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Research, innovation, and imagination at computers in libraries.

THIS YEAR'S Computers in Libraries conference ( took Library Labs as its theme, although few of the talks were explicitly about laboratories in libraries or even about libraries as laboratories. Instead, speakers concentrated on the subtitle of the theme, which was research, innovation, and imagination. Those three elements exist in libraries whether they have embraced the idea of a library lab or not.

The keynote speaker, David Snowden, chief scientific officer, Cognitive Edge, and honorary chair, School of Psychology, Bangor University, North Wales, put libraries' interest in innovation in the context of knowledge management. He began his talk with a comment about how people's perceptions of libraries have remained disturbingly stereotypical. When he tweeted he would be speaking to librarians, one response was, "Shhhhh." Turning his attention to real innovation, Snowden thinks it happens by chance discoveries. He likens it to walking into a bookstore where the books call to you from the corners of the store.

For online searchers, a main takeaway from his talk is the idea that we need "a new generation of generalists," researchers with multiple perspectives who can synthesize different ideas. Librarians need to rethink metadata and search to allow for knowledge discovery beyond mere information retrieval. Libraries should become spaces to gather stories. Radically new thinking that incorporates critical thinking and "engagement with the reality of a resource-poor planet" should be the ongoing emphasis of libraries.


As a technology for librarians conference, Computers in Libraries presents ideas for invigorating all types of libraries. Search and discovery, as a combined track topic, is always on the agenda, but every year, speakers bring a fresh approach to the topic. Mary Ellen Bates, of Bates Information Services, shared her latest discoveries from the web search world: Use asterisks to find middle names in email addresses and to replace a term in a URL. Don't use parentheses to craft a Boolean search--it doesn't work in Google. Worse, it can misinterpret your logic. Watch your privacy settings in social media. Data mine the fee-based services (her example was from ProQuest Dialog's INPADOC patent database to find locations of R&D facilities). Image searching can yield data from graphs and charts, particularly on topics such as market share. She also urged her audience to teach "truth detection" and be myth busters.


Montana State University Library's Greg Notess promised 50 search tips in 40 minutes. As part of the tips, he gave a quick run-through of what's going on with advanced search--and it's not a pretty picture. You could almost see advanced search features disappearing as he talked. But let's focus on the positive. Notess recommends using the date limit, now that the web is getting older, and combining advanced search commands such as site: with a phrase search or an inurl: operator. Google is not the only search in town, he reminded us. Try Bing, Gigablast, and DuckDuckGo. Specialized search engines, such as Zanran, Wolfram Alpha, and MillionShort, also deserve mention.

Moving from web search to library discovery systems, Joe Deodato from Rutgers University, provided eight steps for choosing and evaluating web scale discovery services. Form an evaluation team. Educate library stakeholders. Schedule vendor demonstrations. Create an evaluation rubric. Issue an RFR Interview current customers. Configure and test local trials. Draft a recommendation report. Although the order in which Deodato presented these seems skewed to me, his final recommendations--to be inclusive, goal-oriented, data-driven, user-centered, and transparent--rang true.


Gary Price, co-founder of INFODocket & FullTextReports, demonstrated 30 mobile apps in 40 minutes ( u/513947/cil_mobile16%20(1).html), saving session attendees from having to discover all these on their own. Noting that the differences between mobile and non-mobile are increasingly blurred, he threw out the statistic that 31 million people in the U.S. will go online through a mobile device in the next decade. He cautioned librarians to check user settings when helping library users since settings change frequently.

The Discovery & Search day ended with a comprehensive overview of Twitter advanced search tips from Tracy Z. Maleeff, library sherpa with Sherpa Intelligence LLC, who is also a former law firm librarian. Most of her presentation echoed her article in the March/April 2016 issue of Online Searcher (in but with live demonstrations showing how the commands work in a dynamic online environment. I did learn that the Twitter bird is named Larry after NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird.


Interest in search was not confined to the Discovery & Search track. Cara Berg, a reference librarian and co-coordinator of user education at William Patterson University, explained how changes in teaching techniques affect students' ability to adequately evaluate websites. Recognizing that students are usually going to start their search with Google, the librarians teach the CRAAP method of evaluation (currency, relevance, accuracy, authority, and purpose). They illustrate evaluation techniques with toaster oven pizza and take advantage of flipped classroom pedagogy to drive home the importance of knowing when a website presents good data. Their statistics show marked improvement in student learning with the new teaching approach.

Big Data, according to the University of California-Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment's Terence Huwe, brings the power of algorithms to many disciplines, not just libraries. Echoing Snowden, Huwe sees Big Data driving researchers from many different areas together to create new knowledge. Librarians and information professionals have special knowledge. But what happens if, due to machine learning, algorithms possess that same knowledge? The algorithms may be smart, but they lack human intuition. He concludes that there can be a healthy balance between human analysis and machine learning and urges information professionals to take a leadership role in adopting strategies that take advantage of Big Data.

Another view of Big Data came from Sarah Bratt, Syracuse University; Kusturie Moodley, Durban University of Technology; and Chad Harper, HarperAMPH LLC. They analyzed public library records, conference data, and tweets to gain insights into trends and to formulate strategies for the future. By using a variety of statistical tools, they plan to create a toolkit so that others can maximize data mining techniques to analyze networks, census data, and additional statistical sources.

Technology in libraries encompasses makerspaces and coding classes. At Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the Idea Box opened in early 2015 and has had its successes and challenges. The staff sees community building as a meaningful outcome. At the university level, explained Jonathan Smith from California State University-San Bernardino, and Jenny Wong-Welch, San Diego State University, makerspaces allow students to innovate, explore, and learn but should be presented as aligning with university educational goals. They showed their planning, implementation, and maintenance steps, with many photographs of the actual equipment and spaces.

The 32nd Computers in Libraries conference will be back in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2017.

Marydee Ojala ( is editor-in-chief of Online Searcher.
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Title Annotation:CONFERENCE corral
Author:Ojala, Marydee
Publication:Online Searcher
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2016
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