Impressions from the 2002 Internet Librarian Conference:
Palm Springs in November is beautifully sunny, clear and hot. Conference rooms with names like Oasis and Springs offered cool presentations, some even downright chilling.
Google was an omnipresent theme, and in many of the sessions, the name popped up repeatedly: Googleization of the Web. Let go and let Google. Can we trust Google? Google backlash. Google is not the enemy! Professional searchers need to "beat Google." What if Google went away? Supersearchers answered that last, rather ominous, question with site names like Teoma, Wisenut and AllTheWeb.
Another theme surfaced: paranoia and delusions of job (in)security. We learned about cyberstalking and Internet road rage, then faced up to the fact that "the Internet will know things about us that we don't know it knows." There were enough first-person accounts and statistics (with Web sites to back them up) to scare us personally and provide us with some story ideas for reporters back home.
Then it was time to contemplate professional jeopardy. Phrases like the decline of human-generated results, research paralysis, broken promises and nightmare searches emerged in various sessions. We were asked, Is Boolean dead? Can we be satisfied helping someone who thinks "good enough" is enough? Did we know that the mainstream press is accepting unchecked information and republishing it? - and that newspapers "weren't impacted too badly by Tasini"? (Thanks to Richard Geiger for setting that record straight.)
It clearly is time to shape up and consider how to produce better intranet sites, buff our corporate images and rethink our search strategies so we can answer unanswerable questions while protecting ourselves, our integrity -- even our security -- online. Thank goodness experts were there to remind us that We need to be better than the search engines, because It's not just information retrieval anymore. No added value means no perceived value. Do more than they expect. No special library is guaranteed its existence.
Good thing there was an excellent presentation on: Disaster preparedness.
Digital Rights Management
An interesting presentation by Sealed Media portrayed how restrictive rights management can be. They described a way to have "persistent control of electronic content independent of the delivery mechanism." This software is used for high-end proprietary research reports. It severely limits the ability to copy and transfer from computer to computer.
An ALA White Paper that is just being published will list the top five desires in the rights area of publication:
Are we ready for electronic books? No, seems to be the answer from Scott Adams of Dilbert fame. His book the "Dilbert Principle" sold over two million copies. His e-Book "God's Debris" - 4,500.
In virtual reference, there is the same tension as in-person service. Do you choose guidance or answers. In an academic setting you must find the "teachable moment." "Mind-to-mind" communication is so important. And if it all comes to naught sadly in the public relations world, "one unhappy person equals ten happy persons."
While attending Internet Librarian 2002, I focused on sessions dealing with intranets and portals. As a librarian at the Columbus Dispatch, I am responsible for creating and maintaining the research portal for our editorial staff. We are in the process of creating customized Web pages for the reporters based on department and beat. This conference gave me the needed push to get this project underway. Here are just a few thoughts from a sample of sessions I attended.
Gavin Lew, managing director at User Centric, Inc., presented "User-Centered Design: How to Make Intranets and Portals Usable & Useful." He stressed usability testing as the key to good design. It is always difficult to find reporters with enough time to give adequate feedback, but Lew suggested a simple approach to user testing. You do not need to test the entire site, but only what the user needs at the moment. Frequent small tests are often better than elaborate large tests.
Howard McQueen's "Content Personalization Strategies" session provided a model for creating a personalized portal site. McQueen suggested using employee advisory groups with a designated content leader to help define and refine the site. When a user becomes a contributor, the site is more likely to be successful. He stressed the importance of allowing users the ability to customize their page.
Alison J. Head discussed the problems intranets face and why many fail. She mentioned the usual suspects, such as unclear labeling and poor navigation. She also mentioned a huge training issue - users are not aware of all of the resources available on a site. They do not have the experience to use the tools offered to them. They also don't want to waste too much time finding the answer. The problem remains how to guide a user to the appropriate tool to answer his question, and then teach him how to use it.
In addition to the numerous sessions and entertaining keynote speakers, I also enjoyed the Dine-Arounds. These dinners, hosted by session presenters, were intended for librarians to discuss a specific topic. I joined Frank Cervone's group at the Palm Springs Chop House, and Bonnie Burwell's hosted dinner at The Deck. While I can't remember what the topic of discussion was supposed to be, the Dine-Arounds were a great way to meet a diverse group of librarians and have a nice dinner.
Last Updated: 2/4/03