ALA 2007 – Time Odyssey: Visions of Reference and User Services

This was the RUSA President’s Program. The panel was made up of:

Genevieve Bell – Director of User Experience at Intel and an anthropologist

Lee Rainie – Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project

Allen Renear – Professor of Library and Information Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Wendy Schultz – Director of Infinite Futures and Fellow of the World Futures Studies Federation

Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, was moderator and asked some questions of them at the end.

The year is 2017. Each panelist was asked to speak about what they think libraries will look like then. More specifically, what reference service will look like.

Genevieve Bell went first. She asserted that talking about the future of technology is often just a way to avoid discussing the present.

She thinks we’re currently seeing a return to some aspects of the Victorian-era private libraries – people are accumulating more and more personal media. DVDs, CDs, digital movies or music, books, etc. Traditional library roles are being taken over a bit thanks to this. But, meanwhile paper is not going anywhere anytime soon – we seem to like it too much.

While these roles are taken over, libraries are shifting to a new one: having a center of gravity, as a location. Physically visiting a library to get a card is often considered a rite of passage, and libraries more and more run activities for the community. In Australian, there are even popular sessions on how to organize your home collection with Dewey! I admit I probably wouldn’t sign up for that one, but to each his own 🙂 Libraries are also becoming central information distribution points, as with tax forms.

Another role as a place is to provide a place for people to be together. People want to be where others are when learning.

Lee Rainie mentioned that while in the past everyone got 15 minutes of fame, today everyone is famous to 15 people.

He foresees the development of an ‘internet of things’ – physical objects will share data among themselves to make our lives easier. These objects are known as ‘spimes’, a term coined by author Bruce Sterling. Every object will carry information about itself – reviews built in to the chair you’re sitting on, for example.

Lee also thinks the most interesting battles between now and 2017 will be in the regulatory bodies like the FCC – they have the power to shape a lot of the coming landscape. Copyright, trademarks, etc. are all huge issues. The band The White Stripes has stopped improvising at live shows because they can’t copyright a song fast enough before a fan has a recording posted online.

So, why does he think libraries will still be around in 2017? Nobody knows how to handle information needs better, or how to manage that information. We understand the importance of standards, teach about info literacy, defend freedom of speech, guide conversations about new policies, etc.

Allen Renear says XML will be “the tunnels under Disneyland” for all we do – providing a sort of universal backbone.

By 2017 we won’t look for articles to read in the sciences – that very ideal will be laughable. Due to the ongoing explosion of the sheer amount of information available, it will be impossible to read everything relevant to a topic. Instead, we’ll see the development of ‘literature mining’- I didn’t get down the details of this concept, but it involves indirect use of many articles at the same time. Users will spend time in the “Scholarly Search Environment trance” – developing queries, tracking references, judging, comparing terms, all subconsciously. This prediction seems pretty accurate to me – I slip into a minor form of that state myself when doing research even today. I can’t always outline for anyone the exact steps I took to synthesize information during a search – in the end it feels almost like proceeding on hunches. Allen admits that this sort of horizontal use of literature will be practical, but hard work with lots of questions.

Wendy Schultz opened with a more practical reason why the reference desk will still be around in 2017: “Universities are really bad at getting rid of furniture.”

She also brought up the idea that libraries will act as a social hub in the future more so than they currently do.

Constant environmental scans will be crucial to spot change coming – find that patient zero who grasps onto an idea first, sort of like epidemiology. All aspects of the environment must be taken into account: Society, politics, economics, discovery, etc. We need to cultivate an immersion in that sea of information. We’ll break items down into their component pieces and then recombine them into new results.

Unfortunately, the session ran out of time so most of the discussion was cut at the end. Steven Bell did note that it is crucial for libraries to stay abreast of new changes in order to ensure the future is one where we are still relevant – it won’t happen automatically.

ALA 2006 – Day 4 (Closing and final thoughts)

I’m home! And ready to sleep for a week.

