February 6, 2007

Ontario Library Association Conference, Day 4

Saturday, February 4th, another good day at the conference for me. One hightlight was definately meeting vonjobi (Vernon Totanes) of Filipino Librarian. He's in Toronto doing a PhD at the University of Toronto. It's always a lot of fun meeting bloggers face-to-face after only ever reading their words.

Another hightlight was the Ontario Engineering Librarians meeting. This informal meeting looks like it's going to grow into a more structure for Ontario Engineering librarians to meet regularly and share our experiences. Looks like there's even going to be a blog. I'll post more here as things develope.

The last bit I want to mention is the closing luncheon. The rubber chicken was decent, but I really had to pass on the mushroom sauce (I hate mushrooms) and the salad was about 50% mushrooms too. Just bad luck. At least the carrot cake for dessert was extremely good -- Carrot cake is one of my favourites. The entertainment was Canadian comedian Jessica Holmes of Air Farce fame. She was pretty good, doing some of her signiture impressions like Liza Minelli, Belinda Stronach and Celine Dion.

The only real session that I attended was the Top Tech Trends panel with John Blyberg, Amanda Etches-Johnson and Michael Stephens. This was a good panel with lots of excellent ideas, a great way to condense a lot of trendwatching into a very short period of time. All three panelists took very different takes on the subject, which was interesting.

Amanda Etches-Johnson was up first, and was brave enough to speak without slides; something I wish a lot more of us would do. She identified three main trends we should be watching. First, the growing importance of RSS as a delivery mechanism for all kinds of content. Related to this was the increasing amount of browser integration of RSS amongst the various options. She pointed to the standardization on the little rss icon we all see on blogs and the lower right corner of our browsers. The next trend is a new focus on library websites. She noted that library websites are in trouble and not much real progress has been made on a lot of them since the early days of the web. If we're getting more web traffic than foot traffic in our libraries, then maybe we should think of ourselves as virtual branch managers. We should concentrate of facilitating access to all the great tools that are buried deep in our websites. Finally, Etches-Johnson pointed to the "mindful application of social software" as a trend to watch. By this she meant that we should use social software to be useful in those online social spaces that our patrons inhabit. This involves not having a blog that tries to be everything to everyone, but to target a specific audience and to make sure our social presences have a human rather than institutional feel.

John Blyberg was next. He emphasised the trend towards openness and cooperation: open access, open souce, open spaces, open processes. Libraries are comfortable in our old niche but how to we know we are successful in a new world of collaboration and cooperation. Are we collaborating and cooperating in our own organization. He pointed to Linux as an example of a successful project in the new reality. A world class operating system that was created completely by volunteer effort that has no licensing cost. But, will all this openness lead to something? How about a layer of artificial intelligence on top of all the data on the web, giving us the semantic web where the web can just figure out what we want from what we tell it. We need to check our priorities, open our organizations, initiate content, offer help, cooperate and share.

Last was Michael Stephens. We live in the social web, people live part of their lives online now. Mass collaboration will change everything, people want to talk to each other. Old and new media are converging. The first trend is content: youtube, generate your own Absolut bottle, all these things mean we can generate our own content. Trend: redefine the LIS job, train people to be user experience librarians, web librarians, gaming librarians. Trend: citizen journalism, everyone can be a news reporter or photographer and what does this mean for libraries. Trend: openness and sharing, but remember that open source software is free as in kittens not free as in beer. Trend: participatory culture like tag clouds and library thing, everything is tagable. Trend: experience and play and the new world, like what we can do in Second Life.

There were also quite a few questions, on libraries sharing the content their patrons create; sharing vs. protection; net neutrality; how to trendspot on your own; why there aren`t any open ontologies and what we`re doing now that we can stop doing in order to free up resources to do cool new stuff. One question in particular was kind of telling. A member of the audience suggested that since all aspects of librarianship seem to be permeated with technology these days, to just call this session Top Trends and be done with it. This suggestion prompted some uncomfortable applause. It sounds like a good idea, but seems a bit presumptuous. After all, there are still a lot of areas of librarianship that aren`t dominated by technology issues, like IL, like services for young children and a lot of others too.

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