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Magazines > Information Today > November 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 11 — December 2003
CONFERENCE CIRCUIT
The ASIDIC Fall 2003 Meeting
by Donald T. Hawkins

Bonjour! Comment ça va? Très bien? Bon! As you can tell, I recently returned from Montreal, where I had the opportunity to brush up on my high school French. Montreal's charming old city was the site of the ASIDIC Fall 2003 Meeting, held Sept. 21—23. With its heavy emphasis on French culture and cuisine, Montreal is one of North America's most attractive cities. And the ASIDIC (Association of Information and Dissemination Centers) event made it doubly attractive. ASIDIC's semiannual meetings are always worthwhile, not only for the high-quality speakers, but also because the organizers choose themes that are current and of great interest to information professionals. The fall meeting, titled Digital Content: Issues and Changes, easily met those expectations.

Keynote

Carol Tenopir, a professor at the University of Tennessee and an award-winning author, speaker, and columnist, gave the keynote speech. She presented the results of her research on user behavior and how it helps to shape better digital information products.

Tenopir said that because user behavior sometimes proceeds sporadically and takes quantum leaps at other times, it's hard to measure it quantitatively. Technology often can't keep up with users' expectations. Many system features are used infrequently (advanced search engine capabilities, for example), but users still expect them to be there. They expect choices, and the more they have, the more they expect. This behavior drives the development of information products. Content must be available in a variety of formats that are tailored to how people do their jobs. One solution definitely does not fit all.

The information-user world can be divided into the following groups:

• Search experts—They want control over the searching process. The more the system can help them, the better.

• Subject specialists—They want more information available to them on their desktops. They will use anything that makes their work easier.

• Students—They want immediate gratification. Systems must be designed to provide a rapid response to their queries.

Many search engines have adopted the Google and Yahoo! models: simple dialog boxes or menus, with links to more advanced interfaces. Although the interfaces may appear simplistic, users expect the technology behind them to be sophisticated.

With today's information deluge, people need to read more, but they generally don't have time for it. According to Tenopir, information producers have an opportunity to design products to meet this need. It's important to accommodate the different behavior of various types of users. For example, medical professionals must read quickly and tend not to spend very much time on an article. They therefore respond well to brief summaries or information provided to them on hand-held devices like PDAs. Engineers, on the other hand, want to delve deeply into research, so they need extensive scholarly articles and large data sets.

Linking

The keynote speech was an excellent lead-in to three sessions that addressed linking, the integration of technology with digital content, and content aggregation models. In the linking session, speakers from ExLibris USA, CrossRef, and Content Directions discussed their implementations of this technology.

Jenny Walker of ExLibris described the concept of a link server, a system that contains a database of a library's subscriptions and collects links to articles in those publications. The library has complete control over the target of the link, so a user could be directed to the publisher's site, an aggregator, or the library's chosen document delivery service.

Ed Pentz of CrossRef and David Sidman of Content Directions explained how Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) are being used to implement reference linking. CrossRef is a DOI registration agency for scholarly content. It promotes the use of DOIs by journal publishers and maintains a database of target URLs for each DOI. Article authors and libraries can retrieve DOIs from CrossRef's database at no cost. The database now contains 8.7 million DOIs from 8,400 journals. Many DOIs are already in use by publishers, although their Web sites may not explicitly show them to viewers.

Sidman continued the discussion of DOIs, likening them to "URLs on steroids." Content Directions is the first commercial DOI registration agency and has developed software that helps publishers automatically assign DOIs to articles. It also provides tools for registration, DOI management, and look-ups, and automatically links related content (by the same author, on the same subject, etc.). In November 2000, DOI was selected as the identifier of choice for e-books. In response, many trade publishers began working with Content Directions to add DOIs to their products.

Sidman pointed out that DOIs are not only for digital content. They can work just as well for selling physical products over the Internet. This is a promising area for the expansion of DOI technology because it can put a purchase just a single click away from anywhere a user encounters a DOI.

Technology Integration

In the technology integration session, two speakers from academic libraries described how they're using today's technology to provide enhanced services for their users.

Mackenzie Smith from MIT Libraries talked about DSpace, a joint venture between MIT and Hewlett-Packard. DSpace is an open source software solution that creates and manages a digital library system to digitally capture, preserve, and redistribute the intellectual output of a university's research faculty.

According to Smith, universities have become concerned about capturing and preserving the intellectual output of their research, especially that which might not be published, such as preprints, technical reports, working papers, theses, data sets, images, or audio and video files. Individual faculty members generally do not have the time or expertise to create and manage such databases themselves. DSpace provides a professionally maintained repository for this purpose. So far, eight libraries use the DSpace system. (For more information, go to http://www.dspace.org.)

Warren Holder of the University of Toronto (UT) Libraries spoke about the Ontario Scholar's Portal. UT developed this system in response to the need for more local control of its content and because it discovered that 25 percent of the library's usage occurred after-hours. The portal is a collaborative project of several Ontario libraries that provides common access to a collection of full-text resources and metadata (for those publications that will not license their full text) from several publishers. Using the portal, UT can access more content than ever before.

