Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 1 — January 2002
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IT Report from the Field •
Internet Librarian 2001
This marks 5 years of 'Nothing But Net' for this successful information industry event
by Paula J. Hane

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.
 

Tracking Themes
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), Spyonit (http://www.spyonit.com), BookmarkSync (http://www.syncit.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. 
 

Follow-Up
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" (http://www.the-gadgeteer.com). 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 atltapes@aol.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 at http://www.infotoday.com/il2001/exhibitors.htm.

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, of course! 
 
 

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 phane@infotoday.com.

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