This morning I took one last trip to the convention center. Caught the very end of Cokie Roberts’ closing speech, but not enough to really say much about it. After that, I talked to a final few vendors on the exhibits floor. By this point the booksellers were almost giving stuff away, just so they wouldn’t have to ship it back to home base afterwards. But I really didn’t want to ship another box back home 🙂

Jumped back on the shuttle to Loyola, packed up and sat in the shade until the airport shuttle arrived. That shuttle driver had some amazing statistics. Pre-Katrina, the airport shuttle company had about 150 vehicles. Today they have 22. Their staff is even more vacant. But they still did a fine job of getting me (and the other nine in the van) to the airport in plenty of time. It was a crazy day for airport transportation in general – our driver called the day “the biggest exodus since the storm”.

My flight back to Nashville was uneventful. I was tempted to take the offer of a travel voucher to get bumped to later tonight, but I really wanted to get home. The very pleasant two hour drive from the airport gave me a bit to start decompressing. I’ve decided I really enjoy driving the Nashville-Huntsville stretch of I-65.

On the subject of the Loyola dorms, I give ALA an amazing amount of credit for setting that up well. The rooms were clean, safe, and well supplied with sheets and towels. The student working the checkin desk was knowledgeable, and had tons of handouts on things like ALA shuttle bus routes. And most importantly, the shuttle ran pretty close to on time. It stopped in a slightly different place each time for some reason, but that wasn’t a big deal. All of these details (and any number of others) could have been overlooked, and frankly I was worried they would be. But really, the only thing missing was a pool 🙂 As a nice touch, each bedroom had a Rand McNally folding map of the city in it. And someone even set up a “take a book, leave a book” exchange in the first floor lounge!

This conference was a very different experience from when I went last year. For one thing, I could ignore the placement center this time and focus on other goings on. In 2005 I don’t think I made it to more than two sessions. This time I hit a whole bunch more, and did a much better job planning out my attack in advance. Plus, I spent last year mostly meeting people for the first time and feeling generally overwhelmed. And vendors didn’t stop talking to me the moment they found out I was a student 🙂 Overall, this time I felt a little bit less like a chicken with it’s head cut off, and was able to get a lot more accomplished. And it was really nice to be able to support New Orleans in the city’s recovery. Everywhere I went, everybody was gracious and happy to talk to us. But they need all the help they can get.

My award for strangest swag item of the conference goes to the Google Trout keychain:


Nobody at the Google booth knew what it is supposed to represent, except that it is called the “Google Trout”. I heard them asking each other if this was their new mascot, but got no answer. All one of them could suggest was “Maybe the eyes are googley? Nope…” But it is sort of cute.

My Flickr photoset of the conference has been updated one final time.

ALA 2006 – Day 3

What a day! I’m exhausted, and it probably shows in the quality of my blogging of today’s sessions.

I started the day by visiting some more vendors, in particular Lexis Nexis. They weren’t able to answer most of my questions about training options, as the pavilion was focused mostly on the product a step down from what we use at work. But I got some brochures, and sat in on a brief session about using their search of congressional records.

Afterwards, I dashed upstairs to the Professional Blogging session. Then time for lunch, which I attempted to eat at Mother’s on Poydras. But the line was ginormous, and I wouldn’t have gotten to eat in time for the next session I wanted to make. So I settled for a quick, less notable (but still good) sandwich elsewhere.

After lunch I got to the session on Exploring the Technology of Gaming, which I loved. Seeing my hobbies and profession come together is always interesting. Afterwards i ran into Stephanie from back at the Fairport Public Library, where I got my start shelving books in high school. Funny to think how much that affected my path in life.
Went back to the exhibit hall, mingled with people there. Finally met Rochelle! And I got to chat with John Blyberg a bit, who is a really really smart guy. I wish I had half his coding skills.

