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Magazines > MultiMedia & Internet@Schools > January/February 2004
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Vol. 11 No. 1 — Jan/Feb 2004
Column
No Librarians Left Behind: Preparing for Next-Generation Libraries (Part 2)
by Stephen Abram

Editor's note: In the November/December 2003 issue of MultiMedia Schools in the "DirectConnect" space, Stephen Abram presented Part 1 of an informative essay on what he sees as important trends school library media specialists should be watching for. (It's also online at http://www.infotoday.com/
MMSchools/nov03/dcon1103.shtml
.)
Here, as the launchpad for his new "Pipeline" column, is the conclusion. Enjoy!

­Dave Hoffman

Greetings and welcome to the first "Pipeline." As I noted at the end of the November/December MMS column your editor refers to above, I'm going to finish the story begun in that issue, in which I addressed trends in search technology and the Web, right here. We were just coming up to the third category....

What Devices Are Coming Down the Pike?

First, I think it's pretty clear that within 5 years the PC will not be the dominant electronic tool, or even access device. Clearly laptops outsell desktops now, and hand-held devices outsell both. Several things are happening that we need to watch and adapt to. We must try to explore and understand how these adaptations play out in our students' future. First of all, we are seeing increasing use of flat screens. This isn't just about saving space on desktops. It's about moving products, services, and information to where the users are ... which means we will see screens appearing on our freezer doors, refrigerators, microwaves, walls, countertops, and desks. These appliances are already in the high-end stores and are common overseas. Imagine what it will mean to libraries when screens are paper-thin and can be applied anywhere—even on our book stacks! Now imagine them being wireless. . . .

Yes, wireless is another obvious trend that many libraries are adapting to very quickly. Some schools are trapped in buildings that limit their technological flexibility. It's just too expensive to wire through poured concrete, asbestos, urea formaldehyde, or historically important buildings. Many institutions have already discovered that such technological approaches as wireless SkyPort drops and Bluetooth solutions can work around these limits cost effectively, strongly enhancing service and access.

Besides the current penetration of the kid market with cell phones and pagers, we see the proliferation of Palm Pilots, RIM Blackberries, WorldPhones, and DoCoMo devices worldwide. Indeed, it's a rare new PCS digital phone that doesn't come with, or have options for, MP3 players, radio, browsers, e-mail, streaming media TV, or voice recognition. It will be this generation of students who uses these devices as the primary access and communication tools as adults. Their adoption of instant messaging is already clear. Text messaging is increasing in popularity worldwide. Google is already beta-testing voice-based searching through the phone.

Some libraries are supporting nomadic computing in recognition that this is where their users are heading, seeing this as an opportunity to improve service. Mount Sinai Hospital library in Toronto has made the wireless plunge and offers many key databases available through doctors' and other health professionals' Palm Pilots at the bedside. Information now truly needs to be where the user's decisions are, not where they have to go. Doctors can check a drug's contraindications as they prescribe it. Our young learners will enter as adults a world that will be more in flux than ever.

Lastly, we can't forecast what's next without tipping our hats to 2001: A Space Odyssey—"Talk to me Hal." Voice recognition is almost ready for prime time. Many of us use it when we call 411 and give our answer to the computer's query, "What city please?" So, we're seeing ever more amazing things from Dragon NaturallySpeaking, IBM ViaVoice Pro, RocketTalk.com, and Philips Speech Processing FreeSpeech. Microsoft XP was released with voice recognition built right in. It doesn't take a genius to see this turning any telephone into a speak-search-and-read-it-to-me device, especially since no one wants to use the telephone button pad as an interface.

Learning and Work Environments

This is probably the area of biggest change. For years we've been following the technological advance we've termed "convergence." That's pretty well over ("It's so last century!"), and now the challenge will be to converge the content, librarian services, and technology into our learners' context ... moving library services to where they need it, not just when.

We can call this new environment a "collaboratory." This can be envisioned as a blended and overlapping thinking, decision-making, and learning environment. Adding librarian tricks to the bricks and clicks will be the goal. We have lots of terms that show us that this is a strongly emerging trend. Consider, for instance, terms like collaborative digital reference, virtual reference libraries, virtual teams, and shared portals. This goes beyond virtual classrooms, chat rooms, and videocon-
ferences. It's about communities of interest and communities of practice, and it's also about e-neighborhoods. We're moving to a world where sharing and integrated, cooperative partnerships will be the norm. These partnerships are developing between teachers, teacher-librarians, school boards, parents, vendors, and curriculum professionals. Libraries have been on the edge of some of these trends as we have developed state-wide consortial licensing and services. We have seen the trends toward applying best information literacy for an information- and knowledge-based economy.

There are newer applications, beyond chat, ICQ, and Internet Messenger (IM). Take a look at things like Groove Workspace, PlaceWare, WebEx, Centra, Flypaper, Raindance, or Intranets.com. We're looking at a new way of working and a new environment into which the services of librarians and researchers can be offered.