Judy Luther, president of Informed Strategies, completed the session with a discussion of metadata trends in digital content. She pointed out that many information users have discarded the journal model and think only in terms of articles. In today's "Google Era," publishers develop metadata pages as entry points to their content, and users search for and access them.

According to Luther, the challenge is to develop simple tools that allow users to navigate the myriad sources available and keep them from getting lost in "information silos." Publishers must manage increasing search loads, handle metadata searches properly, and deal with statistics, all while maintaining a presence by branding their content. Many issues result: appropriate presentation formats, merging search results and removing duplicate items, relevancy, and customization. Users are looking for a search experience like Google's, but this is difficult in an article environment. Publishers must talk to all user groups, not just librarians. Today's focus is shifting to the users: how they work, what's important to them, and what will save them time.

Content Aggregation

The content aggregation session featured three speakers who represent the library, aggregator, and publisher markets. Lucie Molgat, director of information delivery at the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI), described her organization's environment and information services. CISTI, a major document delivery supplier, focuses on support for universities and other clients, and is currently developing a secure desktop document delivery system. Molgat said that new relationships with primary publishers have made access rights a commodity. In response, consortia are being formed to reduce barriers between owners and users. Aggregators are therefore being squeezed and must develop new products to satisfy high user expectations.

Stephen Abram, vice president of Micromedia ProQuest, reviewed the changing environment and changing market demands for aggregators. He said that information must be easily accessible through relevant taxonomies. Besides searching, users want text-independence, contextual display, and the integration of content into their learning, buying, recreational, and work environments. The younger generation is used to reading online and visually interacting with information. As the population ages, delivery systems will need revolutionary changes because simple text pages will no longer satisfy user demand.

Information is no longer being accessed only through printed materials or PCs, said Abram. Many other devices (PDAs, cell phones, pocket PCs, etc.) are coming into vogue, and common standards for information presentation and delivery must be adopted to accommodate them. We must put visual information into systems and build Boolean logic into products. Content should be available wherever the user wants it.

According to Abram, learning objects must also be aggregated. E-learning has become a major force in today's market. Many libraries are using course-management systems to build massive curricula. Collaboration tools are therefore very significant. (According to one survey, more than 85 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 25 have at least one instant messaging account.) Context is becoming more important than content, and a variety of intelligence and learning styles are driving the market. As more people develop personal learning strategies, information literacy will be integrated into every aspect of learning. Information providers must therefore adapt to learners and their varying styles.

Steve Moss of the Institute of Physics (IOP) Publishing presented the viewpoint of a primary publisher. His company serves the specialized market of research physicists. Moss agreed with Abram that because a large part of the population is approaching retirement, publishers must not only continue to address their needs but also develop systems for the new generation. In this environment, content is still king.

IOP's mission is to both provide a forum where authors can receive exposure for their work and maximize access to that work for its customers. Aggregation now extends across content but also across pricing and business models. In response to the market becoming more interdisciplinary, IOP will introduce tiered pricing in 2005 that will allow customers to receive more content at today's prices. This will yield increased exposure for authors and greater use of IOP's products. More is therefore better.

CEO Panel

The meeting closed with the traditional panel of CEOs giving their insights on the current information market and how they're dealing with digital content. Patrick Spain, CEO of Alacritude, identified the following important trends:

• Individuals are now driving the information industry and are taking control of things that are important to them. The industry must follow the Wal-Mart example and offer a big selection, good quality, and low prices. Even in large companies,
individuals are buying what their businesses need.

• Value comes from tools, not content. People want to find things and use information to help them. Most folks read little online. If the information they want is on more than one or two screens, they print it out. Products must be developed with user habits in mind.

• Information prices will continue to fall and may even approach zero.

Ruth Koolish, president of Information Sources and developer of the SoftBase database, observed that large companies like Microsoft are entering the information industry and changing its models. Information and ways to get it must be integrated with each other, and relationships between the players, though rapidly changing, must work for the benefit of all.

Barry Bealer, CEO of Really Strategies, Inc. (a consulting firm that focuses on publishers), said that because content management means different things to different people, a variety of systems are necessary. After a sale, publishers are no longer willing to wait to see the returns and expect immediate results. Content management vendors must be able to respond quickly and change their systems if necessary.

ASIDIC Announcements

In ASIDIC news, Miriam A. Drake completed her term as president. Kevin Bouley, CEO of Nerac, Inc., was elected to succeed her.

The ASIDIC Spring 2004 Meeting will be held March 21­23 in Alexandria, Va. It will deal with the interface between government and business information. Is there anyone who doesn't have to deal with government information? Be sure to mark your calendar now and plan to attend.

 


Donald T. Hawkins is editor in chief of Information Science & Technology Abstracts and is Information Today, Inc.'s director of intranet content. He also serves as the ASIDIC secretariat. His e-mail address is d.t.hawkins@att.net.
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