Friday, October 27, 2006

Internet Librarian 2006: Mashups and Social Computing Enhance Information Services

Monterey in October once again provided a superb setting for this popular conference celebrating both its 10th anniversary as well as the highest ever attendance. Focused on application of emerging technologies, the Internet Librarian conference has established itself as the must attend event for information professionals utilizing Web technologies for their institutions. The closing keynote speaker, Elizabeth Lawley, noted for her social computing expertise as well as avid World of Warcraft gaming, commented she always learns a lot from both presenters and attendees at this conference.

Energy was high this year, and interest clearly focused on using new technologies to provide innovative ways of delivering library services. There was a goodly contingent of nextgen librarians describing how they are using Web 2.0 concepts to reach younger patrons, even to the extent of creating individual Ask-A-Librarian profiles on MySpace and Facebook, and creating the Second Life Library 2.0. On the other end of the spectrum, keynote speaker Clifford Lynch described the emergence of e-science, and predicted the evolution of "data librarians", part librarian and part researcher.

The Talis competition "Mashing Up the Library" awards highlighted the high level of interest in the mashups track, with overflowing rooms. Mashups using Google Earth are the first generation of useful applications, but the power of mashups lies in exposing library resources in new, visually exciting representations, making underused collections readily accessible using Web technologies. Podcasting and videocasting are becoming part of the library toolkit to broaden reach to their communities.

Wikis as a means of collecting and enabling access to library content are a major trend this year, across the spectrum in public libraries, corporate libraries and academic libraries. Many of the applications improve ease of keeping content up to date using blog and RSS technology in addition to wiki software. Maureen Clements of NPR, provided a fascinating study of their wiki implementation, describing the hectic environment of a news room and the challenges of integrating new wiki technology into their workflow.

More effective website design was another underlying theme. As keynoter on the second day of the conference, Shari Thurow of Grantastic Designs gave practical strategies to improve the visibility of websites in the search engines, emphasizing that good user design generally goes hand in hand with search engine friendliness. As proof of that approach, Marshall Breeding of Vanderbilt University Library described how adding static webpages for the abstracts for their 805,000 TV archive collection, doubled their traffic and enabled their services to survive without continuing to be subsidized by the university.

New search engine developments are a recurring theme at this conferences, though not as dominant as in previous years. Chris Sherman gave the annual state of the search engines talk, noting strategic directions for Google, Yahoo and MSN, but commenting that the new implementation of ASK is hot! The search is very good, and he sees ASK emerging as the Avis of search, with a clean intuitive interface, including a nice blog and RSS interface. ASK has another asset--Gary Price, the prolific force behind ResourceShelf and DocuTicker, has joined them recently. His conference presentations included a very lucid description of mobile services, and implementation challenges.

Books in electronic form were present throughout the program, with Greg Notess discussing uses and searching techniques for the search engines on Amazon, A9, Google, and soon to emerge OCA. In the concurrent Internet @ Schools West conference, e-books as audio books are being successfully used for "reluctant readers" by putting books on iPods, which makes them "cool", as well as quite useful for long school bus trips. In the exhibit hall, ebrary and Knovel both demonstrated continuing enhancements to their ebook collections designed for research, as ebooks become more widely integrated into digital library collections. And major journal publisher, Springer, promoted their ebook collection as a complement to their journals.

A common complaint from attendees was that they couldn't attend all the sessions they were interested in, so Information Today has utilized the technology discussed in the sessions for conference coverage, so check out the conference wiki, linked to Flickr pictures. Enjoy!
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