|Sunny and warm Pasadena, California, was the setting for the Internet
Librarian 2001 gathering, held November 68. While the event's planners
had been admittedly nervous about the potential loss of exhibitors and
attendees due to recent travel fears, the conference managed to keep all
its exhibitors (except for one company acquired by another and a second
involved in bankruptcy proceedings). In fact, several were added to the
exhibit hall at the last minute. Tom Hogan, president of Information Today,
Inc. (ITI), the host of the event, was relieved to note that total attendance
was only down by about 15 percent—much less than feared. The almost 2,000
attendees included librarians and information professionals from around
the U.S. and Canada. In his opening remarks, Hogan thanked everyone for
braving the skies and highways to attend and carry on with the important
business at hand.
The fifth annual conference featured more than 100 speakers in four
simultaneous tracks, 2 days of pre-conference workshops, and the Internet@Schools
mini-conference with 2 days of sessions for the K-12 crowd. Once again,
program chair Jane Dysart and her organizing committee pulled together
an on-target program and excellent speakers.
Keynoters Offer 'I's on the Internet
After a format change last year, the conference returned to offering
keynote speakers to begin each day—a technique that I felt worked well
and provided focal points for important issues. Each keynoter set the stage
for the day's discussions and provided information, insights, and implications—what
I perceived as the three "I"s featured at this practical Internet conference.
The three keynoters focused, respectively, on people, planning for usability,
and technologies—the key components for an Internet librarian's success.
Who Needs Internet Librarians?
Tackling the people aspect was opening session keynoter Hope Tillman,
president of the Special Libraries Association. She confronted that common
perception "All the information that we need is on the Net and it's all
free. Why do we need librarians?" Tillman contends that librarians are
currently providing critical services but that we need to be more vocal
and visible, and communicate our value to those who can benefit. "Innovation,
collaboration, and creativity are key to success," she noted. To illustrate,
she reviewed a number of ways that librarians add value—including creating,
selecting, and acquiring content; evaluating quality; improving access
to resources; teaching information literacy; and more—and mentioned some
outstanding role models in our profession. We must market our services,
she urged the audience. Some suggestions include creating visibility, personalizing
communications, and branding information products.
Usability on the Net
While the Internet holds great promise for finding and sharing information,
accessibility and usability remain significant barriers. The second day's
keynote was on usability engineering and making the Net effective. Eric
Schaffer, CEO and founder of Human Factors International (HFI), a software
usability consulting and training company, was eminently qualified to address
the issues—not to mention being an entertaining and engaging speaker. Since
1981, his firm has worked on more than 2,200 interface projects and taught
over 1,300 courses on interface design.
Schaffer said that hardware and software are now commodities. The ability
to design for the user will be the next business advantage. He called "user-centered
solutions" the "third wave of the Information Age." Schaffer stressed that
"usability is an iterative process—you don't get it right the first time."
He showed the audience examples of Web products and services with amazing
problems and inconsistencies in the interfaces. The Web, unfortunately,
makes designs a very public thing.An interface shouldbe easy to understand
and lead users in as few steps as possible. "Don't design around your organization's
structure, but around the user's use," he urged. Just a few of his tips
include avoiding excessive scrolling, jargon, red and blue characters (which
look fuzzy to the eye), and excessive animation.
Schaffer managed to pack a lot into his 45-minute talk. But, if you
want to learn more, visit the HFI Web site (http://www.humanfactors.com)
where you can get a list of "10 Web Usability Tips"; lots of useful information
on wording, layout, color, and accessibility; and many free texts to download.
There's a library of articles on usability and design, and you can sign
up to receive the free, monthly UI Design Update e-newsletter. There's
also information on the company's training seminars and consulting services.
Evolving Internet Technologies
The day-three keynoter was Danny Sullivan, the well-known creator of
Search Engine Watch. He examined the changes to Web search tools over the
past year, as well as the current hot areas of development and what to
watch for in the future. According to Sullivan, the biggest challenge in
Web search is not the Invisible Web, better coverage of the visible
Web, better synonym support, or other improvements—rather, the challenge
is just staying alive. He reviewed the obituaries of sites like InfoSearch
(Go.com), NBCi (Snap), and Excite, and he noted that AltaVista isn't dead
but it's not updating. The cash cow banner ads have now dried up and paid-participation
services have become a growth market.
