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* Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Observations from Internet Librarian 2005

As I get ready to head home tomorrow, here are some final thoughts on the conference. I should also note that I’ll have my presentations online by the end of the week and I’ll post links to them from my site.

There are a lot more laptops here this year. A LOT more. Finally. Several speakers noted that this was the year we were able to skip over the intro material (what is a blog) and talk about the more advanced stuff (what to do with your blog).

As usually happens, a major part of the conference for me took place in the hallways and lobbies. I met several people I’ve only known online, and it was a real pleasure. The networking at this type of event is truly incredible, and t’s almost worth it just for that.

Karen Schneider gave a great presentation about ethics, that unfortunately I wasn’t able to blog because my laptop kept crashing. Sigh. Bad technology trumped ethics. My favorite quote, though: “There is nothing more pathetic than a librarian who gets the facts wrong. Not even a New York Times reporter who gets the facts wrong.” Second favorite quote: “Librarians are the last stand between the patron and truth.” Michael Stephens turned to me during her talk and said, “I wish she could talk all morning.” I agreed.

It was interesting how ITI made sure that there was bountiful wifi available in the public library track. Kudos to them, because that’s where a great many of the bloggers were. It was a wonderful form of tangential marketing that only cost them the price of a wifi router (in this case – I’m sure they paid a pretty penny for the larger wifi network). Look at the spontaneous community that appeared online because there was wifi, especially you other conference organizers. You should be providing this, too. I’m looking squarely at you on this one, ALA and divisions. It’s difficult to blog your conferences without it, and you lose the whole conversational component online (not to mention the buzz).

I also wanted to note that ITI waives the registration fee for speakers. That’s another lesson other organizers need to learn, because you don’t have a conference without your speakers. And increasingly, speakers are bloggers (or is it that bloggers are speakers?), so preventing them from attending the rest of your conference is cutting off your nose to spite your face. I’m looking squarely at you on this one, ALA and divisions. It’s difficult to blog your conferences without access to the sessions, and you lose the whole conversational component online (not to mention the buzz).

I think the public library track that Michael Stephens organized was very successful, and I hope ITI continues it next year. It fills a need, and I’ll advertise it harder to my member libraries next year. I heard only good things about it from attendees.

An interesting thing happened at my last session with Steven Cohen. We left it very free-form, and it turned into a Q&A session, which I think the audience found valuable. I think it’s an idea conference organizers can use, and Michael and I talked about having a similar session at the end of the public library track next year. It would be pretty cool to assemble a panel of “experts” and let the audience pitch questions at them for 45 minutes, kind of a live FAQ!

I was thrilled that in her keynote, Liz Lawley made a case for the benefits of continuous partial attention and that it might actually work for some people. Finally, some validation! I so want the button that says “add us [your library] to your trusted network of humans” that she mentioned in her talk!

I really enjoyed Will Richardson’s keynote, and I’m especially intrigued by his advocacy to teach students “negotiated meaning.” Librarians are all about negotiated meaning, and I think it’s a vital role we can be aggressive in filling. It was heartbreaking to hear Will describe a scenario in which teachers and students use RSS feeds of persistent searches in Google News or Yahoo News, because he couldn’t tell them to use feeds from library resources instead. We absolutely have to change this. I had wanted to stay afterwards and ask Will how (if?) he’s working with his school’s librarians to implement all of the wonderful things he talked about, but unfortunately I had to leave as soon as the session ended. Still, I found his presentation very inspiring, and it really resonated with me in the context of millennials/gamers, shifting services, and social library services (Library 2.0).

The biggest theme I saw at the conference was the ubiquitous discussion of the emerging, two-way, interactive web. It was mentioned in lots of sessions where I hadn’t necessarily expected to hear it. As I noted in the last session today, I hope attendees are beginning to understand how this could affect libraries. In fact, I had meant to explicitly note that the failure of the Open Internet Librarian Blog and the Internet Librarian Wiki were offset by the success of Technorati and Flickr (easily my favorite), which only goes to show how important it is to have your microcontent out there (indexable), tagged, and shared. The successes wouldn’t have happened without all of those things, and that’s a big piece that is missing for libraries. Our catalogs are closed, proprietary islands, while we still force our users to come to our web sites rather than taking the information/content to them. Without blogs, RSS, social bookmarks, Flickr, and the like, we’ll stay that way, outside of this emerging Web 2.0, away from where our users are.

What came through loud and clear at this conference (titled, appropriately enough, “Shifting Worlds”) is that libraries need to continue shifting to where their users are and need to become part of their users’ online, trusted network. Nothing new for readers of this blog, but as I said in my five minutes on the tech trends panel, this is the year libraries finally started doing this and doing it well. Libraries can finally participate using free tools, we have some great models, let’s get to it.

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