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Computers in Libraries 2000.

Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes?

The 15th annual Computers in Libraries (CIL) conference, held March 15-17, took place in a nifty new venue this year--the Washington (DC) Hilton and Towers, a quintessential conference hotel in an outstanding location, convenient to the bustling vibrancy of Dupont Circle. Nearly 100 vendors were on hand to show off the latest and greatest in library-oriented technology. And there were plenty of "how-to" sessions and workshops to enlighten and inspire the more than 3,000 registered attendees.

But something distinctly different was in the air this year. In addition to the traditional emphasis on hardware, software, data sources, and the almighty Internet, there seemed to be lots of attention devoted to the critical importance of the information professional.

Ulla de Stricker, of de Stricker and Associates, summed it up pretty well in one of the closing sessions, "What's Hot: Technology and Information Industry Trends," when she suggested that "Libraries in Computers" might be a better name for the conference. "Computers are the library," she said. "Now it's all about librarians focusing on the right things [ldots] eliminating non-strategic tasks."

Those acquainted with de Stricker--either personally or through her writings or speaking engagements--know that she's a longtime advocate of the information professional as a proactive rather than reactive member of an organization's team. Variations on this theme were echoed by a number of other presenters at this year's conference--among them, Herb Elish, the Harvard-educated attorney who brought a wealth of private industry experience to his role as director of Pittsburgh's Camegie Library System. Said Elish, who has no library background himself: "If we continue to think about libraries as places people have to come to, we're lost. The real resource of libraries is not the books. It's the librarians. It's what the librarians and professionals do."

In a session on "The Library of the Future and the World Network," Elish said that it was reasonable to analyze the situation of libraries "from a business perspective" because technological changes have had a huge impact on the business world as well. The bottom line is something we've all probably heard repeatedly: Change or die. "Libraries used to have a monopoly on information," Elish explained. Basically, there was no place else to go. Alas, he said, 'The monopoly has been broken. Information is no longer available in a place." But as the importance of the library as a physical structure may be in decline (except as a "community center"), the role of the information professional is in ascendance. "Librarians help you navigate through the great sea of information that has become available," said Elish.

The ubiquity of the Internet means that pointing users to vetted, screened, and organized information is more important than ever. "People are having trouble finding their way through the Internet' Elish said. He described the misadventures of a student using the Web for research on Asian cultures, who discovered that "the Taj Mahal was completed in 1982 and it's in Atlantic City, New Jersey."

And, said Elish, "I am convinced that the situation is only going to get worse." Ten new Web addresses are created every minute, he said. "Anybody can put anything on this marvelous thing called the Internet," but it's up to librarians to put the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" on information because they are regarded as a reliable source, Elish said. "Libraries always rank high in public trust in the community because they are perceived to work in the public interest [ldots] unbiased."

Online Resources

In one conference session after another, attendees were introduced to examples of electronic resources built, refined, and maintained by information professionals. Some of these resources included:

* Gary Price's Direct Search page (http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/[sim]gprice/direct.htm) of links to resources that the major Web search engines "cannot get to for indexing." Price, a George Washington University librarian, maintains there are "thousands of specialized databases" containing information that people will never be able to access unless someone--like a librarian--shows them where these resources are.

* The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection (http://memory.loc.gov/ammemlarnhome.html), a key component of the National Digital Library Program, described as "an effort to digitize and deliver electronically the distinctive, historical Americana holdings at the Library of Congress, including photographs, manuscripts, rare books, maps, recorded sound, and moving pictures."

* Outstanding examples of resource collections that belong in everyone's bookmark lists, such as InfoMine, the Argus Clearinghouse, the Librarian's Index to the Internet, and Larry Shankman's Best of the Best--all of which are described and linked at http://www.ifla.org/II/diglib.htm. Scroll down the page for descriptions and links to digital library initiatives at various types of institutions in the U.S. and Europe.

* Greg Notess' Search Engine Showdown (http://searchengineshowdown.com) "compares and evaluates Internet search engines from the searcher's perspective." Notess, in between all his writing projects and speaking engagements, is a reference librarian and associate professor at Montana State University.

Conference Sessions

The evening "Dead Technologies" session emerged as one of the high points of the conference. This year's discussion--focused on "those technologies that will and will not allow us to transfer knowledge to our clients in easy, cost-effective, and relevant ways"--did not disappoint. Moderated by the effusive D. Scott Brandt, technology training librarian at Purdue University Libraries (and better known to Computers in Libraries readers as the writer of Techman's TechPage), several "Computers in Libraries experts, pioneers, and practitioners" disclosed their great techno-fears.

"The thing that is scaring the hell out of me is patents," said Stephen Abram, vice president of Micromedia, Ltd. He was speaking specifically about patents on Internet business models such as Amazon.com's "one-click ordering" and affiliate programs, whereby Amazon.com antes up a small percentage to Web site owners when people order books from its Web site ("We used to call this graft," he said), and the Northern Light search engine's presentation of search results in different folders. Patenting ideas like these, Abram said, is creating "an environment where we are going to fossilize it before it develops." Abram really connected with the audience when he suggested that librarians begin seeking patents for such things as interlibrary loans, citations, and "the concept of a reference question."