Rochelle and I headed over to CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s speech for PLA (which he commented sounds awfully like an acronym for a militant liberation organization). Joking aside, his speech was remarkably moving. He broke down almost into tears multiple times over the situation in New Orleans. He reminded us all that in the convention center where we’ve been learning and socializing this week, people died less than a year ago from a simple lack of water. Their bodies were left unclaimed for days. Much of the outlying areas of New Orleans still look exactly as they did on day 1 after Katrina. Downtown may look good, but the city is anything but normal. Don’t forget them, don’t let New Orleans dwindle into an anecdote. I almost skipped this session, and I’m very glad I changed my mind.

After that sobering note, Rochelle and I visited the bar in her hotel in the French Quarter. Had a drink at the revolving carousel-style bar, which is remarkably disorienting but still pretty cool.

I had a late dinner with Jenny Levine, Kathryn Deiss (both of whom have great new jobs at ALA!) and gaming guru Eli Neiburger. We ate at a delicious place at the corner of Andrew Higgins Drive and Tchoupitoulas Street. But I can’t rememember the place’s name, other than it began with the letter C. Driving me mad! (Update later: Cochon! That was it.)
We stayed for a long time, ordering small plates of lots of different foods to pass around. The conversation never stopped, and it was really great to just sit down and chat with them.

By the time we left it was pouring rain, so we had the restaurant call us cabs. I took one on my own, as Loyola isn’t near their hotels. Had a fun conversation with the driver, after he stopped making fun of my inability to pronounce local road names 😛 Turns out he was stationed in Huntsville on the arsenal a while ago. Small world! The taxi was converted from an old police car, so still had a bright spotlight the driver could aim. He used it to play tour guide on the way, which was sort of fun.

Got back here, chatted with my suitemates for a bit, planned out stuff for tomorrow, and now to bed. I’ll miss seeing everyone here, and I wish I could stay and go with the group to work on local libraries, but I will be very glad to get back to my own bed tomorrow night.

I also added a few more pictures to the flickr set, but didn’t take very many today.

ALA 2006 – Exploring the tech of gaming

Speakers were Eli Neiburger, Matt Gullett, Kevin Ferst, and Beth Gallaway.

Eli spoke for the bulk of the session, and was really fascinating. He pointed out that video gaming is not really new, it has been around for about thirty years now. And the calls that it will be the downfall of civilization as we know it are “just another part of the generational churn.” Movies, music, and even novels have all held that spot at some point or another. Media coverage of hyper-violent games is overblown. I didn’t catch the exact statistic, but something like only 12% of all games sold last year were rated M (Mature), and even they are intended for ages 17 and up. In the same way that you wouldn’t take a first grader to an R movie, they shouldn’t be playing M rated games. Parents need to be educated about the rating system to understand this.
Eli runs amazingly successful gaming events at the Ann Arbor District Library system. He points out that they are about the only programs to draw in large numbers of teenage boys to the library.

I was in awe the entire time, just listening to Eli speak. He’s truly passionate about gaming in libraries, and can justify it in ways I can’t even begin to list. I think he won over most of the audience.

The other speakers had less time, but were still interesting and relevant. Matt Gullett pointed out that you shouldn’t make programs to create games, which he has run, too much like school or you’ll lose the kids. Instead, the sessions can be places to create and interact socially.

Kevin Ferst brought an interesting perspective, in that he isn’t a hardcore gamer himself but still has successfully run sessions at the library. You don’t have to be an expert!

Beth Gallaway pointed out that teens do need structure and boundaries, which libraries can provide in these programs like any others. And what about teaching ‘mashup’ classes at the library? Kids love to take game footage and sync it up with their favorite music, creating quick music videos. Use it as an opportunity to teach them some tools, as well as a quick copyright/fair use lesson (record companies are starting to sue kids over these videos).

