Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 1 — January 2001
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IT Report from the Field •
Internet Librarian 2000
This annual conference for information professionals hits the mark once again
by Paula J. Hane

The 2000 edition of the fourth annual Internet Librarian conference convened November 5–9 in Monterey, California, the site of the first event. Monterey is always a pleasant venue and seems to be an attractive destination for conference goers. This year, the conference center bustled with activity as the show drew 100 top companies to the exhibit hall, and over 2,100 attendees. 

The three main days of the conference offered four simultaneous tracks of sessions that covered a range of issues and challenges facing information professionals who are dealing with Internet technologies. The mixture of practical tips, case studies, and functional applications, with some visionary perspectives added in, provided much food for thought and something for everyone. Once again, Jane Dysart and her organizing committee had a clear sense of the topics and issues that needed to be covered, and are to be commended for their organization of the program and their choice of speakers. There was also a full roster of pre- and post-conference sessions, as well as a 2-day conference within a conference, Internet@Schools, hosted by MultiMedia Schools magazine. 
 

On the Right Track 
The four main conference tracks focused on carefully chosen themes, and, of course, attendees could move freely among the track sessions. The WebWizards’ Symposium was aimed at Webmasters, managers, and others wishing to follow the learning track. The broad range of sessions in this area covered practical site design and implementation issues, cool analysis and usability tools, virus-protection strategies, data-visualization software, the use of application service providers (ASPs), systems for delivery of library services, and more. 

Just reviewing the list of speakers for this track, I was struck by the diversity of job titles, backgrounds, and organizations they represented. Speakers were from large corporations and small firms; huge universities and small colleges; public libraries; health-science organizations; and companies in the information industry, both traditionals and Net newbies. Some speakers were information brokers and one was the program officer for Internet services for the Association of Research Libraries. I realized the speak-ers mirrored the attendees that were there, based on the people I saw and the conference statistics. As I observed the collaboration and sharing that occurred among these folks—leaders and learners all looking to improve their services and learn from each other—I saw they recognized the commonalities of their problems and goals. It’s great to see the linking of people that can occur in a forum like this. 

The second main track was titled Navigating the Net: Searching and Searchers, and covered training, search engines, and virtual communities. While all of the sessions were lively, well-attended, and featured top speakers, I particularly enjoyed the session titled “My Favorite Search Engine.” Mary Ellen Bates, a top business “Super Searcher,” discussed a case study of how she approached a particular business search, using a range of sites, forums, and search engines, and then the professional online services. It was solid and logical—just what I’ve come to expect from Bates. Greg Notess, who does the Search Engine Showdown (http://www.search engineshowdown.com), gave an entertaining look at the iWon.com site, but confessed that his favorite search engine right now was “none of them.” 

Chris Sherman, About.com’s Web Search guide, discussed a new search engine that’s available as an experimental prototype. Originally known as CiteSeer and now called ResearchIndex (http://www.research index.com), it combines a metasearch engine with a computer-science citation index. The engine locates and fetches Adobe PostScript and PDF documents (which are usually part of the “invisible Web”), and verifies that they’re valid research papers. It uses both citation analysis and semantic measures for its relevance ranking of retrieved documents. ResearchIndex provides users with bibliographic information, author information, a link to an author’s page, an abstract of the document, the context of citations (document cited by and similar documents), and citations within the document with links to those. For now, the subject is just computer science, but the engine gives us a glimpse of what’s possible and where new product development might be headed. The full source code of ResearchIndex is available at no cost for noncommercial use. 

The third main track covered electronic resources, and included sessions on negotiating and licensing resources, coping with copyright and digital rights, digital projects, content management, and new roles for information professionals in dealing with the new technologies and e-resources. In particular, I found the session with Darlene Fichter and Rebecca Jones to be both entertaining and inspiring. They looked at some of the shifts occurring in technologies and our organizations, and provided some clues on how to make sense of them and take control of our future direction. Both speakers foresee a positive outlook for the information professional and urged attendees to be visionary in their goals and communicate directly with their markets. Fichter discussed Human Click (http://www.humanclick.com), a live help-desk application that can be added to sites that allows users to “click here” to talk to a real person. 

