Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 5 — May 2001
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IT Report from the Field
Internet Librarian International 2001
This 3-day event drew some of the biggest names in the information industry
by Helen Jezzard

Fleas on dogs and the impossible drawings of the Dutch artist M. C. Escher opened the third annual Internet Librarian International (ILI) event at London's Olympia in late March. These images were summoned up by Stevan Harnad, professor of cognitive science at the University of Southampton (U.K.), who delivered the conference's opening keynote. Harnad has a radical view of the future of refereed journal publishing and he was clearly relishing the opportunity to tempt his audience with his vision of a future "utopia of virtual libraries."

Harnad believes that the current "dog" that is the digital corpus is being worried to distraction by the "flea" of refereed journals. Preaching to the converted, perhaps, he said that librarians the world over are finding it increasingly difficult to provide their researchers with access to all the journals they need. The current situation is leading to new product-development failures and academic inequalities and is doing nothing for the authors, whose careers depend on journal citations.

Harnad's Escher-like world was one in which researchers are paid nothing for the papers they publish, where job applications fail because research papers haven't been cited, and where authors are threatened with breach of copyright when they put their papers on their own Web sites so they can share their findings. "Who is the copyright supposed to protect?" Harnad demanded.

Full details of Harnad's elegant way of ridding the dog of the flea and of providing a real perspective to the Escher world of refereed papers can be found in his paper "For Whom the Gate Tolls?" which is available on his department Web site (http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad).

Harnad's concluding image was one of a world where the entire full-text refereed corpus was available—with full interlinking—on every researcher's desktop, 24 hours a day, at no cost. It set the hearts of his audience beating a little faster—a good way to embark on 3 days of intensive learning and sharing of knowledge.
 

International, Yet Intimate
Internet Librarian International is a relatively new event in what some people might say is a well-catered-to market. It's also a relatively small-scale event, certainly if compared to InfoToday 2001, the Special Libraries Association's annual conference, or London's Online Information. So what makes it worth attending?

When Information Today, Inc. president Tom Hogan addressed conference delegatesat the start of the first day he emphasized the event's internationalism. He told the audience that 350 delegates had traveled from 41 different countries—including Finland, Australia, Malaysia, and Hungary—to be there. Indeed the speakers themselves represented several nations. Meeting international colleagues is certainly one of the hallmarks of the event.

The other valuable thing about ILI is, maybe surprisingly, its very smallness. During Hogan's opening address there was an air of intimacy which carried through to the exhibition floor, where the 50 exhibitors displayed their targeted wares to a focused audience. At ILI, relevancy and practicality are the order of the day. (One only had to visit the London Book Fair in Olympia's larger Main Hall next door to ILI to experience the daunting nature of a truly huge show.) [Editor's Note: See John Bryans' sidebar on the London Book Fair below.]

This year, ILI comprised three conference tracks in addition to the exhibition and workshops on the days before and after the main conference. The three tracks—on intranets, e-resources, and tools and systems—covered the central concerns of the Internet librarian of the 21st century.
The London Book Fair 2001
by John Bryans

When one considers the British literary tradition, the mind reels. From Shakespeare to Dickens to Kipling, from Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters to Mary Shelley, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Conan Doyle, D. H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, John LeCarré, and beyond, England is a land of words and wordsmiths without peer. In all the world, what better place for a book fair than Londontown?

The annual London Book Fair (LBF) is the smallest of the three major, international book-publishing events, after Germany's Frankfurt Book Fair (known simply as "Frankfurt" within the book trade) and the U.S.'s Book Expo America (BEA). Mighty Frankfurt, held in the fall, draws about four times as many exhibitors and more than 10 times the visitors as LBF, and is widely viewed as "the" place for the world's book publishers to launch new titles and conduct their international rights business. BEA, held in Chicago (usually) each spring, serves the largest English-speaking marketplace in the world for printed books and bookstore sidelines, and appears to have established itself as the key event for publishers and booksellers who are interested in investigating, publishing, and distributing e-books.

Given that LBF is unable to compete with the two bigger shows in any of these areas (to be fair, the show does provide a good venue for rights trading, and is striving to keep up with electronic publishing issues), what is its raison d'être? Well, first of all, should you be tempted to think for a moment that LBF suffers an inferiority complex—quick, think Hugh Grant trying to sound Mafioso in Mickey Blue Eyes—forget about it. This, after all, is the United Kingdom, unrivaled as a wellspring of poets, playwrights, historians, and novelists. I suspect that herein lies the key, and that the celebrated English literary tradition itself is what draws publishing professionals the world over to London for 3 days each March. After all, you never know what incredible book or writer may emerge next from England—not to mention Ireland, Scotland, or Wales.

