Internet in the Air: Internet Librarian
by Irene E. McDermott Reference Librarian/System
San Marino Public Library
wonder Frank Sinatra loved Palm Springs. Even in November,
80 degrees in the day, 65 at night, and dry as a kiss
from a mummy's lips. It was a starkly beautiful if
ironic setting for the sixth annual Internet Librarian
conference entitled "Navigating Turbulent Waters." Considering
the site, it probably should have been called "Scrambling
Up Rocky Gulches."
The approach to Palm Springs from L.A. by car involved
peeling off Interstate 10 in the midst of a forest
of wind turbines [http://www.aaa-calif.com/westways/0502/winds-1.asp] and
curling south behind Mt. San Jacinto on Highway 111,
the "Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway." This lonely road
stretched for miles, lined by sand dunes and signs
that read "Mary Bono for Congress."
When I finally entered the city, it was already in
shadow, the sun setting early behind the ridge just
to the west. As the highway morphed into the charming
main street, Palm Canyon Drive, fine white sand gave
way to green strips of lawn and white lights.
In the desert, anything green is kept that way at
great expense. Water equals wealth. Palm Springs resembles
a pile of cash dropped at the foot of a hill. Its landscape
is spotty, lush resorts alternating with bare lots,
the money barely able to keep back the sand except
on the main strip.
At the edge of town, buildings are low and wide,
ranch style. Desert land is cheap. In the heart of
the village, the architecture seems to date either
from the Mexican hacienda days or the Jetson '50s.
The stylized buildings look as fresh as when they were
built. The environment is so dry that half-century-old
buildings are preserved perfectly. Even the aluminum
window sills show no signs of corruption.
Perhaps that is why this town is a Mecca for those
who are, or were, beautiful in youth. People don't
age, they desiccate. For them, the dry air stops time.
No wonder Bob Hope has lasted so long.
I felt much more comfortable when I arrived at the
Palm Springs Convention Center and started mingling
with my own people: librarians. No stretched-tight
facelifts here, just value-added, information-finding
women and men, doing their best to bring answers to
their patrons in changing times.
The conference addressed many different issues that
confront Internet librarians today. We heard about
how Google gives searchers a false sense of "adequacy," that
is, confidence in the thoroughness of our research.
We were shown how blogging can enhance knowledge management,
AKA "KM," in organizations. Finally, we delved into
the profound mysteries of "DRM," AKA Digital Rights
Management, or how librarians can negotiate fair prices
for electronic content and control access to it.
Still, the most interesting part of the conference
for me was several sessions about the evolution, and
coming revolution, of wireless technology.
The Future Is Wireless
I found the most dynamic speaker on this topic at
the conference was Jack Powers, the director of IN3.ORG,
The International Informatics Institute [http://in3.org/].
At his keynote speech on Tuesday, November 5, "Digital
Information: Real-Time, Immersive, and Intelligent," Powers
thrilled us with descriptions of Internet applications
that will become available in the near future. He spoke
of an ambient Internet, Internet "zones" in which anyone
with a wireless adapter card could pull the Web right
out of the air. Some cowboys are doing that today,
driving around with their wireless-enabled computers
looking for houses and business with broadband service
that reaches to the street. When they find a hot spot,
they park and point their homemade antennas (actually
Pringles cans: http://www.oreillynet.com/cs/weblog/view/wlg/448)
at the wireless source. Then they start surfing.
Powers predicts that soon the Internet, already fast
becoming part of everyone's life, will become part
of our lives all the time. And it will appear on new
kinds of monitors. Flat plasma televisions look fantastic
and are becoming cheaper. The military has developed
a kind of spray-on monitor, video diodes that can be
sprayed on flat glass or plastic. Flexible polymer
monitors can be rolled up and taken to the battlefield
to show maps and satellite photos. Soon, small screens
will appear in supermarket aisles and even on cereal
boxes. These screens will be able to show video and
offer different messages depending on the time of day.
With all this information available to all of us
all the time, we will need help from artificial intelligence
applications. Already, the Google News service [http://news.google.com/] is
aggregated entirely by machine.
Computers are learning to watch video, too, and to
analyze the patterns of movement that are detected.
As the Carnegie-Mellon University, the "Video Surveillance
and Activity Monitoring (VSAM)" Web site says:
Mounting video cameras is cheap, but finding available
human resources to observe the output is expensive.
