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Magazines > Information Today > May 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 5 — May 2003
CONFERENCE CIRCUIT
Computers in Libraries 2003
By Shirley Duglin Kennedy

It's always interesting to see how the "hot technologies" change from year to year at Information Today, Inc.'s annual Computers in Libraries conference. This year's event was held March 12—14 in Washington, D.C.

Sessions on various aspects of XML, blogging/RSS, virtual reference, and wireless played to packed houses. As usual, anything related to Internet search engines drew largenumbers of attendees—a total of 2,362 came to this year's event. More than 50 vendors showed off their products and services in the always busy exhibit hall.

Mary Ellen Bates, a speaker known for sharing highly useful information gleaned from years of experience in the online research trenches, drew hundreds to her sessions on advanced research strategies. (See "Answering the Unanswerable at CIL" on page 31.)

The "search engine guys"—Chris Sherman (SearchEngineWatch), Greg Notess (Search Engine Showdown), Gary Price (The ResourceShelf), and Ran Hock (author of The Extreme Searcher's Guide to Web Search Engines)—presented fact-filled sessions on search engine overlap, power searching with Google,and how libraries can compete with Google. The following are some words of wisdom:

• When you use Google, Price said, "You are seeing only two results from any one particular site" in your results list. "You need to click the 'more results from'link" to see what else that site has to offer.

• If you want to attract people to Internet training sessions, Hock said, "attach the word 'advanced'" to the workshop title—e.g., Advanced Web Searching. "People want to be experts."

• "Why are we always going to a general search tool like Google when there are direct links to databases out there that can save us plenty of time?" Price asked. He recommended the Librarians' Index to the Internet (http://lii.org), INFOMINE (http://infomine.ucr.edu), and BUBL Link (http://bubl.ac.uk/link).

• All of these experts recommend downloading and using the free Google Toolbar (http://toolbar.google.com), an add-on for Internet Explorer that, according to Sherman, "essentially gives you access to searching Google from anywhere."

• "I have never been a big fan of metasearch," Price said, mainly because it doesn't allow use of the advanced features that are peculiar to each major search engine. However, he does like Vivísimo (http://vivisimo.com), which "creates clusters of results," and the new, improved HotBot (http://www.hotbot.com), which "allows you to quickly and easily search four different search engines (AlltheWeb, Google, Inktomi, Teoma) at the same time and see the results in their native format."

• "Search more than one search engine" is standard advice for serious researchers, but is there really enough difference among them to make it worth your while? "It all depends on how important your question is," Hock said. "If exhaustivity is not an issue, almost any engine may do.... Iflife is in danger or large investments are involved, cover as many engines as time allows," since "there are a lot of unique records out there." You may also want to "change your search strategy," perhaps by using different keywords.

• When teaching Internet searching, Notess said, "Never ask people to search for a topic of interest to them" or "you'll lose them."

Web Logs

At past conferences, there was much fanfare about building library Web sites. That's a done deal for most of us now, and the early adopters have moved on to incorporating Web logs into those sites.

The "Web log explosion" of 2002­2003 is a direct result of user-friendly Web log tools, said Darlene Fichter of the University of Saskatchewan. The benefit for librarians is the ability to implement a dynamic new feature without the involvement of information technology departments.

Fichter suggested the following 10 ways that librarians can use Web logs:

1. To share "new stuff" ("recommend Internet sites and tools to your community")

2. To market your library—You can even add a feature that will let your visitors subscribe to the Web log by e-mail (http://www.bloglet.com).

3. To foster interactivity—"Let people talkback" by allowing them to post comments.

4. To further staff development—Share hot questions, research tips, and what's going on at the reference desk.

5. To share knowledge—(best practices)

6. To automate managing links—Get colleagues' comments about new resources before adding them to the library's virtual reference directory.

7. To promote personal and professional development—Web logs are "reflective in nature."

8. To create a living resume—"Write about yourself and what you find interesting."

9. To track and manage projects—"Eliminate e-mail overload."

10. To provide community information—"Be a leader in your community" by making people aware of what's going on.

RSS

Meanwhile, out on the bleeding edge, some of our more adventurous colleagues are syndicating their Web log content via RSS (Rich Site Summary or Real Simple Syndication). Two of these folks—Steven Cohen, law librarian at Rivkin Radler and publisher of the LibraryStuff Web log (http://www.librarystuff.net), and Jenny Levine, Internet development librarian at the Suburban Library System (Ill.) and publisher of the Shifted Librarian Web log (http://www.theshiftedlibrarian.com)—filled a large room for their presentation on RSS.