The aisles of Olympia Hall in Hammersmith during LBF are a bibliophile's delight. Every type of book imaginable is on display from publishers large and small, old and new, classic and modern, sensible and uncouth, trendy and scholarly, and those that defy classification. A year or two into our new millennium, the essence of LBF continues to be a celebration of printed books—exhibitors of e-books and electronic publishing solutions are few and far between, though they seem to purchase a disproportionate number of signs and show program ads. Among them I discovered Microsoft, showing its Microsoft Reader technology, which is supposed to make text appear as clear and readable on a computer monitor as it does in a printed book. From the demo I was given, I think they may have brought along the wrong monitor. Versaware and Reciprocal were offering e-solutions for publishers interested in catching the e-book wave (er, ripple). Online trading in subsidiary rights continues to look like one of the most promising Web applications for publishers, though a widely accepted model has yet to emerge. For $200 per title (with a minimum of 10 titles per year), Rightscenter.com allows publishers and agents to promote their literary properties virtually to other publishers and agents, in the hopes of licensing translations, movie deals, and other subsidiary rights.

Seminars and events at LBF reflected a high level of interest in e-book publishing, print-on-demand (POD) technology, and rights trading. The 2-day "ePub London" was a heavily promoted event held just prior to LBF that looked at a wide range of electronic publishing issues. A workshop on "Quality Digital Content" examined the growing content-syndication market, describing how publishers can license their content to others and identify reasonably priced material to enhance their own Web sites. The "PDF to Print" seminar explored the use of PDF in creating e-books and realizing the economies of on-demand printing, while a full-day workshop sponsored by Versaware was this vendor's primer on the art of creating, marketing, and distributing e-books.

For the past 3 years, Information Today, Inc.'s Internet Librarian International (ILI)/Libtech conference has run in conjunction with LBF (organized by The Reed Exposition Group) . This appears to be a very good match. A conference and exhibit like ILI/Libtech—with its focus on Internet-based sources and strategies for U.K. and European librarians and info pros—should want to draw publishing professionals interested in electronic information technology, while a book show on the scale of LBF naturally needs to attract librarians. From a librarian's point of view, having these events run concurrently provides a very clear benefit: the opportunity to learn about new electronic information products and books in one London visit.

LBF drew 12,795 attendees, 1,593 exhibiting companies, and 2,395 booksellers. About 514 of the ILI/Libtech attendees—less than one-third of the total number registered for the Information Today, Inc. event—crossed over to the book fair. Apparently, scanning their badges was the sole method employed by LBF to count librarians. To increase the numbers of librarians attending the book fair, LBF could more actively promote ILI/Libtech in its pre-event marketing materials, and make a greater effort to recognize and welcome its librarian visitors. As for traffic in the other direction, if you were drawn to London for LBF 2001 it would have been quite easy to miss ILI/Libtech. A more generous use of on-site signage, announcements, and show program listings at LBF would help here.

Given the obvious value of both ILI/Libtech and LBF to the library community in Europe and the U.K., I hope to see many more of my librarian friends in London in 2002. If you fancy a pint of bitter; mind the gap; look right, look left—I'm your pubmate.

John Bryans is editor in chief of the Book Division of Information Today, Inc., where he specializes in developing books for librarians and info pros, educators, indexers, and business users of online information and the Internet. His e-mail address is jbryans@infotoday.com.

Solid Overview
In the first of these tracks, Howard McQueen, CEO of independent consultancy McQueen Consultants, gave a virtual presentation (by telephone) on content management for intranets. He made the useful point that, these days, almost everyone is both a contributor to and user of content. He added that with almost all content now being created in digital form the boundaries between intranets, extranets, and the Internet are blurring. To cope with this expanding world it was vital, he said, to have a robust and scalable content management (CM) strategy.

McQueen's presentation was aimed at the beginner. It gave a solid overview of the subject and covered his view of the fundamentals of content management: a robust information architecture, applications that people really want to use, effective integration of content from different sources, good security, and personalization.

McQueen also spoke about the usefulness of thinking not about networks to link B2E (business-to-employee) but about E2E (employee-to-employee) networks. "You want to get employees talking to each other to capture information and create knowledge," he said.

Although the presentation was fairly basic, along the way he made points that are worth hearing and rehearing. "Professionally retool yourself all the time," he exhorted. "Prototype and test ... find a sponsor ... take risks."
 