Although surveillance cameras are already prevalent
in banks, stores, and parking lots, video data currently
is used only "after the fact" as a forensic tool, thus
losing its primary benefit as an active, real-time
medium. What is needed is continuous 24-hour monitoring
of surveillance video to alert security officers to
a burglary in progress, or to a suspicious individual
loitering in the parking lot, while there is still
time to prevent the crime
Other applications of video surveillance technologies
include measuring traffic flow, compiling consumer
demographics in shopping malls and amusement parks,
logging routine maintenance tasks at nuclear facilities,
and counting endangered species.
Powers noted that one problem with ubiquitous Internet
is that users expect information on the Web to be free. "The
Information Culture will take a generation to come
around to the idea that one must pay for information." With
the state of digital rights today, every customer is
potentially a crook. In the next decade, Powers predicts,
standards for paying for Web-based content will be
settled. Will these rules be fair but flexible? Or
will we have to, in Powers' words, "pay for every comma?"
Architecture for Wireless Technology
Powers later spoke about the setup for wireless technology
in libraries. Wireless Internet access is convenient
in places that are difficult to wire with Ethernet
drops. Still, it will always be slower than wire and
intrinsically insecure. Any information that goes out
over a wireless network must reside outside of the
firewall that protects a library's databases.
In general, a wireless network works best as a supplement
to the copper wire network on which today's libraries
depend. It can supplement public access workstations
without the library having to buy more computer desks
and eating up precious floor space. Staff can take
wireless PDAs into the stacks to perform inventory
or even check out books. Wireless architecture is just
a bit more costly than wired drops, but not prohibitively
so on a small scale. Still, it is best to hire an engineer
to design the installation wireless access points.
Wireless signals work fine in open reference rooms,
but book stacks can block them.
The Library as Holy Place
In contrast to Jack Powers effervescent presentation,
Stephen E. Arnold of Arnold Information Technologies [http://www.arnoldit.com/index_xt.html] brought
us back down to Earth. Wake up, librarians! We need
to redesign our physical plants to make them amenable
to learning, sharing, and the use of wireless technologies.
The battle is already over, contended Arnold, between
wired and wireless technologies. Wireless has won.
The push is a global trend and is age-centric, i.e.,
youth-skewed. This trend is also driven by Asia. Many
in China today do not have telephones. When they get
them, they will be cell phones. The Chinese, and also
the people of India, will connect to the Internet over
a wireless network.
How can libraries evolve to embrace this trend? By
becoming more work conductive, group friendly, richly
resourced, comfortably designed, and maybe even mocha-serving
(away from the books).
We must provide spaces for groups to meet and talk to
each other, on cell phones, and on text messaging machines.
We must provide the infrastructure to power and cool
all these electronic gizmos.
If we can do that, we will have no trouble attracting
patrons. Cathedrals, town squares, and pubs attract
people, but only the library inspires intellectual
activity. Libraries are uniquely a place where learning
occurs. We must inspire peace of mind, beauty, and
make people feel good.
On Tuesday, I caught a presentation called "The Wacky
World of Gadgets" offered by a couple of gals who reminded
me of Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon doing the "Delicious
Dish," mock-NPR, radio cooking show on Saturday
Night Live [http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/Humor/SNL/DeliciousDish1.htm].
Barbara Fullerton, manager of Library Services at Locke
Liddell & Sapp LLP [http://www.lockeliddell.com/],
and Jenny Levine, AKA The Shifted Librarian [http://www.theshiftedlibrarian.com/],
may proceed from the middle of America, but their knowledge
of new technology proved to be coastal cutting edge.
If it is small, cool, and new, these ladies love
it. Among the gadgets they reviewed were GPS-enhanced
watches for tracking children and Alzheimer's patients,
a device that transforms a tabletop into a speaker,
a robotic vacuum cleaner, and a hybrid device that
combines cell phone, PDA, and digital camera. What,
it doesn't make coffee?
Here are some other gizmos the pair shared:
Magnavox MobilePal + GPS
GPS is really coming into its own, particularly in
the area of alerting emergency services to the location
of injured and ill people. This device costs $99, plus
$20 per month for service. As the site says, when you
are away from home, "We'll know exactly where to send
roadside or emergency assistance even if you
M-Systems, makers of Flash Disks, has developed this
little bulbous keychain thing that plugs into a computer
USB ports and holds as much data as a CD-ROM. Pay $39
to $139 for 8-128 MB of storage. Hey! Leave those ol'
writable CD-ROMs at home. Bring your PowerPoint presentations
to conferences on your keychain!