The fourth track was titled the Intranet Professionals Institute and covered library portals, knowledge management, and various issues in information architecture. Whew—this was meaty content. There was also no way I could cover such a range of sessions, except as personal impressions. So, as I moved among the session tracks, trying to catch a certain topic or speaker, I made notes of themes that stood out in my mind and that recurred in a number of the presentations. 
 

Common Threads 
Perhaps the most important point I heard throughout the conference was, “Don’t reinvent the wheel—share and reuse.” If there’s an application or a compilation or whatever, that you can link to, acquire, or license, and that meets the needs of your customers, use it. This was a particular point of emphasis in the special evening SCOUG (Southern California Online Users Group) session. Barbara Quint, editor of Searcher, noted that 90 percent of our problems are people problems, and are not based on technology. “Never do anything twice,” she said. Her advice was to network, share, use your leverage, connect with colleagues, use consortia, and, most of all, make a difference. A related point was to take advantage of co-branding opportunities to minimize your work. Carole Leita urged libraries to work with the Librarians Index to the Internet (http://www.lii.org) and provide a free, co-branded product for their patrons. 

Many speakers talked about the dramatic transformations their companies or organizations were going through: changing business models, strategic shifts, intense competition, mergers, and acquisitions. I heard considerable frustration on the part of users with their vendors. Though, to be fair, the vendors seem to be just as challenged by the current business climate. It’s hard to know who owns whom, what the companies are now, and to keep up with rapidly evolving products and prices. In some cases, companies end up paying for content more than once as vendors sell to multiple departments within an organization. 

In such a frenetic environment, it’s critical for information professionals to get involved in the organization’s core technology evaluation/acquisition team and be a part of the group making the choices. Many speakers stressed the vital importance of how we market and sell our services. Customization features and personalization options were also stressed by a number of speakers, both from the service-provider perspective as well as the user side.
 

New and Evolving Technologies
While I did miss the three keynote presentations that began each day of last year’s conference, this year offered a closing keynote session that served to set the tone heading into 2001. Well-known information industry consultant Steve Arnold talked about some technological developments to watch and the implications for information and knowledge management.

Arnold discussed how Web OPACs with Z39.50 protocol that tap the unifying and integrating aspects of the Web will provide for the broad indexing of disparate sources. He also mentioned how a library district with multiple library locations can present information to patrons in the order of the library closest to them. Libraries will be able to offer personalization features like those found in services such as My Yahoo!, and, by taking advantage of ASPs, they’ll be able to extend their services and add functions to their sites without any programming. Arnold believes that we’ll begin to see the next generation of community service tools become available, such as those offering real-time text or voice chat with the library reference desk. He advocated that a library should function more like Amazon.com, know its users’ preferences, and offer suggestions. We shouldn’t just provide information, but be in the solutions business.

Arnold also indicated we are likely to see more brand wars, a further slipping behind in indexing the Web, and more fragmentation and subsequent confusion on the part of users. However, portal “umbrellas”—in which the tools are blended with the work task at hand—will be increasingly implemented by organizations. For example, the portal for a company provides tasks for its employees laid out on the home page with one-click functions. Workers are channeled to approved links out on the Net. So, 2001 could be the year of the “knowledge and information space odyssey.”

A volume of conference proceedings and tapes of the sessions are available for purchase from Information Today, Inc. (800/300-9868). The company Web site (http://www.infotoday.com) has the conference schedule of sessions, with links to exhibitors and speakers, and to many of the electronic resources used in speakers’ presentations, including outlines and PowerPoint slides.

Internet Librarian 2001 will be held November 6–8, 2001, at the Pasadena Conference Center in Pasadena, California—a new location for the annual event. For information on participating, attending, or exhibiting, visit http://www.infotoday.com.

Hope to see you there.
 
 

Paula J. Hane, co-editor with Barbara Quint for NewsBreaks, is contributing editor of Information Today, a former reference librarian, and a longtime online searcher. Her e-mail address is phane@ infotoday.com.

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