REPORT FROM THE (HOME)FIELD
CIL and IL: Letís Get Connected
by Marydee Ojala
What happens when you’re confronted with the task of combining two in-person conferences into one virtual event? You could go with a shortened program or a series of webinars. But Jane Dysart, who programs both Computers in Libraries (usually held in the spring in the Washington, D.C., area) and Internet Librarian (usually held in the fall in California), had another idea. She opted for a full 5-day, 5-track conference, complete with a virtual exhibit hall, networking opportunities, 11 keynote speakers plus another 140 session speakers, interviews with key figures in Library Land, and even virtual whale-watching. More than 1,000 people thought this was a great idea and signed up to attend, speak, exhibit, and/or moderate.
The conference, renamed Computers in Libraries (CIL) and Internet Librarian (IL) Connect 2020, ran Sept. 21–25, 2020, and used the hashtag #CILandILCon nect. Opening the virtual event was Lee Rainie (director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center), who shared information about Americans and libraries in times of crisis. The most encouraging detail was the trust with which the public continues to view libraries. Libraries are seen as sanctuaries, providers of trusted information resources, family helpers, community strengtheners, and democracy anchors.
Dan Russell (senior research scientist at Google) is the author of The Joy of Search and runs the SearchReSearch blog. He gave several examples of his search processes for answering questions. Russell believes that we need to design info systems to support continual learning, teach our students how to use all of our info systems, and augment the search skills of ordinary people. He reiterated what most information professionals already know: Search is not intuitive.
Sarah Boisvert (founder of The New Collar Network) gave a keynote talk on the “new collar workforce,” in which she concentrated on ways to rebuild communities and stressed that even traditional blue-collar jobs are increasingly digital. This creates a skills gap that library fab labs, for example, can address.
CREATIVITY AND COURAGE
A primary interest of public policy researcher Nicol Turner Lee (senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institute) is enabling equitable access to technology, and she believes libraries are central to this. To close the digital divide, we need to reimagine libraries to serve people who are currently on the wrong side of digital opportunities. Libraries are community, she said, and they will help ensure economic resiliency post-pandemic. Her advice: Be creative and courageous.
Many talks clearly demonstrated that librarians are already being creative and courageous. Rex Krajewski (director of library and learning resource services at North Shore Community College Library) talked about new paradigms in collaboration and why you need courage to change. He detailed why his library left a regional network to start a new network. Using TikTok as a marketing tool was a risk taken by Kelsey Bogan (library media specialist at Great Valley High School). She finds it useful for branding, public perception, community outreach, advocacy, teaching, and collection development. Plus, it’s where the kids are!
Next-generation technologies, such as AI, robots, cloud computing, and augmented reality, came in for a great deal of scrutiny. These are rapidly moving from interesting—if not ready for prime time—technologies to ones that are integrated into library services and operations. Chad Mairn (manager of the Innovation Lab at St. Petersburg College) demonstrated how augmented and virtual reality look in practice.
TRUST AND TRUTH
Issues around trust and truth appeared in many of the presentations. Meredith Broussard (data journalism professor at New York University) warned about unconscious bias. We embed biases in our work often without realizing that we’re doing it. She also cautioned against the notion that everything will be fine if we just get the technology right. Human curation and intervention remain necessary.
Information Today contributor Amy Affelt and I looked at how facts are being questioned and how news sources, particularly local newspapers, are disappearing. She explained how newspaper ghosting (the practice of drastically slimming down papers’ page count) and fake publications skew people’s knowledge of issues. Facts can differ depending on context and because of updates with new information. It’s more important than ever to distinguish between fact and opinion.
Alex Clifton (artistic director of Storyhouse) explained how his company, located in Chester, U.K., operates as a hybrid organization, with a library, cinema, and theater. He described it as “full of life, busy, playful, a place to discover new activities.” With 1 million visitors and 2,000 activities (before the pandemic), the library reflects its vibrant and diverse city. Trust is implicit, exemplified by its no-locked-doors policy.
CIL and IL Connect 2020 was a very successful event. Although a few skeptics doubted that Information Today, Inc. could pull off such an ambitious rethinking of a physical conference, chairperson Dysart proved them wrong. The 2021 editions of the conferences are in the works: CIL Connect 2021 will be held virtually March 22–25, and IL 2021’s plan will depend on the state of the pandemic by the fall.