Information Today
Volume 17,  Number 5 • May 2000
IT Report from the Field •
Internet Librarian International/LibTech 2000
This global conference featured many languages, opinions, and views
by Stephen Abram

Spring was in the air as the information industry returned to London for the second annual Internet Librarian International (ILI) conference. The lovely weather and fields of daffodils in bloom made for a great event.

Gossip Heaven
You can also tell that spring is in the air when young information industry companies’ minds turn their attention to mergers and acquisitions. The hallways at the Olympia 2 conference center were buzzing with discussions of the recent executive changes and reorganizations, rumored mergers and corporate divorces, and the newest products. On the first day of the conference Dialog was asked by authorities to clarify its rumored corporate changes. It then issued a press release that set off another round of speculation. By the end of the conference Thomson was identified as the suitor for the Dialog service, DataStar, and Profound. It was then announced that Bright Station has been built to hold the remains of Dialog CEO Dan Wagner’s venture. Delegates, with an ironic twist, surfed to its new Web site ( at the Factiva Internet Café and made humorous comments about the home page’s “egg” symbolism. Much raucous laughter ensued.

Is Print Dead?
Not by a long shot. This conference is held parallel to the London Book Fair (LBF). I got lost on the street on the way over to the Olympia and asked a local mother with a baby carriage if she could help. She immediately assumed that I was intending to go to the Book Fair and knew how to direct me there. As an inmate of the info biz, it was humbling to have to walk through the LBF’s immense space and hundreds of booths. Its booths (which seemed like islands or small homes, actually) were replete with huge offices, secretaries to manage the appointments and authors, buskers, chefs, and booth babes for porno-lite publishers to draw the crowds. Only later did I find most of the electronic information industry’s players safely protected in a private hall a fraction of the size of the LBF. Print lives.

A Truly Global Conference
This year’s ILI attendance was more than double that of last year. And even more interestingly, more delegates came from outside the U.K. than within. The halls were filled with many languages and conversations between delegates who had arrived from all continents, with the exception of South America and Antarctica. It was a treat to see library and information professional issues addressed without the cultural dominance of any one country overpowering the discourse. Storytelling and sharing were the basis of the event, with both speakers and audience questioners seeking the solutions for a balanced approach to a global Internet while meeting the disparate needs of their local users and individual or national cultures. The panels at ILI were also very interactive. Another innovation this year was the presence of 11 free workshops in the Exhibit Hall.

From this vantage point there were several themes that seemed to thread throughout every talk. I also noticed a few emerging themes that might be harbingers of things to come as the non-industrialized world adopts the Internet in the next wave and brings its influences to bear on the medium.

Lots of sessions discussed wireless as the next wave of the Internet. The WAP (wireless application protocol) and its integration into hand-helds were clearly on many attendees’ minds. This might have been because, as many European Community info pros will tell you, the U.K. is way ahead on wireless technology and implementation. This would appear to be true given the ubiquitous sight of Londoners with PCS phones permanently affixed to their ears.

Enterprise Information Portals
Clare Hart, recently appointed CEO of Factiva, gave one of the daily keynotes. While showing the focus on professional users—info pros and business end-users alike—she opened the door ever so slightly on some of the leading-edge client work that Factiva has been doing with customization and its intranet tool kit. Mouths watered at the glimpses of enterprise intranet portals that flashed up on the screen showing the integration of the external and internal content that Factiva filtered for customer needs, and the integration of other vendors’ “stuff” too. It was a rare look into the corporate portal where too few share and show off—one hopes because the content integration is considered such a major competitive advantage.

Knowledge Management
The KM sessions were among the best attended at the conference. This conference focused on actual case studies and real-life experiences in addition to the promise-and-potential overviews. The real experiences of almost a dozen corporate, academic, and public sector enterprises were exceedingly educational. Each session underlined the fact that content and intranets are just the tools of the strategy. Cindy Hill of Sun Microsystems summed it up best by listing the risks involved in KM strategies when the holes in end-user information literacy skills are not filled or addressed.

It appeared that we’re getting better at describing the actual “talent” involved in searching. There was a clearer differentiation between what info pros could do and what could reasonably be expected of an end-user.

Danny Sullivan (of SearchEngineWatch fame) delivered one of his patented evaluations of the size of the Web and where he thinks it’s going. The age of huge search results is ending as the algorithms for displaying results get smarter—at least for the average Joe. The quest for increasingly larger databases of Web page indexes is a race that, if you win it, you lose. More pages seem to coordinate to lower results satisfaction.

Mary Ellen Bates—super searcher extraordinaire—did her usual superb job of showing the best in tips and tricks from super searchers. She made it clear both through example and metaphor that there’s an emerging and unbeatable split coming between those search engines and services that want the mass market and those that serve professionals and market niches.

D. Scott Brandt’s track on end-user training and teaching was equally successful. His session on teaching the Internet in 50 minutes was standing room only.

Emerging Threads
It’s clear that we’re entering an era where language needs to be addressed. There was a whole track on ways people with disabilities can use the Internet. It became increasingly clear to me that unilingualism will be a disadvantage in the future of the Web (or at least in the preference for sources written in English only).

The emergence of the Third World as a major growth niche for the Web was clear in both the diversity of the attendees at ILI as well as in the breadth of global issues covered in the sessions.

It was a great conference, unfettered by the politics of any one association, country, or profession. With this second conference ILI has found its feet and its niche. Freedom of thought, expression, and creativity reign.

Stephen Abram is vice president of corporate development at Micromedia, Ltd., a division of IHS Canada. His e-mail address is

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