researcher, Microsoft, bridging the worlds of information technology and libraries. Making search better is a function of social networks, such as del.icio.us rather than technology algorithms which try to mimic a good librarian. Social software functions as recommendations of various
"friends" to help find trusted information.. Another trend is
"partial continuous attention" as an emerging reality of social interactions juggling technologies, and not limited to teenagers.

- The closing keynote entitled
"Google: Catalyst for Digitization? Or Library
Destruction?" featured the ongoing conversation/debate between technologists, Roy Tennant, from the California Digital Library, and Rich Wiggins, from Michigan State on the implications of Google Print. From
Rich's view, though the costs of digitizing print copies has been reduced and improved, the task of digitizing and managing the estimated printed 20 to 28 million titles (Library of Congress counts) requires an organization which
"thinks big", and that turns out to be Google. Rights management is a big barrier, with the paradox of latent value in titles on library shelves which are not delivering royalties to either the author or publisher. Roy delves into the more nitty-gritty issues, such as retrieving references to multiple publisher editions of public domain books, without showing the free versions which have no publisher promotion.
He's concerned about copyright restrictions on the most current information, so users will retrieve out of date material, and assume
that's the best available information. Adam Smith, Product Manager, for Google Print joined the debate to present the Google point of view of fast development and feedback on products. This is a skeptical
crowd-the point was made that Harvard Library is over 400 years old, and Google is only 7 years old, so which institution would you trust?


- Blogging was highly visible this year, in contrast to last year, though this may have been a result of finally having free and effective WiFi access, thanks to the efforts of the Information Today staff. My experience with resort hotels this year is that adequate Internet access for technology savvy professionals is still sadly lacking. Information Today staff provided a lively live commentary on the conference weblog.

- Wikis and blogs are coming into wider spread use in public and academic libraries, both to improve internal staff communication and to communicate with patrons about library services, and as an alternative to intranets. Effective use was woven into presentations by Jenny Levine, Suburban Librarian System and TheShiftedLibrarian.com and Darlene Fichter, University of Saskatchewan.

- The emergence of public libraries as a hotbed of technology adoption and evangelism was highlighted in a separate track, as well as a Demo Derby at the Monterey Public Library. Twenty-one public librarians were on the panels at the conference providing their insights!

- The search related tracks were the most heavily attended sessions, with well-known experts talking about different aspects: Ran Hock on Desktop Search utilities, Gary Price and Greg Notess with updates on search engines, and Mary Ellen Bates with tips on utilizing search engines, Steve Cohen on RSS. The overall theme was the constantly changing nature of the search engines, along with the need to use several as each one has strengths and weaknesses.

- The joint Groxis and SunLibrary presentation was a highlight in the Information Discovery track, and a valuable lesson in a cooperative venture between a content buyer and an unproven visualization technology to provide high value to Sun engineers. The major insight was that metadata in indexed databases by IEEE and ACM provide vastly superior results compared to unstructured Web content. Later in the exhibit hall, attendees were stacked deep around the Grokker product booth to get hands on demos of the
applications-stay tuned to this space! By this time next year, there are likely to be more projects which blend both visualization technology and structured
databases - all reasons to come back to Monterey next year for the 10th anniversary of Internet Librarian!
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