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Magazines > Information Today > March 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 3 — March 2003
Information Online Plenary Presentations
By Donald T. Hawkins

Information Online 2003, held Jan. 21—23 in Sydney, attracted 1,200 attendees. This conference is the largest that addresses online information in Australasia. It featured an exhibit hall, a series of plenary and shorter presentations (many by international authors), and numerous associated activities. Below are a few plenary session summaries. The complete proceedings are available at

Opening Session

In his opening keynote speech, Steve Coffman, vice president of Library Systems & Services, Inc., described libraries as an endangered species and discussed how information professionals can ensure their survival. According to Coffman, despite recent statistics that show book circulation is down significantly in many libraries, books are more popular than ever. More than 140,000 titles were published in 2002.

The large book superstores are very bullish on books. A recent report from Borders stated that the company hopes to open an annual average of 40 new stores during the next few years. Obviously, such shops have discovered what people want. Libraries would do well to emulate them by providing access to large collections of books, comfortable surroundings, ambience, long hours of operation, ordering convenience, and self-service (with friendly help available when necessary).

Coffman suggested that libraries should extend their hours, emphasize their collection strengths, develop convenient ways to borrow books online, and make their services easier to use. He recommends that they do not depend entirely on traditional funding sources but should explore ways to save money by examining their processes and using technology to its fullest. They might also consider raising money through securing sponsorship, soliciting gifts, offering premium services on a membership basis, and selling used books. Libraries need to find a better way to serve our enduring quest for knowledge.

Obtaining Content

Corilee Christou, director of online and new media licensing and development for Cahners Business Information, talked about the "content jungle." She noted that with more content available than ever before, needs assessments are important. The Web is the ultimate level playing field, and the universal law of the jungle—survival of the fittest—continues to apply. With entry barriers virtually eliminated (anyone can be a publisher), users must be vigilant and examine content offerings carefully to determine if they meet their needs. According to Christou, you should use the following rules of the game:

• Know usage requirements and understand license terms.

• Have a backup plan if the vendor's content ownership changes.

• Get the right content and don't buy simply on price.

• Address the short-term needs but prepare for the long-term.

Carol Tenopir, a professor at the University ofTennessee­Knoxville, discussed e-journals and two models for obtaining them: directly from the publisher (the journal model) or from aggregators (the article model). She pointed out that a journal is not just a collection of articles. It has an editor, an editorial board, and readers, and thus forms a community. The journal model can substitute for a print subscription, but the article model cannot because it's mainly used for searching. Libraries should consider these two models when they decide to subscribe to e-journals.

Changing Flow of Information

Russ Dawson, founder and CEO of Advanced Human Technologies, provided the second day's keynote address with an excellent presentation titled "The Changing Flow of Information." He noted that the amount of information made available in the last 6 years is equal in volume to everything that was previously available. Despite shrinking economies, an explosive connectivity growth has occurred. The global economy is expanding weightlessly in areas of bits and bytes, not material products. Technology is becoming integrated into all areas, and the key is XML. Our biggest problem today is information overload. We cope by collaborating to find good information through word of mouth (via Web logs, etc.).

In business, work boundaries are disintegrating, processes span organizations, and collaboration spans boundaries. So in such an environment, information standards must be developed and adhered to, distributed work-flow processes should be enabled, customers and partners must create value together, and a culture of transparency needs to be initiated. Some appropriate actions for information professionals include the following:

• Enhancing clients' knowledge by helping them feel at home in information space

• Creating some enabling information architectures by participating in and designing metadata initiatives

• Filtering, validating, and customizing information

Dawson feels that a major scarce resource is folks' attention, which must be secured to ensure success. Further suggestions are contained in Dawson's recent book The Living Networks (

Knowledge Assets

Anne Caputo, director of knowledge and learning systems for Factiva, stressed that although many things have come to knowledge workers' desktops, it's important that decision-making tools, such as an array of information sources, are close at hand. Many information professionals lack spending authority in organizations. They need to see beyond the bits and bytes and manage the integration of content to the user's desktop. A holistic view of an organization's information use is necessary. Document strategies must start at executive levels, because the executives are the only ones who have an overall view of the complex issues involved. An organization's knowledge must be made into one of its strategic assets.

Full Circle

Amelia Kassel, president of MarketingBase, wrapped up the keynote sessions with a presentation on the value of information professionals. In today's climate, libraries are businesses within a business, and they must be involved in strategic planning to survive. It's critical that they become proactive in demonstrating the value they bring to the organization. To do this, they must measure their contribution to an organization's return on investment. Executives want to see positive ROI, and units that don't achieve this will be eliminated.

Steps that information professionals can take include gathering anecdotal evidence of successes in cost savings; conducting user surveys to show satisfaction with their services; understanding corporate cultures and goals; and evaluating and promoting their skills, competencies, and services. They should also ensure that their job titles accurately reflect their value to the organization. (See for lists of titles in current use.) Kassel's presentation was a fitting close to the conference because it returned to the theme of Coffman's opening keynote: ensuring the survival of libraries and information professionals.

The Information Online 2003 conference was the 11th in a series sponsored by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA; It was well worth the effort to attend as it's become a major event on the information conference agenda. One major benefit of attendance for North American and European professionals is that January is summer in Australia.


Donald T. Hawkins is director of intranet development for Information Today, Inc. and editor in chief ofInformation Science & Technology Abstracts. His e-mail address is
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