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: bookspace.org. 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.



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