Computers in Libraries – Day 1

OK, the conference has been good.

I’m going to get a few complaints out of the way first — none directed at the conference really.

First – the weather sucks. Doesn’t exactly make me want to go out and see anything after the conference tonight.

Second — OK — there is seriously nothing worth a darn around here. “Crystal City” is simply devoid of anything interesting as far as I can tell. Spread out around the area are the “Shops at Crystal City” – and indoor mall of sorts. Anyway, I want to buy a simple jacket and maybe a pair of jeans. No luck. A more pathetic collection of shops I have never encountered, haha. Tomorrow night I’ll sign up for a dine-around and be social. Maybe I’ll figure out where to go get some clothes. At least I know how to take the Metro up to Chinatown and find my way back, which is cool. Anybody know where there’s a Target close by?

But really I’m just a bit tired from the conference, which was good, and I’m on information overload as I expected. I attended 5 sessions today — the most I could physically do without the power of bilocation. Here they be:

  • Going Local in the Library — interesting talk about local info on the web and the role/possible role of libraries in that area. While search engines like Google are great with the information of the earth/solar system/known universe, they are not great with delivering relevant local information.
  • Digital Convergence & People Apps — discussion of the roles of various cross-platform technologies to serve library users regardless of their access device — computer, PDA, cell phone, etc. I’m not a big fan of Twitter, and I must expose myself as also not a fan of Second Life. So I must admit that when people start talking about interacting with patrons on SL, I tend to tune out. I realize that its essentially the same as helping them via Instant Messenger or an online message forum, but there’s something about it that just makes me want to beat up the Dungeon Master, or at least steal and hide his/her polyhedral dice. Still, the speaker had some very valid and interesting points.
  • Library Web Presence: engaging the audience: 4 academic librarians discussed projects they have been involved in to get their patrons — in this case students — more engaged. The first two speakers had used widgets to provide simplified pages for novice searchers. Interesting and cool. One had used WidgetBox.com to create custom widgets, and idea that I like, but I have a few concerns about, which I’ll write about in just a bit. The other 2 speakers worked together, and described their use of LibGuides software — a 3rd party service from SpringShare (not free) to create highly interactive subject guides for their university library. The software appears to be very flexible and powerful. I was impressed with their work, and I’m going to investigate this product further. It appears to be something our public library system could use to really provide some great services while simultaneously improving our website. Best of all, since it is hosted by the vendor, we wouldn’t have to deal much with any software/hardware installs — just sign up and start creating great content.
  • Learning Commons: the “In” in CIL — I actually didn’t mean to go to this. I was in the wrong room, at the very back, and didn’t want to get up and leave, only to go to another room and not have a seat. It was actually a happy accident, as Tom Ipri talked about Learning Commons, also known as library commons, learning spaces, etc. Not coming from an academic library, this is something I’ve seriously never given any thought. And sometimes it is nice to learn about something you’ve never paid attention to before.
  • User Generated Content — Roy Tennant, of OCLC, gave a very interesting presentation on user generated content. He covered both “real” content — you know — youtube videos, blog entries, etc, etc, but differentiated such material from “Descriptive Contributions” (social tagging, commenting) and a couple of other notions, like “Contributions to Discovery”. He noted that “tagging” has been found to be a very good way of classifying material IF enough people participate. There is power in numbers, and when many people describe an item, chance are their aggregated description (after you weed out the nutcases) is pretty good.

So a few trends I’m seeing so far.

First, widgets are becoming very popular and perhaps the preferred way to build web pages. They allow great flexibility in page design, typically no software installs on the part of the user, and can be used across multiple kinds of devices.

Second, 3rd party applications seem to be gaining ground. Free apps, like Flickr, have been coming on strong for several years. But products like Librarything, LibGuides, and WidgetBox are providing massive functionality. A product like WidgetBox allows a non-programmer to create widgets easily — powerful. I have some concern about free 3rd party apps. In particular, their business model. If you can sign up for WidgetBox and use it for free, what happens to your page if they go belly up, their grant money dries up, or whatever? Since the widgets actually require that company’s servers to function, it seems to me that may be in a less-than-great position.

However, I think that for non-mission critical functions, these kinds of sites are great. They allow rapid prototyping of new services, require practically no monetary investment, and if they go belly-up you have at least had a great service for a while.

Oh yes, forgot to mention the excellent opening keynote by Lee Rainie, of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Lee did a great keynote, and talked about some of their recent findings. Too much to really describe — just good. Look over their site.

A lot to think about.

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