Report from the Field
Internet Librarian Returns to Monterey
By George Plosker
Librarians and information professionals from a wide variety
of environments descended on beautiful Monterey, Calif.,
for the seventh annual Internet Librarian conference,
held Nov. 35, 2003. They came to learn more about
search, explore new directions in staff and patron instruction,
and hear about the latest advances in online access to
premium content and Web resources.
The event covered such marketing concepts as getting
closer to patron needs, understanding the specialized
requirements of user segments, and improving communications.
An important theme was the librarian as content engineer.
This is achieved by coordinating seamless access via
new technologies or designing superior navigation tools
for library Web sites. It was easy to see that the profession
has embraced the Web as an ally to win the hearts and
minds of users as well as take advantage of the incredible
range of technology-based tools that extend content's
reach into everyday life.
Content Integration Practices
Mary Lee Kennedy of Microsoft kicked off a new pre-conference
Sunday-evening session that addressed user expectations
of content integration. She said that users don't really
care or have to know where specific items come from.
However, links that explain the source and definition
of the content are always useful. Microsoft has been
utilizing portal technology for its internal content
resources and has also been exploring the use of the
new Research Pane in MS Office 2003.
Microsoft is looking to make content available in
a single view, regardless of location. In addition,
the company is attempting to embed content into business
processes. Kennedy believes this is preferable to search
for many business professionals. She also discussed
the need for prioritization, given the large volume
of content that must be managed. These decisions should
be made with input from users and stakeholders.
Allen Paschal, president of Thomson Gale, spoke about
content integration from the producer's point of view.
He said that Gale is supplying content to many outlets,
including major aggregators and Web sites like Amazon
and Microsoft. Paschal is interested in seeing integration
go furtherfor example, as electronic supplements
to textbooks in which a right click would supply additional
information in context and integrate content subscriptions
User Interfaces, Technologies
User interfaces are always a featured topic at Internet
Librarian. In a session titled "New Age Navigation:
Innovative E-Journal Interfaces," Gerry McKiernan of
Iowa State University said that from a user's perspective,
today's information-retrieval systems are still difficult
to use. He reviewed the work of several organizations
that explore visualization interactivity instead of
McKiernan also talked about Concept Space, an interface
that's being studied at D-Lib Magazine (http://www.dlib.org).
Concept Space uses a color-coded display to represent
20 concepts that are covered in the magazine. The color-coding
is used to associate related concepts and allows the
combination of terms and concepts on the map using Boolean
Other examples included Astronomy Journal, which uses
a Self-Organized Topic Map, and HighWire Press, which
uses a topic map to provide a visual sense of context.
Utrecht University is utilizing an AquaBrowser that
offers "clouds" of associations to permit visual searching.
McKiernan also mentioned Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory's ThemeView, which grew out of Project Spire.
ThemeView can use a galaxy of stars or a relief-map
metaphor to represent concepts, topics, or themes in
a group of documents.
ebrary CEO and CTO Christopher Warnock discussed the
promise of intelligent linking and contextual searching.
He illustrated the potential of digital content by conducting
a live demonstration with Stanford University's OPAC
as his starting point. Warnock began with a topical
search and retrieved an e-book record from Stanford's
collection. With this system, users can then follow
embedded links to contextual content from other e-books,
dictionary definitions, maps, and associated content.
ebrary licenses content databases to libraries with
the software that facilitates contextual linking. Warnock
said that ebrary attempts to connect these disparate
sources so that related content is no more than three
Don Hawkins, who has been tracking and writing about
e-books for the past few years, led a session called
"E-Books: The Third Generation" with Dennis Dillon,
assistant director of libraries at the University of
Texas, and Cindy Hill, director of Sun Microsystems'
Sun Library. The session attracted a standing-room-only
crowd and drew numerous questions from the audience.
