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Magazines > Searcher > March 2003
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Vol. 11 No. 3 — March 2003
Internet Express
Internet in the Air: Internet Librarian 2002
by Irene E. McDermott • Reference Librarian/System Manager San Marino Public Library

No 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 [] 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 []. 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: 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 [] 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 [] 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.

Gadget Gals

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 []. Barbara Fullerton, manager of Library Services at Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP [], and Jenny Levine, AKA The Shifted Librarian [], 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 don't."


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 at

As the hosts of "Delicious Dish" would say, "Mmm. Fun. Good times."

Search Engine Highlights

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch [] 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 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 Solutions

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 per year.

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 now.

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 • P.S."

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, and attractions.

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 report [].

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
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