He says we're beginning to see smart analysis of search queries. For
example, a search for Madonna will also show MP3 files, and a search for
Harry Potter will show movie information. Sullivan says we'll see the development
of more vortals, like Moreover for news, xrefer for reference, and LawCrawler
for legal information. Auto-categorization is a hot area, and is reflected
in engines like Teoma, WiseNut, and Vivísimo. Freshness (AllTheWeb.com
is claiming 9 to 12 days to refresh) and size (Google still leads, with
AllTheWeb.com closing in) continue to be factors. Sullivan's current choices
for what's hot include Google and the Google Toolbar (http://toolbar.google.com),
AllTheWeb.com (there have been big improvements there recently), Teoma,
iLor.com, and the Internet Archive's recently debuted Wayback Machine.
Search engines are just one of the many information tools, however,
and we shouldn't expect too much of them. Sullivan stressed that other
means, especially the telephone and e-mail, are still essential. He also
had some tips for"traditional" searchers. Be nontraditional: Forget Boolean,
don't cast your net too wide (you don't need every synonym in a query),
and explore what's in your first catch for appropriate links.
Following that talk, however, George Plosker of Gale Group (who is also
a librarian) said he was disappointed that Sullivan had not mentioned using
the library as another information tool. "We've embraced the search engine
world; I wish they would recognize the library world," he said. A good
point, but perhaps it was merely an oversight, since Sullivan has regularly
participated in the Internet Librarian conferences and counts many of us
as his colleagues.
The main part of the conference offered four tracks organized around
key themes—all well-chosen, I felt. The tracks covered Content Management,
Navigating the Net, WebWizards' Symposium, and Digital Reality.Attendees
were of course free to move among the tracks, picking and choosing specific
sessions of interest, so that's what I did. Many of the presentations echoed
the themes heard during the keynotes: Market your product or service, work
to make it usable and useful, and employ appropriate technologies.
The Content Management track focused on intranets, portals, taxonomies
(covering everything from the power of metadata, to creating a corporate
taxonomy, to quality metrics), and wireless applications. While I'm not
directly involved in most of these areas, I was interested in hearing Steve
Arnold's presentation on streaming content to wireless devices. Arnold
is usually at least 6 to 9 months ahead of the rest of us in seeing and
understanding technology trends, so I regularly try to catch him for a
heads-up on what I should watch.
Interestingly, he mentioned that he had worked for seven dot-com companies
in the past year and they are now all gone. He indicated that we will be
seeing a shift in the way information is delivered to people. "Searching
is not the modality of the future," he said. It will be "agent-based delivery"
of information to wireless devices. New devices are coming, and our current
content management systems cannot yet handle the distribution and automatic
processing of information to these devices on a global basis. A number
of companies are now working so that content can appear in a usable format
on things like PDAs and smart phones.
Libraries too will be impacted as customers increasingly expect information
to be delivered to them, rather than having to search for it on an OPAC.
Wireless delivery will be an extension of a library's core function. Wireless
content will need to be crunchy, brief, in real time, and message-based.
XML is the key to making this happen, and then style sheets will be applied
to output the content to either PCs (Web-based) or wireless devices. As
his talk turned more technical—dynamic bandwidth allocation, Java, .NET,
etc.—he lost me, but at least I felt better prepared for what's to come.
Navigating the Net offered many sessions of interest to me, including
a whole day on virtual reference. It was great to hear about some of the
implementations of these services—we've come a long way from just answering
questions by e-mail. Steve Coffman, who is often called the founding father
of virtual reference, said, "Virtual reference is a potentially transformative
technology." Some projects are reaching people who may never have come
to the library before, and the software is allowing page pushing, collaborative
browsing, file sharing, and other exciting levels of service. In addition,
session transcripts are now providing the data needed to analyze the quality
of reference transactions—something we've always wanted to know. Again,
the importance of marketing a service was stressed and a number of strategies
were recommended. Some suggestions were to cover an adequate number of
hours, take the service to patrons (such as throughout campus sites), and
develop targeted services, like the focus of Ask Dr. Math.
