Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Day two of IL2007

The keynote address of Day Two was from Joe Janes, who shook up the crowd when talking about himself as a librarian. He said something like "I was born to do ready reference. I love it, I'm good at it, and I think it's kind of over.." As the audience reacted he exclaimed, "Ah, there's the nervous laughter I was looking for!" Rather than needing help finding scarce bits of information, people can now bring up rafts of facts on their own - not all of it reliable, but good enough for most purposes. Librarians must first of all accept the magnitude of the change around them and then find a way to apply their skills in the new landscape. When all information is digital, librarians can still be handy as searchers for people doing "deep dives" into the information pool rather than skimming over the surface. Also, the variety of creations in Web 2.0 - the blogs, the avatars, the wikis - may be managed as a collection - or really a collection of collections. Even so, the need for a public space that the library meets will still exist. The library must be "somwhere and everywhere" if it is to matter in the future. I gotta say, he's right, at least when it comes to diagnosing the problem. Even at the forward-thinking PLCMC, the reference librarians' role is shrinking. Ever more of our time is spent on routine queries while our skills get rusty.

During the day I went to some sessions on Second Life. One librarian has set herself up as a librarian in a fantasy nineteenth-century village, where she goes by the name of "JJ Drinkwater." It made her laugh when I said that if one longs for the days of old-fashioned librarianship, the place to practice it is Second Life.

I attended some sessions on knowledge management. I learned a new phrase: "knowledge stewards". These are the persons responsible for maintaining the organization of information within a community of practice. I had to get a neighbor at the session to clarify the term community of practice. It's the group of people who use a certain body of knowledge. One person can belong to many CoP. In some of them, the individual will know steps A and B, but others will know A through C or A through E. In others, his or her knowledge will overlap others' areas of expertise rather than be wholly subsumed by others' knowledge. That is, I might know A and B AND J through L, and though someone knows A through E and someone else knows H through M, I may be the only person with all those letters in my knowledge set. The latter groups will be the most important for that individual to participate in, whereas the first kind wouldn't rely on him or her so much.

I found myself leaving more sessions early today than yesterday, hoping to find one where the presenter wasn't misusing PowerPoint.

I liked the evening session, with the slide show of gadgets and the presentation of video highlights of the "Shanachie tour". The portions of their film that covered PLCMC were all interview. Matt Gullett showed and talked about some of the music and video creation stations we have for teens, which was fine as far as it went, but the film never showed the tools being used, nor any of the works produced with them. The whole thing will need some editing to increase the ratio of action to talk. They really believe that libraries need to get in to gaming to build the user base of the future. The library is all about information, they were preaching, whatever the vehicle for information. I believe it, though I have to get over a Puritan disdain for gaming.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day one of Internet Librarian 2007 completed.

The day began with a keynote address by Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet Project. He spoke briskly about transformations in information and society - nothing surprising there. He won my trust by bringing up examples of his own teens' behavior. He seemed to view them with sympathy and understanding. The Pew Internet Project has studied Americans' patterns of online behavior. For my purposes, the most valuable part of the talk was Pew's Internet typology. Internet use falls into distinct patterns, which he characterized and to which he assigned percentages. For a library planning online outreach to remote users, this kind community assessment gives a realistic idea of just whom you might reach. On the other hand, even though only 30% of the people are regular Internet users, a library shouldn’t feel discouraged from migrating partially to the medium they use. After all that number will only grow as the digital divide moves up and out the demographic pyramid and as the price of technology falls.

The first session I attended, Online Marketing for Libraries, was also a winner. Sarah Houghton-Jan and Aaron Schmidt had PLENTY of ideas of how libraries could raise their Internet profile and, most interestingly, check what’s already out there about them.

The midday sessions were not as rewarding for me. Some were far from my area of interest, some of the presentations were listless, and some of the conclusions seemed obvious to an employee of the PLCMC. I found myself not taking notes so much because I kept saying to myself, “We do that already.” I did meet a public librarian from Glencoe, IL, who explained the interesting combination of state mandates, meager state funding, and local autonomy and responsibility for libraries in that state. Each community gets the library it pays for, which seems like a recipe for unequal services, but then patrons of different libraries in Illinois can use each other’s facilities and materials, which levels out the differences somewhat, I expect.

The last session of the day proved worthwhile. Two of Hennepin County’s web services people – the manager and a web administrator – talked about their new online venture: It takes the idea of Readers Club into the world of Web 2.0. Librarians' blogs, librarian- and user-generated lists, cover shots and reviews are all brought together on a page that looks like an online magazine. It uses tag clouds and suggestions for further reading based on what other readers have chosen, but its database is not LibraryThing, but its own users. Whatever they derive from the local database will more likely be skewed and incomplete, considered as a description of the literary universe, but it will have the virtues of reflecting their user population – as much as the online users reflect users as a whole – and of being germane to the collection. Social OPAC’s seem like an idea whose tipping point has come.

Another Illinois public librarian, whom I met at the last session, expressed gratifying interest in my project, then told me about Bouchercon, a convention for mystery writers and readers that sounded like plenty fun. We adjourned from there to a reception in the exhibitors’ hall. I met lots of interesting people and heard about other libraries’ endeavors until I thought my head would overflow. Should have taken notes.


Monday, October 22, 2007

I have decided to resuscitate this blog as a record of professional learning.

In the past three months, I've learned plenty. I have been tasked by my employer, the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, with researching ways the library can use online conferencing technologies. In the next three months, I will have to take what I've learned and implement a new public service offering using this new medium. Other libraries and businesses are already using web-based conferencing products for staff training and meetings. My project has a limited scope - just six months - so I'm trying to get something up and running quickly. I plan to launch a series of adult library programs that can be delivered in this new medium. My model would be a local public radio talk show - but with graphics. I could interview authors, highlight library resources, hold book discussions. Among other goals, I hope these programs will inject an awareness of the technology into the library system. Once people know about it, creative folks can see how to use it in ways I haven't imagined or worked on, and the library will enjoy an additional channel of communication.

In studying these services, I have learned that they offer similar packages of features. Some have more bells and whistles, but each offers audio and text chatting with a shared space for viewing slides, a whiteboard, and shared web-browsing. Some of these have little windows for displaying videos, but none of them offers true videoconferencing: live interaction by video. I read a blog post about videoconferencing, in which the librarian/blogger noted that unless it looks really good, videoconferencing is too distracting. Television has given us high standards for that kind of thing, (unless it's YouTube and the participants don't claim to be anything more than amateurs).

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