Another key trend is e-learning—Internet-enabled learning. In this context, we need to acknowledge that learning is the actual human process by which learners adapt and absorb information. A blended learning environment is one in which classroom instruction (virtual and live) and distance-education courses are combined with e-learning that intersperses live interactions and learning nuggets delivered in appropriate time frames—asynchronously and asymmetrically—to the right work and study environments. If libraries are not integrated into the new blended learning environment, then we will lose relevance to the mainstream of society and education. Our teaching, selection, collection, and service development skills will serve us well in this new environment of buying, supporting, and introducing electronic courseware.

You can learn about this e-learning trend at the Web sites of some of the major providers: Saba, Click2Learn, SkillSoft, Docent, Isopia, and NewMindsets. Many of these e-learning companies are targeting the workspace where our students will be heading. Many e-learning support tools and courses are also being introduced to the market by the traditional textbook publishers such as Thomson, Pearson, and McGraw-Hill. Some are being developed by the school and academic sector on their own. In order to be ready for this world of e-learning, we will not only have to prepare our students with the information-literacy competencies they need but also with meta-learning skills—knowing how to learn. Teacher-librarians and others are well positioned to take on this task.

If you're interested in actually developing courses or implementing a learning management system, there are wonderful tools and templates to help you. Many librarians have already migrated many of their products, services, and information literacy training to these Web-based environments. This opportunity exists in course management systems like Blackboard, eCollege, WebCT, or Lotus Learning Space.

Another easy-to-adapt opportunity is Web-based presentation management tools. These tools allow you to place voice, video, or objects such as PowerPoint presentations with voice-over on the Web. We see these types of applications in BrainShark and Presenter.

School Library Microtrends

There are loads of opportunities in the library sector. One of the biggest is what is being called Virtual Reference or Collaborative Digital Reference Services. This is the ability to provide online remote service. This can be as simple as an "Ask a librarian . . . live!" button on your OPAC or library site, Web-based Q&A Cafés, or a real-time, live-chat homework helper service. Some interesting things to look at are LSSI's (Library Systems and Services LLC and Tutor.com) Virtual Reference Desk or some of the specialized software in CRM (customer relationship management) or call-center applications. We certainly see the day when school libraries will, of necessity, have to keep online "homework helper" hours, through instant messaging, virtual reference tools, or (sadly) e-mail.

So—what about books? We are definitely seeing cool developments in e-book management systems. We're seeing large collections that are actually tied to MARC records, allowing seamless integration into our OPACs. Some of the more interesting ones are MeansBusiness (combines books with abstracted alerts), OCLC/NetLibrary, Element K (combines books with e-learning), and ProQuest Safari and Books24x7.com (now part of the e-learning company SkillSoft), which cover the best of the IT e-books. Note that there are services emerging from Chapters/Indigo, Borders, and Amazon in the e-books arena. Cliff's Notes can also be easily purchased online and delivered to your e-mail box 24/7.

Lastly, fear and loathing are with us to stay. When we talk around the library water cooler these days, hot topics are the threats to our new digital infrastructure. Words that cut to our quick are SPAM, worms, viruses, denial of service attacks, personal information, privacy, PATRIOT, patron records, CIPA, DMCA, FBI, Mounties, CIA, porn filters. Need I say more? We are all reminded of our professional role as library workers to protect freedom of expression, patron rights to equity of access with privacy and intellectual freedom. Keep your armor on, folks! We're suddenly "important" and "informed" on issues that the power brokers and money folks care about.

The strategic window for opportunity for librarians is huge, but keep in mind that it won't be open long. We're about to enter the Boomer retirement era. It will be the largest flight of knowledge capital from the open market in history. Knowledge—tacit, explicit, and cultural—will need to be transferred, not just information. The gauntlet has been thrown down for librarianship. Use the technology, use our professional skills, learn from others, and we will be so stupendously successful that the world will beat a path to our (virtual) door!

So, as promised, here's a list of the top 10 trends to watch:

1. It's an Information Ocean, not a Highway. Information-literacy skills are about avoiding drowning and succeeding—not following some pre-defined path.

2. It's an Exploration Space, not a collection space. We collect to let learners explore and discover quality learner- and curriculum-appropriate resources and to engage in their own lifelong experience.

3. It's about learning impact, not information delivery. It's nice to get the right resource to the right learner at the right time and to keep those stats. It's better to measure the impact of our resources and services on their learning performance.

4. Entertainment is a solid driver of change, and it's not about paperbacks and Hogwarts' wizards. Denying the skills kids learn in PC Games, MP3s, Web chat, and through interactive TV is foolish and short-sighted.

5. Lifelong Learning is the prime directive. The days are long gone when you can learn a skill and apply it for a lifetime.