I admit that I find it hard to apply a lot of what was covered in an academic library environment. But the study of gaming, and how it impacts the students we receive in colleges, is still very relevant. And what would be so wrong with hosting a gaming night for incoming freshmen? 🙂

ALA 2006 – Next Stop Blogging

This session was all about building a professional blog for your library. Jason Griffey (, Karen Coombs ( and Steven Bell ( spoke.

Griffey covered the technical back end – how to pick a blogging software package, and particularly whether to go with a hosted solution or to install your blog on your own servers. He highly recommends installing it on your own servers. If nothing else, it is important to have full control over the content you’ll be generating. I fully agree with this. Google’s Blogger system is great for setting up a quick blog, but for something professional like this you need finer granularity of being able to alter and control the blog.

Coombs talked about ways to enhance your blog, including:
Think about applying a Creative Commons license, instead of the more restrictive traditional copyright system. You can maintain rights like selling the post, but allow others to quote it and build on your work (as long as they give credit). Other options exist as well.

She also mentioned remixing your feeds with Feedburner, using tags as a more versatile alternative to categories, and using multiple stylesheets to support easy printing and viewing on mobile devices with small screens. This last tip is something I’d never thought about, and plan to get it running both here and on blogs we’re starting at UAH very soon.

Bell outlined a method for integrating your academic library blog into your institution’s courseware system (like Blackboard or WebCT). The details of how are on his site which I linked to above, so I won’t rehash that here. But I like this idea a lot. As Bell pointed out, less than 10% of college students actively use RSS feeds. 5% would voluntarily subscribe to a library blog’s feed. But by integrating the blog into courseware, he personally surveyed that at least 50% read the postings. These stats aren’t directly comparable, but I think his overall point still makes sense.

At one point Bell also mentioned the idea of using a blog or wiki as a method of communicating reference desk updates among reference librarians. I’m intrigued here too, but think it might be overkill for a relatively small staff such as where I work.

The session was well attended, and the audience was very curious. Blogging in libraries isn’t going away any time soon.

ALA 2006 – Google vs. Microsoft

Google and Microsoft are the only two major search engine vendors (that I’m aware of) at this conference. After talking to reps at both booths today, and seeing what was going on at them, I’m about to commit geek heresy: Microsoft is beating the pants off Google, at least in substance.

Google’s booth is very gimmicky. You get a scratch off card, and go around talking to their reps to get the answers to the six questions on it. The questions cover Google’s resources for librarians, Google Scholar, and Google book search. Get them all right, and you get to pick an item of Google swag. T-shirt, hat, journal, etc. But there’s nothing to stop you from scratching off multiple cards and claiming multiple prizes. So that’s what a lot of people are doing. Meanwhile, the reps’ (all attractive young women, naturally – possibly not the best choice to talk to a profession that is so largely female) knowledge is not very deep. They each know their station, and how to get you the info needed to answer another scratch off question, but little else.

Microsoft’s booth, focused on their new Academic Live search, is wholly different. Sure there’s still swag, (nalgene water bottles) but there’s nothing wrong with swag in general and they don’t make you jump through pointless hoops to get it. Meanwhile, the MS reps are actually involved in the site’s development and know their stuff down cold. You can tell they’re really proud of Academic Live, and have a lot of fun showing off little random features. I asked them how they were going to handle linking Academic Live to various openURL resolvers, and was instantly greeted by the guy in charge of that aspect of the system. He asked for a few details, gave me his card, and said to e-mail him when I get back to work. He’ll get our resolver set up on Academic Live quickly, instead of waiting for the automated system they’re developing to kick in sometime down the road. A question I asked on a similar topic at the Google booth was greeted with blank stares.

I’m not making a judgement just yet on whether Google Scholar or Academic Live is the better product. But Microsoft earned itself my serious consideration today, whereas before I would have been tempted to dismiss them without a second glance. Substance trumps Style.

ALA 2006 – LITA President’s Program

IMG_0501Continuing the afternoon of LITA programs, Cathy DeRosa (of OCLC) and John Horrigan (of the Pew Internet & American Life Project) spoke for the President’s Program.

