In the last quarter of 2010, I had the pleasure of attending two excellent relatively small-sized library conferences from which I gained a great deal of useful information.
The first, in Atlanta, was the LITA (Library and Information Technology Association) National Forum, from September 30th to October 3rd, exploring leading-edge technologies and their applications, mainly in academic libraries. Most of the presenters were IT people who work in libraries, but the audience was much more skewed toward librarians. With its clever theme, “The Crowd and the Cloud,” this conference introduced me to cloud computing, which is basically Internet computing where the programs, data, and storage space, for instance, are available on the Internet, rather than on local servers.
At a pre-conference workshop on website redesign (inspired in part by SLA-NY’s website redesign project), the instructor gave such advice as: cut two-thirds of the verbiage from your website; blocks of text are bad; bullets are good; have simple navigation on every page; allow visitors to perform an action right away on the home page; have contact information on every page; ease of finding is more important than multiple ways of finding information; and links must be descriptive of content to which they connect.
A session on Wikipedia included this new maxim: “Wikipedia could only work in reality. It could never work in theory.” The presenter, an academic, said that the articles range from trash to better than any peer-reviewed journal, pointing out that even peer-reviewed journal articles are instantly out of date, whereas Wikipedia entries can be updated constantly. The more people there are editing and watching Wikipedia articles, the better the articles tend to be. Generally she was amazed at how well the process works and at the high quality of Wikipedia articles.
Three library IT professionals from Wake Forest University in North Carolina spoke about making the actual transfer from relying on the university’s IT department to becoming self-reliant via cloud computing. When it was time for their servers to be replaced, they decided instead to move to the cloud. Two advantages were low start-up costs and moving from the standardization required by the IT department to the customization which the cloud allows. But as they have gained much more control now over their technology, they also now need to know a lot more about their programs and data, as there is no one from the university to assist them when they run into problems.
One major drawback to cloud computing is security since the information is no longer stored locally. The cloud is not appropriate, for instance, for confidential health care records. There is also the possibility of needed websites being down. Nonetheless, the advantages are huge: With the cloud, one gets resources like software, data and storage space on demand, as with electricity. If files exist in the cloud, the information in them is always accessible from multiple devices. When platforms for software development are in the cloud, the cost of innovation is lowered and innovation is speeded up. In other words, computer power of all kinds becomes a commodity to be purchased as needed for reasonable sums of money.
The Charleston Conference, subtitled Issues in Book and Serials Acquisition, took place from November 3 to 6. An annual event bringing together librarians, publishers and vendors, it is always held in Charleston, S.C., and now draws about 2,000 attendees. This was the 30th anniversary of the conference! Below is a sampling of wisdom gained from various plenary and concurrent sessions:
- The Wikipedia speaker, like the one at the Atlanta conference, feels that Wikipedia entries have gotten to be impressively high quality. Also, he thinks that students are using them correctly – which is not for in depth academic research, but for defining a topic and looking up initial citations. An unintended consequence of Wikipedia is that it is evolving into a kind of search engine.
- There was emphasis by several speakers on the fact that patrons need smaller rather than larger “chunks” of information. For instance, they need articles rather than journals and chapters rather than books. “Reading a journal” now frequently refers to reading the Table of Contents.
- Finding content is easy. Reading it is hard.
- There are too many catalog records for books. As catalog records that used to be available only to librarians become available to patrons, such as through Worldcat, it is important to have fewer records for each item. And creating multiple records is ultimately a waste of time.
- Regarding academic journal articles, social networking is impacting academic research by extending it, through wikis and blogs, to new audiences who are not necessarily academic and also by making international communication easier. The research life cycle speeds up when study results move around more rapidly. Also, a phenomenon that might be called post-publication peer review is developing via online opportunities to comment on published articles.
- Google has now scanned over 15 million books in 483 languages. Within the next 20 years, the vast majority of books in the world will have been scanned. Google can enhance a book by, for instance, adding a map pointing to all the places mentioned in the book. Metadata remains challenging. For instance, there is one ISBN that is shared by 1,413 books, and there are 6,000 ISBNs that match at least 20 titles.
- With Google-scanned books and print-on-demand increasingly available, libraries may have to realign their missions and aim for something much greater than giving access to a limited set of materials. They may have to strive to give access to every book that has ever been published and make that access available immediately.
- E-books are being enhanced, similar to DVDs, with extras, often in audiovisual format, such as author interviews.
- E-journals now may include videos, such as of how to perform an experiment.
- Twenty years of relative “calm” of “The PC Era” is ending and being replaced by mobile computing and cloud computing.
The 31st Annual Charleston Conference will take place from Wednesday, November 2nd to Saturday, November 5th, 2011.