Information Black Holes
Martin White picked up the intranet management baton with his presentation on intranets and corporate portals. White, whose habitual style is debonair and lighthearted, is a familiar voice in the European information world. "You can do anything with Microsoft FrontPage," he pointed out early in the session, "except create a good Web site." His presentation was also practical and usable and was well-received at Olympia with both appreciative laughter and much note-taking.

Maybe it's something about European speakers, but White was as fond of imagery as Harnad. He introduced the concepts of Black Hole intranets (intranets into which more and more information is stuffed until they collapse in on themselves to form black holes from which not even the smallest scrap of data escapes) and the Titanic approach to Internet costing (the required hardware and software costs represent only a fraction of the real cost as the staff time needed is usually hidden).

White shared with his audience the mostcommon reasons for the failure of intranets. He went on to ask why, when an intranet did fail, so many organizations decided that the solution was to put a corporate portal in place. Make no mistake, he warned, a successful corporate portal depends on more than fancy software. "I am not loved by corporate portal vendors," he said, "but my advice is that if you've got the money for corporate portal software, spend it on your intranet instead."

He concluded: "Your goal is to get the right pages, doing the right thing. That's business sense. Otherwise, it's wasted money."
 

No Silver Bullets
Stephen Arnold, president of Arnold Information Technologies, is another man not afraid of plain speaking. Arnold gave two presentations at this year's ILI: a paper on software tools for managing content and a keynote address. In the former, Arnold told his audience not to look for a "silver bullet" for their content management problems. "There isn't one," he said. "Programming has always been tough and there are no quick fixes."

In his keynote address, Arnold awakened his audience to the fact that, in today's rapidly evolving digital space, people have less and less time and more and more things to do. No dissent from the audience at this observation.

We are moving into a world of constant interaction and continuous communication, Arnold explained. In this world, attention is a rare commodity and Web sites need to work hard. They should be "magnetic" to pull users in and then quick to engage the visitor's interest. "Did you know," he asked his audience, "you've only got 20 seconds to do that?"

In an appropriately enthralling and fast-moving presentation,Arnold spoke about the need first to "bond" your visitors to your site and then to create an environment that they never want to leave—"nesting," as he described it. This sort of relationship building—or "R technology"—is the only way to ensure business success in the wired world.

He gave an exciting description of a world of "always on" devices with information delivered through voice applications. The resulting environment will be "orders of magnitude" different to the Internet we know and will involve "ad hoc real-time networks" that use "radio-based messaging," which can be responded to either by voice or text messages in real time or later. In this brave new world, Arnold concluded, image and text data would merge to deliver information where and when needed.

His parting words were two pieces of advice. The first was to "get smart about privacy." The second was to pare information down. "Avoid the Dialog and Lexis-Nexis situation," he said. "You don't want that much information."
 

Usable and Popular
Giving people what they want and what they can use was the theme of a well-attended talk given by Frank Cervone, director of the Office of Instructional Technology Development at DePaul University Libraries. It was standing-room-only as he shared the secrets of Web site design and usability. His very accessible talk covered all aspects of the topic, from why you should undertake a redesign to measuring how successful you've been.

He had some fascinating insights into the subject. "Discard your biases," he warned. Librarians are naturally fond of text and so there is a need to "replace your text head" in order to think about how users themselves want to receive information.

What made Cervone's presentation particularly useful was the fact that while he asserted the tenets of best practice he also recognized the strictures of daily life. By all means find out what your users want. But then realize it might not be the best use of your resources—or even possible—to satisfy them all.

In an interesting echo of Arnold's "R technologies," Cervone suggested that good Web sites carried "a sense of place, a place to be comfortable."
 

Richness Revealed
Other highlights of the conference included an engaging and knowledgeable talk about migrating an online service to a WAP-service from Lars Klarsen of the Swedish company Sema Group InfoData; a personal view of the technicalities of running a portal from William Hann, winner of last year's European Special Libriarian of the Year Award and founder of business information portal Free Pint; and a masterly overview of both traditional and Web-based content aggregators from IDC's Susan Funke. Nor would it be right to ignore the aptly named Web Wizards' Symposium, featuring the magical Mary Ellen Bates, Greg Notess, Gary Price, and Danny Sullivan.

Over the 3 days, conference delegates were treated to some product puffs (the usual suspects). But they were also offered fascinating insights from colleagues over a broad geographical and disciplinary range, along with the wisdom of some of the biggest names in the information profession.

Not bad for a 3-year-old.

[Copies of the Conference Proceedings are available for $24.95 from Information Today, Inc. (http://www.infotoday.com). Papers from the conference can be found at http://www.internet-librarian.com/presentations/.]
 
 

Helen Jezzard is editor of Information World Review. Her e-mail address is helen_jezzard@learned.co.uk.

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