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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies


Computers in Libraries Connect, Next Library Festival
July/August 2021 Issue

When the pandemic forced conferences to move to virtual platforms, it had the unexpected benefit of opening up attendance to a wider group of people. “Going to a conference” no longer entailed actually going anywhere at all. No need to travel or book a hotel room; conferences came to the attendees rather than the traditional conference-as-destination scenario. Having mastered Zoom and Teams, librarians are now adept at navigating among online conference platforms, each of which is subtly different. Not only does this make conferences more accessible, it often lowers the cost.

Moving to virtual had several ramifications. More people signed up from many more parts of the world. With no travel constraints, conferences had international attendees who had never been able to attend in person. However, time zones inhibited attendance at some sessions. Only the truly dedicated want to be awake at midnight in Europe to hear a librarian talking at 3 p.m. in California. Time zone challenges didn’t affect only non-North Americans. Sessions scheduled for 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time require the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada to log in at 5 a.m. This isn’t a problem when conferences record presentations, either as prerecorded, on-demand sessions or live as the talk is being delivered. No need to stay up late or get up early; you can view the presentation at a time that is convenient for you.


Computers in Libraries Connect, held March 23–25, 2021, on the PheedLoop platform, was an ambitious undertaking. With the theme of Resetting With Resilience & Technology, it had more than 100 sessions spread over five tracks in 3 days with another day devoted to seven workshops, all of them half-day except for WebSearch University Presents Searchers Academy, “Resetting Search,” which was a full day. The tracks were Content Discovery, Management, & Resetting; Library Management & Practice; Technology; Communities: Engagement, Learning, & Future; and Change, Opportunities, & the Future. As with in-person conferences, it was a simple task to move from one session to another during live presentations. If you were unable to attend in March, replay passes are available (

In his opening keynote, titled “Libraries Leading the New Normal,” David Lankes, soon move from his job as professor and director of the library school at the University of South Carolina to the Texas iSchool, suggested that “new normal” was one of the phrases we’ve come to hate. What is positive about the “new normal,” he hopes, is that it has taught us how to prevent future terrible situations. To do that, we need to get away from deficit thinking. He suggested a worldview based on sources, people, technology, and policy. Credibility by authority is dead, leading people to only trust themselves. Technology has made everyone a content producer and revealed the immense need for ethical AI. As a policy issue,

universal broadband should be top of the list, along with copyright reform. Lankes ended his talk by proclaiming that libraries have a vital role in democracy. Libraries should create community-wide strategic plans and talk explicitly about democracy.


The ethics of AI was further explored by Phaedra Boinodiris in her keynote talk “AI, Machine Learning, Technology, and Ethics.” She is the trust in AI business transformation leader at IBM and a huge proponent of STEM education for girls. While warning of potential problems with AI, she struck a positive note throughout the talk, not wanting her audience to become pessimistic about what they might perceive as a dystopian future. Bias, she said, doesn’t come simply from AI-based decisions—cognitive bias is essentially everywhere. Her vision for trusted AI involves fairness, explainability, robustness, and transparency. What matters most is investing in skills to work with AI. It is up to us to challenge the ethics of AI since research shows that CEOs tend not to think it is part of their job.

At a more grassroots level, Beth Kanter and Alison Fine, who are authors, consultants, trainers, and self-described “Nerd Whisperers” rather than techies, provided a number of hints about how to embrace AI to scale fundraising efforts. They talked about fundraising chatbots, participatory AI, ethical standards, and human augmentation. Jason Griffey from NISO outlined how AI is affecting librarianship. Now that we have “AI in our pockets,” we’re finding benefits, particularly when it comes to research. Griffey mentioned Casetext’s CARA A.I. ( for legal research; as a “personal research assistant; Diffeo ( for searching across the internet, deep web, and internal data repositories; and for scientific text understanding. AI-driven products can also take notes and write your paper for you.

Cool tools not AI-based include Google Drive, Google Slides, and Google Forms being incorporated into the library’s CMS, as described by Jean Cook, University of West Georgia. Catawba College’s Ray Porter reviewed programs his library that were used for remote gaming events during the pandemic. He concentrated on the virtual tabletop web apps platform Roll20.

Amy Affelt, along with Kathy Zuczek and Matthew Donahue from Dow Jones & Co., Inc., and Marydee Ojala, had a wide-ranging discussion on how to futurize facts in a changing world. The panel noted that facts can change over time and with different contexts, but the dearth of reliable local news too easily distorts facts. Zuczek and Donahue explained how Dow Jones evaluates new sources for Factiva and depends on transparency within its Source Information.

Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, the library association in the U.K., sees libraries as configurable platforms. The legacy view of libraries doesn’t work anymore. Libraries need to be defined not by what they were, but by what they will become. They need to build better, bolder, and not stop at resetting. If libraries organize around people’s needs rather than being compartmentalized,they will encourage information flows and make a massive difference. Not only that, libraries have a story to tell that is engaging and empathetic. It is up to us to define the new normal for libraries and, by extension, for librarians.


In contrast to Computers in Libraries Connect, Next Library Festival had a “follow the sun” schedule. Beginning at 2 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) June 3, it continued for 24 hours, ending at 2 a.m. EDT June 4. Also unlike Computers in Libraries Connect, the Next Library Festival was free. The Festival ran on the platform and had oth concurrent sessions—on Curiosity, Creativity, Democracy, and Sustainability stages—and keynotes. Most of the presentations were streamed from the presenter’s location, but some were filmed live from the Aarhus Dokk1 studio, hosted by Marie Østergaard, the tireless library director at Aarhus Public Libraries. Attracting 1,235 participants from more than 42 countries, the Festival had more structured talks and fewer creative, maker-type sessions than was possible during in-person events. The closest it came was the workshop on #StoryCity, run by Liam Nilsen, where participants used their own paper, scissors, tape, and markers to create a small model building, then add a story and a picture.

The Euphorigen Investigation ( was an escape room where you had 45 minutes to uncover the truth rather than the misinformation being spread about a mood-enhancing supplement. Next Library ( is both an event and a community.

Since 2009, when the first Next Library event was initiated by the Aarhus Public Libraries, the community has expanded well beyond Denmark’s borders to 96 countries and more than 1,700 people. Its mission is “to look ahead and explore the continuously evolving nature of the public library in the 21st century.”

Ryan Jenkins, from the Wonderful Idea Co., titled his opening keynote “Tinkering: A Playful Approach to Lifelong Learning.” He defined tinkering as “an approach to learning that values the students’ (and educators’) own curiosity, ideas, and experiments as the driving process toward real understanding.” Letting students create physical objects that represent their individual process is key to his playful approach. Calling lifelong learning “tinkering” sounds vastly less stuffy than naming it “pedagogy.”

Peter MacLeod started his keynote talk “Democracy’s Second Act” by saying that librarians are radicals with big hearts. According to him, “We need radicals. Democracy needs libraries. Citizens need you.” He believes that democracy is under siege and that librarians have an essential role to play. What is democracy’s second act? It’s to get away from the great man theory of politics, where one person has all the answers, to franchising more people in the work of government itself. He challenged the audience to randomly select members of their community, have them converse about issues affecting the community, and provide recommendations and guidance to governments and public authorities.

The final keynote speaker, Rolf Hapel, most recently at the iSchool, University of Washington, and previously city librarian in Aarhus, made a surprise in-person appearance at the Festival. Most of us expected a remote presentation. You could almost hear gasps from around the world as he strolled onto the stage at Dokk1. Wondering what post-pandemic libraries will look like, Hapel stated, “Instead of asking to which problems in society is the library the answer, we could also ask to which opportunities in society is the library the catalyst?” One possibility, he believes, is the opportunities inherent in going digital. Community engagement is key as is considering the library as space.

Interspersed among these three inspiring and thought-provoking keynotes were equally intriguing sessions on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), comics, dancing robots, design thinking, creating podcasts, islands in the sky, democratic literacy, guided drawing, impact of public libraries, and bibliobits, plus some remote library tours. Oslo Public Library is beautiful and worth more than a virtual visit.

The backstage Next Library crew, employees of Dokk1. Marie Østergaard stands in the center.


With luck, and worldwide vaccinations, Computers in Libraries will return to the Washington, D.C., area March 29–31, 2022, and Next Library Festival will open the doors at Dokk1, although no date has yet been set for that. Will these conferences, and others, return to their former in-person events or will they add virtual elements? Right now, that’s an open question that will be answered in the coming months.

Marydee Ojala is Editor-in-Chief of Online Searcher (the successor journal to ONLINE) and writes its business research column ("The Dollar Sign"). She has contributed feature articles and news stories to Information TodayEContentComputers in LibrariesIntranetsCyberSkeptic's Guide to the InternetBusiness Information Review, and Information Today's NewsBreaks. A long-time observer of the information industry, she speaks frequently at conferences, such as WebSearch University, Internet Librarian, Internet Librarian International, Computers in Libraries, and national library meetings worldwide. She has adjunct faculty status at the School of Library and Information Science at IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis). Her professional career began at BankAmerica Corporation, San Francisco, directing a worldwide program of research and information services. She established her independent information research business in 1987. Her undergraduate degree is from Brown University and her MLS was earned at the University of Pittsburgh.


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