RSS is simply an XML version of a Web log or other newsfeed. To read these feeds, you subscribe to them through an aggregator, which can be Web-based (e.g., News Is Free; http://www.newsisfree.com) or an individual piece of client software (e.g., Newzcrawler; http://www.newzcrawler.com or AmphetaDesk; http://www.disobey.com/amphetadesk). Some Web log tools have built-in aggregators (e.g., Radio Userland; http://radio.userland.com).

Thus, avid Web log readers no longer have to visit umpteen different blogs in order to keep up. And Web log publishers can syndicate their content effortlessly. Don't know XML? No problem. Many Web log tools will do the conversion for you automatically. Or you can use a third-party solution such as RSSify (http://www.voidstar.com/rssify.php).

Of course, RSS does carry the risk of information overload. Remember when you first discovered Internet mailing lists? Your in-box hasn't been the same since, has it? Now that you've been warned, here are some directories of RSS feeds:

• Blogstreet (http://www.blogstreet.com)

• Moreover (http://www.moreover.com)

• News Is Free (which also provides an online aggregator; http://www.newsisfree.com)

• Syndic8 (http://www.syndic8.com)

• Technorati (http://www.technorati.com)

If you don't have time for newsfeeds and/or don't want to mess with an aggregator, you can stay current with a variety of library and information science Web logs via LISFeeds (http://www.librarystuff.net/rssfeeds/lisfeeds). Created by Cohen and Blake Carver, publisher of the LISNews Web log (http://www.lisnews.com), LISFeeds offers one-stop shopping for LIS-oriented RSS content that's transformed into HTML for easy reading through your Web browser. "You can visit one site instead of having to visit 25 sites," Cohen explains.

Dead Technologies Session

This year's panelists for the annual "Dead & Emerging Technologies" session were Fichter, Stephen Abram (Micromedia ProQuest), Michael Schuyler (Washington's Kitsap Regional Library), Debbie Hartzman (Amgen, Inc.), and Andrew K. Pace (North Carolina State University). The moderator was D. Scott "TechMan" Brandt from Purdue University.

What's on the way out?

• Knowledge management—"Call me when we get to wisdom management," said Pace.

• "My 3-1/2 disk drive is obsolete, and so is yours," said Schuyler.

• Mediated searches—"I think the days when people came to us to do their searching ... are gone," said Hartzman.

• "E-mail as the killer app"—It's been ruined by spam, said Fichter, and young people prefer instant messaging.

• Pace noted that the integrated library system is "the sun around which all of our services used to revolve.... Vendors are looking at this as a 'done' technology."

• Buzzwords such as vortal, one-click, disintermediation, paradigm shift, information architecture, and interface ("as a verb," said Pace)

What's on the way in?

• RFIDs (radio frequency ID tags)—"It's in beta-testing now," said Hartzman. Gillette is planning to use this technology "on millions of disposable razors." Thus, if someone kills his or her spouse with a disposable razor, "it can be tracked," which raises privacy implications.

• Blogs, RSS, XML, and "the semantic Web," said Fichter, who also called for "better filters" and "cyberspace garbage collectors" to do away with all the ROT (the redundant, obsolete, and trivial)

• The Dick Cheney Search Engine—"The answer is oil ... every time," said Abram.

Keynotes

This year's conference featured the following keynote speakers:

• Michael Schuyler, deputy director of the Kitsap Regional Library (Wash.) and a Computers in Libraries columnist, spoke about what libraries and librarians might be like in the future, "which may turn out very differently than we understand today."

• Roy Tennant, Web and services design manager for the California Digital Library's eScholarship initiative, talked about interoperability and standards. "If you want to learn one thing new," he said, "make that XML. That's going to be your life, whether you know it or not."

• Jayne Hitchcock, author ofNet Crimes & Misdemeanors, spoke about the darker side of cyberspace and what we as librarians and individuals can do to protect ourselves and our constituencies.

Links to several presentations from this conference can be found on the Information Today, Inc. Web site (http://www.infotoday.com/cil2003/presentations/default.htm). The PowerPoint presentation on RSS by Cohen and Levine is locatedat http://www.librarystuff.net/presentations/CIL3132003.ppt. An article by Cohen, "RSS for Non-Techie Librarians," can be found at http://www.llrx.com/features/rssforlibrarians.htm.


Shirl Kennedy is an Information Today columnist and the electronic resources librarian at the Walker Management Library at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management. Her e-mail address is sdk@reporters.net.
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