Computers in Libraries 2008

In order to do a bit of sight-seeing before the conference-proper, I drove up to our nation’s capital on Saturday, April 5th. One of my favorite things about Washington D.C. is the opportunity to while away an afternoon in air-conditioned museum after air-conditioned museum, completely free of charge. And so, I made Sunday no exception, frequenting a few favorite locales and also attending the National Portrait Gallery for my very first time.

By the time I made it to the Crystal City Hyatt Convention Center on Monday morning, I quickly realized that this conference was going to be even more crowded than the museums that I visited the day before.

By Wednesday evening, I had attended 14 sessions and 2 opening keynote sessions. I will list all of those sessions at the end of this report, so if anyone has any specific questions or would like me to send them my notes, please let me know. For the remainder of this report, however, I will briefly discuss 3 of those sessions.

  1. Mobile Search with Megan Fox and Gary Price:
    The two very knowledgeable presenters went through a veritable PowerPoint compendium of all things mobile search. To see just some of what I mean (including, even, a list of academic libraries that provide websites for optimized mobile access), definitely check out this online directory provided by Megan Fox:

    This was probably one of my favorite presentations due to the fact that I couldn’t help but hear about new things (and some old developments, but new to me, like 2d barcodes) that got me thinking about how libraries might change in the future. Sadly, this wasn’t the case for all of the attendees, since one in particular asked the presenters what any of this had to do with libraries. Granted, the answer provided (which, poorly paraphrased by me, went something like: “It is all about making use of new ways to direct information to your users”), did not provide any new examples to the valid question. However, there are a lot of libraries already making use of mobile technologies by allowing users to text bib records to their phone and even the ability to browse the entire catalog from a mobile device (NCSU’s MobiLIB).

  2. Information Commons with Barbara Tierney:
    If you attend a conference in the humanities you’ll hear presenters read from their thoughtful papers rather than just conduct a presentation with the aid of PowerPoint. It was quite interesting, I must admit, to see how many people started to leave this presentation after the presenter began reading from printed paper, and after they continually looked to the blank screen over and over again in hopes of seeing something, anything projected. Nevertheless, I was happy to sit and listen to her detail the history and the concept of the “information commons” in libraries. It was a topic I knew little about and, after all, she promised to show some pictures at the end of her talk, so of course I stayed to take notes and to take a break from the familiar style of PowerPoint.

    If you’re interested, we have two copies of her book, Transforming Library Service Through Information Commons, here at Joyner Library.

  3. Open Source Software for Superior Solutions, focusing on the Smithsonian Presentation:
    And here it is:

    I could say so much about this resource, but I think that it speaks much more eloquently for itself. So definitely try it out. It sets the bar for all library catalogs and future refinements to come. It’s proof-of-concept for what quality, yet slightly superficial metadata can get you… and new discoveries it can help you make. If anyone would like to talk to me about this resource, please let me know. It does a lot of things well – even some things not so noticeably — but it also points to a lot of future refinements that can/will be made in the future. And best of all, it was created by library employees (from Erik Hatcher at UVA to the full team at the Smithsonian which have adapted his and other open source software for the result that you see here). Very exciting stuff, in my opinion.

    All in all, I have to say that the conference occurred at a very strange, almost ominous, post-April-fool’s time. First of all, the Library of Congress was essentially closed off the entire time that I was there (see this press release for more info). To bookend that unfortunate closure, Stephen Colbert’s portrait had been moved from the National Portrait Gallery just days before I made my inaugural, admission-free visit; and it also just so happened that D.C.’s newest museum, the Newseum, wouldn’t be opening until Friday, April 12th. That last coincidence, though, was probably for the best, since that particular museum’s 2002 closure in Virginia and recent reopening in D.C. at a 450 million dollar facility is certainly a controversial issue, even if one is to ignore the $20 admission fee. Being on a budget, I probably would’ve opted out of visiting it even if it had opened before my arrival – heck, I even decided not to pay the meager $6 to run around the Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History.

    Despite missing out on those four extracurricular events, though, the conference itself was a very good experience. For one thing, I learned that it’s best not to attend conference sessions on topics with which you are already quite familiar – it’s unlikely that you’ll learn much new. That said, if nothing of particular interest is scheduled at the same time, it certainly doesn’t hurt to attend such a session because you can nevertheless use it as a great networking opportunity. And finally, just as discovering an interesting book by wandering the stacks in a library is far more rewarding than completing a known-item search, the most rewarding aspects of the conference occurred unexpectedly, meeting colleagues in between sessions and learning about exciting new projects that have in turn reinvigorated my own work on projects back here at ECU.

Sessions Attended:

  • –“Hi Tech and Hi Touch” with Jenny Levine, the Shifted Librarian
  • –“Mobile Search” with Megan Fox & Gary Price (discussed above)
  • –“Library Web Presence: Engaging the Audience” panel, Penn State and Temple
  • –“Widgets, Tools, & Doodads for Library Webmasters” with Darlene Fichter and Frank Cervone
  • –“Wikis: Managing, Marketing, and Making them Work” with Chad Boeninger
  • –“Mashups for Non-Techies” with Jody Fagan (about Yahoo! Pipes)
  • –“Drupal and Libraries” with Ellyssa Kroski
  • –“The Library Sandbox” with Barbara Tierney (discussed above)
  • –“Harnessing New Data Visualization Tools” with Darlene Fichter
  • –“Catalog Effectiveness: Google Analytics and OPAC 2.0” panel, Ohio State and College of New Jersey
  • –“Learning from Video Games” with Chad Boeninger
  • –“One Click Ahead: Best of Resource Shelf” with Gary Price
  • –“Google Tracking” with Greg Notess
  • –“Open Source Solutions” panel, Smithsonian and Howard County Public Library (discussed above)

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