Dillon said that librarians select all of the e-books
at the University of Texas, and the collection now comprises
65,000 netLibrary titles. He has done numerous statistical
studies on the cost-effectiveness of e-books and is
convinced that there's excellent ROI on their use, as
the average cost per access is far less than for traditional
hard-copy books. In a comment that surprised some audience
members, Dillon said that e-books are considered a normal
part of campus life and that no special promotions or
marketing have been done to increase interest in the
Hill said that Sun Library's vision is to "provide
the right knowledge to the right people at the right
time to make the right decisions." Her team had been
tracking e-books since the 1990s and believed that the
format complemented several Sun Microsystems and Sun
Library goals. To validate these assumptions, the library
did a series of surveys and focus groups with the engineering
communities. The initial Sun e-book collection was launched
in a co-branded partnership with netLibrary. The communications
plan included postcard mailings, e-mail marketing, and
Eight months after the launch, the library did a user-evaluation
survey. Seventy-six percent of respondents said that
e-books were saving them time and money, 64 percent
were reading or browsing sections only, and 48 percent
were using e-books to answer specific questions. The
e-book launch and related surveys have served to increase
dialogue between user groups and the library. This has
proven to be a great method for obtaining ROI data and
stories that make an impact, and has created paths for
additional funding of materials that are responsive
to user needs and behaviors.
The Morphing Searcher
The final session of the conference, "Life Expectancy
of a Searcher: Morphing into New Roles," featured Cindy
Hill; Barbara Quint, editor of Searcher; and
Michael Stephens of the St. Joseph County (Ind.) Public
Hill said that there's no end of opportunities for
information professionals. She believes that all libraries
should operate as a business regardless of the environment
and mentioned some things that have worked for the Sun
Library: using data for decisions, building relationships,
and listening to the customer.
Hill also said that wins must be publicized to both
constituencies and the broader media. The winning stories
should include impact, value, and implications. Librarians
should be connecting people to each other based on their
understanding of where expertise lies in the organization.
This is essentially a principle of knowledge management.
Hill believes that librarians are in a good position
to act as instructional designers for appropriate projects.
Quint, connected to the group via speakerphone, said
that it's time for libraries to "step up or out." She
colorfully described roles that librarians could take
on and said that someday every chief executive would
have a "valet for the mind." As technology marches on,
the ability to retrieve information that might not be
retrieved with the next-generation browser will become
increasingly important. Noting that numerous content
sources are now created without any human editorial
oversight, she believes we should maintain and expand
our role as content critics, reviewing content for quality
and accuracy before it's used or acted on.
Quint recommended that we continue to master new technologies
(such as IBM's WebFountain) and then market the knowledge
to our users and other constituencies. She believes
that the general population is not aware of the close
relationship between librarians and technology, citing
the profession's early experience with online services
and networked cataloging as examples. We also need to
work harder to make sure that folks know what we do
and to never forget the importance of our core service
ethic and goal of serving the minds of humanity.
Stephens followed Quintpoor guy. However, his
enthusiasm and connection with the newest technologies
that carry content into the hands of next-generation
users amplified his message of infusing youth trends
and technologies into the public library.
Stephens reviewed our new roles: technology trainers,
Web page designers, purchasers of electronic resources,
and most importantly, problem solvers and question-answerers.
He said that in the near future, librarians will be
informed, virtual, digital, unwired, and involved in
planning based on the big picture and evaluation of
ROI. Stephens also mentioned that our buildings would
become Wi-Fi-enabled (free, of course) information commons
that are intimately connected to our communities.
The library profession continues to evolve to meet
user needs. Tools such as federated searching, OpenURLs,
link resolvers, e-journals, and e-books are abundant.
Our vendors stand ready to help us re-engineer services
to satisfy even the most technically jaded customer.
Internet Librarian continues to do its part to help
practitioners make the best choices, act on opportunities,
and enable today's searchers to learn to do more.
George Plosker is the principal of George Plosker &
Associates, an information industry consulting firm. His
e-mail address is email@example.com.