6. Virtual Space is service space. Using the new tools, we are well positioned to focus on the learner's space and balance it with our partnerships in the classroom space.

7. Culture trumps everything. National, ethnic, and local cultures are stupendously important. The differences among us drive changes and unique insight, creativity, and innovation and success in an increasingly global world. Libraries are paths to your own and others' cultural stories and experiences.

8. Information Moves—static content is the lowest form since primeval data! While text on a page is still critically essential, libraries will increasingly serve up streaming media. This supports the real nature of the whole Earth as well as the diversity of learning styles among diverse learning populations.

9. Fear and Loathing are with us to stay. Learning about electronic safety is a critical skill for the future.

10. And, I'll give you one final insight—Context is King, not Content. If we understand the ecology and culture of our learners, we can empower them to ever-higher levels. If we understand our institution's real mission—creating learners, not the learned—we will succeed wonderfully.

And this is our greatest gift. While our foundation is in content of every sort, our essence, our value, and our vision have always been about context. We lift our eyes up and look to see how we take our building blocks—brick, clicks, and tricks—and apply them in the context of our society, students, and institutions. We build better learners. We underpin a better, freer democracy. We ensure the long-term success of our institutions. We help students, inventors, artists, writers, and researchers create the future. Remember this as we step forward to meet the challenges we encounter along this adventure we call librarianship.

So it's quite simple, really. If we keep our eye on the future and focus on the learner's needs, no librarian will be left behind.

 

COMPANIES, WEB SITES, AND OTHER RESOURCES

Do you want more information on some of the companies, Web sites, or other resources mentioned in Parts 1 and 2 of Stephen Abram's article? For resources from Part 1, go to http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools/nov03/dcon1103.shtml. For Part 2, try these links:

What Devices Are Coming Down the Pike?

Bluetooth [http://www.bluetooth.com/]

DoCoMo [http://www.nttdocomo.com/]

Dragon NaturallySpeaking [http://www.dragontalk.com/]

IBM ViaVoice Pro [http://www-3.ibm.com/software/voice/viavoice/]

Palm Pilots (wireless) [http://www.palmone.com/us/wireless/]

Philips Speech Processing [http://www.speech.be.philips.com/]

RIM Blackberries [http://www.blackberry.com/]

WorldPhones (start at http://www.nera.no/ and search on worldphone)

Learning and Work Environments

Blackboard [http://www.blackboard.com/]

BrainShark [http://www.brainshark.com/]

Centra [http://www.centra.com/]

Click2Learn [http://click2learn.com/]

Docent [http://www.docent.com/]

eCollege [http://www.ecollege.com/]

Flypaper [http://www.flypaper.com/]

Groove Workspace [http://www.groove.net/]

Intranets.com [http://www.intranets.com/]

Isopia (recently acquired by Sun Microsystems) [http://www.isopia.com/]

Lotus Learning Space [http://www.lotus.com/products/
learnspace.nsf/wdocs/homepage]

McGraw-Hill E-Learning [http://www.mhhe.com/elearning/]

NewMindsets [http://www.newmindsets.com/]

Pearson Education [http://www.pearsoned.com/]

PlaceWare [http://www.placeware.com/]

Presenter [http://www.presenter.com/]

Raindance [http://www.raindance.com/]

Saba [http://www.saba.com/]

SkillSoft [http://www.skillsoft.com/]

Thomson Elearning [http://www.thomsonelearning.com/]

WebCT [http://www.webct.com/]

WebEx [http://www.webex.com/]

School Library Microtrends

Amazon [http://www.amazon.com]

Books24x7.com (now at SkillSoft) [http://www.books24x7.com/]

Borders (now "teamed with" Amazon.com) [http://www.amazon.com]

Chapters/Indigo [http://www.chapters.indigo.ca]

Cliff's Notes [http://www.cliffsnotes.com/]

Element K [http://www.elementk.com/]

LSSI's Virtual Reference Desk (now at Tutor.com) [http://www.vrtoolkit.net/]

MeansBusiness [http://www.meansbusiness.com/]

OCLC/NetLibrary [http://www.netlibrary.com/]

ProQuest Safari
[http://www.il.proquest.com/products/pd-product-safari.shtml]


Stephen Abram received his MLS from the University of Toronto in 1980. He is the immediate past president of the Ontario Library Association, where he planned and hosted two summits—on the Crisis in School Libraries and on the vision for a province-wide digital library. In June 2003, he received the highest award of the Special Libraries Association, the John Cotton Dana Award. Also, in June 2003, he assumed the role of president-elect of the Canadian Library Association. Stephen's day job is vice president of corporate development for Micromedia ProQuest (Canada), where he influences print, Web, and microfilm products such as eLibrary, ProQuest Newsstand, and the Canadian Almanac and Directory. Contact Stephen with comments or notes about your challenges and successes at sabram@micromedia.ca.
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