Another one of Abram's fears is the widespread belief that "education will cure everything." Citing the proliferation of self-flush toilets in airports, malls, and other public spaces, he said, "We can't teach the population of the world to consistently flush a toilet, and we think we're going to teach them Boolean logic." Only 25 percent of the population are "text-based learners," Abram said. "We need to get better at understanding how the rest of the world learns.[ldots] There's a reason porno works so well. Some people learn by pictures."

Marshall Breeding, technology analyst at Vanderbilt University's Heard Library (and Information Today columnist), said: "What really concerns me is bandwidth.[ldots] Will we ever turbocharge the World Wide Wait?" Breeding touched on the impact that programs like Napster (http://www.napster.com)--which allows thousands and thousands of people to share the hundreds and hundreds of digital music files contained on their thousands and thousands of computers--are having on campus networks nationwide. Some institutions have even banned Napster because of the bandwidth toll it exacts. Nonetheless, digital audio and video are here to stay. More and more people are moving to cable modem and ASDL connections to the Internet. And if you're using anything slower than a 56-K modem, Breeding said, "you're using dead technology." Ulla de Stricker said technology doesn't worry her. "I'm not worried about new tools. We cope. We've always coped [ldots] I choose to worry about relationships." She said information professionals should seek to become "the ultimate portal [ldots] the trusted source" within their organizations, and she encourages development of communications skills so you can "sell what you provide." So many times, we "get too good" at technology "to the exclusion of our communications skills," she said, and advised spending 30 percent of our time developing relationships.

Walt Howe, of Delphi Internet Forums, titled his presentation "Dead Technologies [ldots] and We Didn't Even Know They Were Sick." First of all, Howe said: "HTML is dead.[ldots] Anyone writing HTML for nested tables or using invisible graphics for layout is wasting their time.[ldots] We've had our fun. It's time to let go." Another technology that is circling the drain, according to Howe, is knowledge management. "Management theories are like waves," he said, and this one "is settling back into the froth."

"Internet search engines are worthless," said Richard Hulser, digital library technologies manager at IBM Corp. "But they are getting better." Meanwhile, CD-ROM networks and 3.5-inch floppy disks are "completely dead," Hulser said, because, "Information delivery is taking other forms." What's on the way out? "Bulky monitors." What should be dead? "Ringing cell phones." The term "digital library" is being elbowed out of the way in favor of "content management," according to Hulser. "It's marketing. What can I tell you?"

What will we be hearing more about, whether we like it or not? "Vortals," or vertical portals, which Hulser described as portals that are "centered around one content area." "Rich media." "Virtual team technologies." And finally, "NetGen [ldots] the rich 20-year-olds we all hate because they don't know as much as we do but are a lot richer."

Rebecca Jones of Dysart and Associates (and editor of Intranet Professional) said she worries "that there will not be enough librarians with the proper skills to do all the jobs that need to be done?' Since search engines index only 55 percent of the Web, she reminded the audience, librarians will not be "disintermediated" by end-users searching it directly. Instead, she explained, librarians will function as "metamediaries."

Despite continuing predictions of a shakeout among search engines, Greg Notess said, "new ones keep coming." And since there are so many and the trend seems to be toward more specialized "search things," librarians "will not be a dead technology." Searching, Notess said, "is not a science. It's an art." Thus, "anyone who understands searching" will be needed to serve as an "intermediary."

Cool Quotes from CIL

* "Whether we're relevant or not, they still like us."--Jo Bryant, CEO and city librarian at the Toronto Public Library, on why library surveys continue to show a "high patron satisfaction rate in an age when virtually everyone everywhere has access to the Internet from their living room WebTV or the office desktop."

* "Localization is giving way to globalization."--Vinod Chachra, president of VTLS, Inc., on the increasing importance of Unicode, the worldwide character-encoding system that enables non-Roman alphabets to be displayed on computer screens.

* "The less you pay, the greater the technical skill you have to have."--Stephen Arnold, of Arnold Information Technologies, on the various systems now available for managing huge quantities of data, archiving e-mail, and "creating electronic paper trails..."

* "Our children are entering a three-dimensional environment."--Stephen Abram, on the "generation gap" that emanates from the fact that kids play video games "which we denigrate because they're games."

* "Serendipitous searching and browsing is still effective."--Gary Price, on how he unearths the many resources he links to on his Direct Search page.

* "Never underestimate the value of paper."--Christine A. Olson, Chris Olson & Associates, on using brochures and bookmarks to promote your library's Web site.

* "Are we the royalty in our own castles here, or what?"--Ulla de Stricker, on the importance of promoting ourselves as the information specialists in our organizations by being proactive.

* "The business model of the month club is where we seem to be living."--Stephen Abram, on the pace of change and passing management fads.

CIL Poetry Corner

IBM's Richard Hulser shared a verse by Robert M. Nutt that was printed in the March 13, 2000 edition of The New York Times' Metropolitan Diary column:

Online

Going online is perfectly fine

When you have to search for stuff

But have a care, for hackers are there,

And surfing is sometimes rough.

Perhaps your fate is discovering too late

An occasional crash is the norm,

"Yahoo!" you say, and maybe "eBay!"

It's the dot-corn before the storm.

Links to Web sites, PowerPoint slides, and other electronic resources used in support of presentations at Computers in Libraries 2000 can be found at Information Today, Inc.'s Web site: http://www.infotoday.com/cil2000/presentations/default.htm.
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Author:Kennedy, Shirley Duglin
Publication:Information Today
Geographic Code:1U5DC
Date:May 1, 2000
Words:2073
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