February 3, 2007

Ontario Library Association Conference, Day 3

Friday, February 2nd, another busy day, with three sessions and one plenary on the agenda. The plenary was by Glen Murray, former mayor of Winnipeg and now well-known as an urban advocate. His plenary was quite interesting, making a very good point that we have to nurture all our cities, big and small, encouraging artistic and research-based activities which bring jobs and increase the quality of life. In turn, if you increase the jobs and quality of life, you actually bring more jobs and investment as the city becomes a good place to live. He particularly stressed the importance of libraries as centres of culture in any community. You have to make your city unique and worthwhile and avoid the could-be-anywhere syndrome of so many North American cities.

The morning session I attended was Windows of Opportunity: Faculty SDI in the 21st Century by Heather Matheson (slides, reading list). This was a fantastic, inspirational session which was criminally poorly attended, probably due to other 2.0ish speakers at the same time, and a slightly misleading title. For me, what this session was really about was not using an open source content management system to create a subject based portal to engage your faculty and grad students, feeding them content and in turn getting them to return the favour and contribute to the system (although it was that too). I was really about taking control of our online lives from our IT departments and bringing it into the control of subject specialists, letting us control what we show our patrons, on our time, at our pace and giving them what we think they need, not what we can squeeze out of one-size-fits-all opacs and websites. Want to integrate RSS, blogging, wikis, RefWorks, reviews and the whole kit in your subject portal? Take charge and get it done yourself. Heather used Joomla as the CMS for her project, which required using some of her own server space and getting her ISP to install it for her. I'm pretty sure plain old WordPress would get you about 60-75% of what Heather has done without the sneakiness or expense. I'm inspired, check out her presentation and you'll be inspired too.

Next up was Information Literacy: Program or Process? A Reality Check by Karen Hunt (not actually present), M.J. D'Elia, Marilyn McDermott and Melanie Boyd. This was quite an interesting session, with a lot of thought-provoking points raised in our group discussion. We split up in to two groups (about 30 each). Each group met with one of the presenters for 15 minutes. Then the groups switched moderators. Each moderator told a quick story about some of their anxieties surrounding their IL performances in the class room and then asked some questions to get our reactions to their stories. At the end, we all discussed our interpretation and reactions to the stories. It was a good session and we all had a chance to probe our own feelings about various parts of our instructional lives. On the other hand, the whole thing bore almost no resemblance to the advertised abstract.

We will explore the pros and cons inherent in attempting to structure information literacy around a program model, and the pros and cons inherent in a more process-oriented approach. It will unearth pressures steering us towards one path over the other.

It wasn't about that at all. The facilitator kept saying the words "program" and "process" but they didn't really have much connection to the stories or any of the discussion that was going on. The session was an interesting idea, but I think the organizers went off track at some point in their preparations and weren't able to get back.

The final session I attended was ILS, The Next Generation: Modularity and Outward Integration by Karen Calhoun. Another outstanding session in what's turning out to be a very enlightening conference. This one focused on what the next generation of Integrated Library Systems are going to look like. They're going to be modular and plug and play, like legos, they're going to decouple the discovery system from inventory control and they definately and are to be standards-based and interoperable. Calhoun talked a little about what users want the most -- to use stuff off campus, to use the library as only one element in their research toolbox, more online resources, seemless linking. Our objectives are integrated access, simplified resource management and to become visible in the user's environment. The tools were going to use to get there include federated searching, reference linking, portals and CMSs.

Next Calhoun talked about federated search and it's weaknesses, including slowness, limits on the number of databases that can be searched, incomplete search results and poor relevance ranking. One option is to just forget federated search and just use Google Scholar, but GS isn't really there yet. She also discussed some of the limitation of reference linking, primarily incomplete or inaccurate metadata. Federated searching and reference linking are fundamentally short term solutions for libraries.

One version of the perfect dream system is a unified library system with a very hierarchical set up with integrated interfaces, metasearch and all the content bound together. This is a difficult dream to realize because all the content to so widely scattered and isolated, many not under the library's control. Another way to look at it is to strive for outward integration, allowing us to use library components in new ways. This vision sees library managed collections found using a wide variety of discovery tools, most not managed by the library in any way. Libraries will concentrate on building the digital special collections that make them unique. Library systems will be interoperable and take advantage of the Amazoogles of the world. External discovery of library based collections.

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