DeRosa brought up the recent OCLC stat that only 1% of users start their searches for information at libraries. But interestingly, she also found a study conducted from 1947-1950 that concluded only 1% of users would go to a library for information about nutrition. The number one choice back then was a “professional resource” instead. The modern question is determining who or what those professional resources are that people use today. But the dual 1% stats aren’t to say that library use hasn’t dropped. ARL stats show that college reference desk questions have dropped about 50% since 1991.

On social software and the like, DeRosa stated that a philosophy of ‘if you build it, they will come’ no longer applies. Now, the users are building it themselves. But the most shocking stat that she brought up, to me, is that 86% of users decide the trustworthyness of information based mainly on “personal knowledge and common sense”. Librarians need to help users build a better toolkit for the job.

Horrigan spoke more on the development of the internet’s infrastructure in America, and how it has affected society. Broadband connections are penetrating to all demographics, and upgrading to higher speed has a profound impact on internet use and engagement. Net access also reduces uncertainty in all areas – people use it to make major life decisions, and end up involved more in civic matters. 18% of users have remixed some sort of content, and 43% of all actively looking singles have looked for a date online at least once. For young users, the net both replaces old forms of media consumption and sets them in motion.

My favorite thought from his talk: “Does the long tail thicken the leading edge?” To explain, the abundance of obscure content available thanks to the internet (think of all the low selling books on Amazon that you won’t find in stores) could spur users to learn more advanced techniques to better sort and find that content. Thus, they become part of the leading edge of technology users. I also liked the idea that attention will be the new scarce commodity – and that librarians can help to allocate it. We’re already trusted and networked sources, after all.

In the Q&A afterwards, it came up that about 85% of users are confident of their searching abilities. Horrigan admitted that more research is necessary to determine just how skilled they are in reality. I’d love to see that data.

ALA 2006 – LITA Top Tech Trends

IMG_0500This afternoon I attended LITA’s panel discussion on top tech trends. Unfortunately my notetaking wasn’t quite fast enough to always catch who said what, but there were some interesting overall points made.

Several panelists commented on the rising opinion that “OPACs suck”. But they put a positive spin on it, hoping that the growing dissatisfaction with the catalogs will prompt changes. “We’re fighting back.”

Social software and online comunities was a biggie. Karen Schneider brought up an interesting point: Are we reading the privacy policies of the third party sites that libraries are starting to trust data too? She suggested in particular that Flickr’s policies (via their owners, Yahoo) may not be on the up and up. I suppose I’ll have to start reading the fine print…
A few people brought up the fact that federated searching is not working. I agree, but only to a point. At UAH we have a federated search system up and running, that a recent survey shows the vast majority (I can’t remember the exact numbers offhand) of users prefer it over searching individual databases. I’m quite pleased with it personally, and wonder if other libraries attempting federated search simply haven’t found the right software for their situation. But that said, I find the idea of metadata harvesting to be deeply interesting. If nothing else, using it could vastly speed up the searching of multiple databases at once.

For a bit of perspective Eric Morgan mentioned that this is LITA’s 40th year of existence, and that 55 years ago today (well, yesterday by the time I post this), the first color television broadcast went out. How far we’ve come in such a short time!

Audience questions at the end brought up the topic of digitization of paper resources. Panelists agreed that the digitization of the physical document itself is the easy part. Securing the rights, a useful search system, etc. are where the difficulty lies. Also, I wish I could remember who said “Google Book Search makes our OPACs look good.”

How do the panelists identify trends? They go outside libraryland, and see what the public is doing elsewhere. They look at Newsweek and Time articles for ideas of what has gone mainstream. And lastly, they watch non-techies to see what gets picked up.

This was a great session with a light tone and relevant topics.

ALA 2006 – Day 2

I’ve added pictures from today to the end of my Flickr set.