Sheri Lanza and Debbie Hunt had an informative session on Cool Web Tools,
something we all love that makes our search lives easier and more efficient.
Lanza talked about SnagIt 5.0, a handy screen-capture program. I've been
using a version that's several years old, but her description of the useful
new features convinced me that I need to upgrade. Since the conference,
version 6.0 has been released and, according to the press release, now
offers real-time capture of dynamic images (supporting DirectX), enhanced
image filters for crisper graphics, and the ability to capture layered
windows. The modestly priced program can be downloaded from the site (http://www.snagit.com).
Other useful tools and services they mentioned include QuickBrowse (http://www.quickbrowse.com),
and Search Adobe PDF Online (http://www.searchpdf.adobe.com).
There are too many sessions to cover here, but I wanted to at least
mention the very interesting and entertaining virtual debate that took
place between two "friendly but feisty" colleagues. Roy Tennant of the
California Digital Library was there in person, while Richard Wiggins of
Michigan State University was present via video and telephone (due to a
conflicting speaking engagement in Europe). The topic was the possibility
and desirability of digitizing the entire Library of Congress, which Wiggins
feels is doable. The issues they discussed are not that different than
those that face libraries needing to make tough decisions about digitizing
material. While neither was declared a winner in this debate, I felt Tennant
made solid hits with his 5 "C"s as pointsof contention: cost, commitment,
complexity, collection development, and copyright. I've heard the two are
ready to duke it out again—maybe next time in the same room with more action!
The Ongoing Tasini Fallout
Of special interest for many attendees was the Tuesday evening session:
The Tasini Decision: The End of Full Text as We Know It? The high-powered
panel included Jonathan Tasini himself, as well as representatives from
all sectors of the industry. The discussion and subsequent participation
by members of the audience was skillfully handled with provocative questions—but
with a light touch and humor—by Stephen Abram. There were some interesting
back-and-forth comments about deleting full-text records from databases,
the actual money involved for publishers (pennies or significant revenue?),
and copyrights and wrongs. There at least seemed to be consensus that the
title of the sessionpositing the "end of full text" was overstated. As
expected, Tasini's position was that this does not need to be a crisis;
the parties involved need to sit down and work out a business solution.
I overheard several attendees express disappointment at the cancellation
of one session because the speakers were unable to travel. Techno-Geeks:
Gadgets, Gadgets, Gadgets did sound intriguing. However, when I returned
home and had time to read through the printed volume of Collected Presentations,
I saw that the authors, Barbara Fullerton and Brian Neale, had contributed
their slides for the gadgets they planned to discuss. The technology gadgets
included things like PDAs and accessories, hand-held scanners, digital
cameras, e-markers, and data keys (the last two were new to me). The slides
have descriptions, specifications, prices, and URLs, and could prove very
helpful for the technology-deprived (are there any?) among us.
Better yet, their PowerPoint presentation is available on the conference
Web site, with clickable links to the sites—good stuff, like "The Gadgeteer"
Many of the speakers' presentations have been posted on the ITI site (http://www.infotoday.com/il2001/presentations/default.htm).
The print volume Internet Librarian 2001:Collected Presentations
is also available for purchase from ITI.
Audiocassette tapes of the general conference sessions and keynote addresses,
as well as the Tasini session, are also available for sale. For
more information, including a brochure, contact Audio Transcripts, Ltd.
at 703/370-TAPE or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
The exhibit hall at Internet Librarian featured over 70 booths showcasing
a range of products and services that covered all aspects of Internet technologies,
including content providers, online services, software, document and Web
delivery systems, search engines, and more. A list of exhibitors is available
Internet Librarian 2002 will be held November 46, 2002, at the
Palm Springs Convention Center in Palm Springs, California. Since I've
never been there, I'm particularly looking forward to this venue (tennis,
swimming, good restaurants, shopping)—and the good content and networking,
Paula J. Hane is contributing editor of Information Today,
editor of NewsBreaks, a former reference librarian, and a longtime
online searcher. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.