Need a full-sized keyboard for your PDA, but don't
want to haul one around? How about typing on the tabletop
on a keyboard made of light? VKB is perfecting a device
that projects a keyboard and even a mouse onto any
surface with a laser eye. Some advantages include germ-free
typing in sterile environments and being able to change
the keyboard language on the fly.
Levine and Fullerton also showcased an MP3 player
with storage for 500 CDs worth of music. Find the details
As the hosts of "Delicious Dish" would say, "Mmm.
Fun. Good times."
Search Engine Highlights
Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch [http://www.searchenginewatch.com/] gave
us the lowdown on the current state of search engines
at his Wednesday keynote speech. "Google won," he announced. "You
can go home now."
Hey, but seriously. We who use Google every day on
the reference desk know that it has raised the bar
for search engines since its introduction in 1998.
This year, it caused a major reversal from that granddaddy
of directories, Yahoo!.
Remember the mid-'90s, Sullivan recalled. Lycos and
the Alta Vista used bots to crawl the Web. Then, in
the late '90s, the momentum turned toward the human
Web, that is, hand-crafted directories. Yahoo! became
king. It didn't list every resource, but the ones it
showed were quality.
Google, with its amazing array of simultaneous processors,
changed all that. If Yahoo! is like a card catalog
that lists the names of books in a library, Google
actually reads all the books and offers the relevant
pages, all in just seconds.
So now, Yahoo!'s results come from Google's crawler.
We can still access the "classic" hand-picked Yahoo!
Directory, though, at http://dir.yahoo.com/.
Of course, now that Yahoo! has bought Inktomi, we may
see some changes there.
Controlling the Web OPAC in the Library
Greg Mitchell, of the University of Texas, Pan American,
and Todd King from the Eastern Kentucky University
Libraries, let us in on a new browser that just might
replace Microsoft Internet Explorer on the Web OPAC
computers in our libraries.
PWB (Public Web Browser) by TeamSoftware
Minnesotan Scott Vermeersch designed this browser
with libraries in mind. PWB is easy to set up and includes
extra features for Internet computers in libraries.
It carries a link in the browser itself to your Internet
policy and a timer that can be set to browse home,
exit, or re-start PWB after a specified amount of time.
Version one is completely free. The new version 2 is
free to try, with some restrictions. Might as well
buy a site license though, since it only costs $100
How Much of This Do We Need to Remember?
Roy Tennant, Web and Services design manager for
the eScholarship Initiative of the California Digital
Library, cautioned us not to learn anything about technology
that we didn't absolutely have to, mostly because that
knowledge will be out of date soon, anyway.
With that in mind, I must tell you that I couldn't
take advantage of all the rich resources at this conference.
Nor did I report on absolutely every detail I heard.
I have merely given you the highlights, the bits that
seemed most important for me (and my library) right
Next year, when the Internet Librarian Conference
returns to Monterey, California, I'm sure the focus
will change, just as the Web does! See you next November
on the bay in Monterey!
I am a native Southern Californian, but before
the conference, I had never visited Palm Springs.
I really recommend it, especially in the cool
winter months. Here are some Web resources
to help you plan your trip.
Palm Springs Visitors Guide
What's to do in this little resort at the
edge of a big ol' desert? Plenty, as it turns
out. Visit the Palm Springs Visitors Guide
to get the goods on street fairs, hotels, restaurants,
Pilot Getaways: Palm Springs
Here is a simple, beautifully written article
about the history of Palm Springs and a checklist
of things to do there, written from the vantage
point of a visitor approaching from the sky.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Palm Springs lies at the base of 10,831-foot
Mt. San Jacinto. In 1935, a young electrical
engineer, Francis F. Crocker, gazed at that
snow-covered peak from the desert valley below.
He longed to "go up there where it's nice and
cool." That is when he began to design and
build a tramway up the sheer cliffs of Chino
Canyon. Crocker's dream came true when the
tram opened in 1963. Visit the Tram Cam for
live shots from on high as well as a weather
Desert Hills Premium Outlets
Twenty miles west of Palm Springs off of
Interstate 10 lies the Desert Hills Premium
Outlets. Here, I passed on a $2,000 Armani
jacket on sale for a mere $450. (Heck, I couldn't
even get a salesgirl to look at me in that
store.) Still, I did find a $150 black cocktail
dress for $20 at the Ann Taylor Loft. It makes
my middle-aged body look mahvelous, dahling.
When you visit Palm Springs, you must take
at least a half a day to explore this amazing
collection of stores.
Irene McDermott's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org