Another successful day! I actually got to a numer of sessions, so they’ll get separate entries. I spent the evening at the Google party at Muriel’s. This is how Google makes a Rum & Coke. With a plastic frozen ice cube that lights up on contact with liquid:


Saw some more exhibitors today, and accumulated more swag. No celebrity sightings today, unfortunately.

I heard a story that the presenter for this morning’s event on podcasting had to cancel last minute. But a lot of people showed up not knowing this, and ended up forming an impromptu discussion group instead. All on their own motivation. That makes me smile.

I also finally got around to officially joining LITA. Yay!

I unfortunately started the day by oversleeping a bit, and missed the beginning of the Open Source Software session. But I picked up on most of it and look forward to investigating some of the software presented further.

ALA 2006 – Day 1

What an amazing day! I met Neil Gaiman! (Thanks for spotting his signing, Beth!) And oh yeah, other great stuff happened too 🙂

The trip here was relatively uneventful, thankfully! Some construction around Nashville’s airport had me worried, but I persevered. Kudos once again to Southwest.

Shared a taxi ride from the airport with a fellow attendee I met on the plane. Librarians are so very friendly!

So I checked in to the dorm I’m staying at, and caught a shuttle downtown. Picked up my conference materials (the gigantic book of events is the most intimidating thing ever), and hit the exhibit floor. Google had a much larger booth than last year’s table and a banner. And Elvis is there, too. Talked to a few vendors related to work, again everyone was really friendly. How does everybody have a connection to Huntsville? Completely randomly ran into Beth, after we both tried and failed to attend events that were overflowing out the door. We returned to the conference floor, where she noticed Neil Gaiman signing Anansi Boys! Not only that, but giving out free hardback copies to be signed.

Later, went to Membership Meeting I. It was… anticlimactic to say the least. Less than 75 people attended, which is less than the one half of one percent of membership necessary to vote on issues. Later more people showed up, but it didn’t matter anyway since nothing was even up for vote. But in the interest of public disclosure, here’s the notes I took:

-ALA 2006 official attendance: 20,843 attendees registered, and 4494 vendors. Less than 1000 fewer than attended the last event in Orlando, which isn’t bad considering the worries about New Orleans.

-The recent dues increase will be used for a number of projects as part of an overall grand plan for 2010. Some projects are more member input, a diversity web course, and the development of a full strategic/financial plan over the next four months will outline this in more detail.

-Amazingly, ALA has no demographic data on members for things like salary. This will be addressed soon and used to evaluate a potential tiered membership fee structure.

After that, I strolled over to the opening session. Madeline Albright was the keynote speaker, and did a pretty good job. She was interesting, but I question whether going as in depth on foreign policies as she did was relevant to the conference. Mayor Nagin also appeared, as did the lieutenant governor of the state and a videoed message from Winton Marsalis.

Next, I met up with Beth and her roommate Alyssa for dinner. Mmm po’boys! Got to see a bit of the French Quarter in the process.

And last but certainly not least, we attended the Bloggers’ Bash Leslie Berger threw in her Hilton suite. I put a ton of faces with blogs I read, and had some great conversations. Gulf Coast librarians were invited too, and they had some very moving stories to tell. One thing in particular they wanted passed on: Please do not donate any more books to them. They are simply out of storage space, and money is far more needed.

On that topic, it is very surreal to see the places featured in so much news coverage of Katrina last year. Most of the houses the shuttle bus and taxis took me by still have the spraypainted marks from search and rescue teams, and probably one in three houses has some sort of active repair going on (and many more need it). New Orleans has a long way to go. But even so, it is open for business. Everyone has been extremely welcoming, and my only real regret is that the St. Charles streetcar isn’t back in service yet. I would have loved to ride it from Loyola to the convention center.

For those I met tonight, I am horrible with names. Would you mind dropping me an e-mail to say hi and force my brain to make a connection?

All the pictures I took today are here.

I stayed out later than I intended, but it was worth it! Now: sleep.