April 24, 2007

Computers in Libraries: Day 3 afternoon sessions and closing thoughts

Searching, Finding and the Information Professional by Marydee Ojala, Online Magazine.

A good, basic almost presentation. Ojala notes that infoprofessional love searching, understand structure and like to communicate about what makes searching fun. On the other hand, IPs can sometimes forget when to stop searching, information overload can lead to missed items and sometimes searching can take longer because of the proliferation of sources. Clients (and patrons?) however, don't care about searching, they want to find. The don't care about sources, want a quick answer. Findability is the flip side of finding, encompassing search engine optimziation, how a site is architected and optimized. Also, IPs are interested in Premium Content findability, how to surface the good stuff, repuation monitoring, premium content vendors need new models. Web findability, search is pervasive but inconsistent and unstable, it's possible to game the system, there are quality and educational issues. Traditional search techniques include boolean, pearl growing, building blocks; web searching is squishy boolean, algorithms taking over, not quite pure boolean.

Web is personlization (relevant to who you are, great for individuals, not so great for IPs who need general results) , optimization (SEO, white hats & black hats), semantic clusters (contextual searches, related words, Clusty), Automatic Indexing (automate process, indentify standard info, poor contextual, works best with human oversight), metadata (doesn't work to drive web traffic, useful in closed env), different databases (each SE has it's own DB with quirks, need to use multiple engines), invisible web (not as much hidden as before, can now retrieve in multiple formats & older stuff).

Non-traditional, non-textual stuff: finding it is imprecise to say the least: audio, video, images, blogs, groups, SL. Precision & recall are dubious. Display is also difficult, tag clouds.

Worst case for the future: A controled info enb, only see what search engines want you to, ad controled, high price doesn't guarantee quality, industry consolidation diminishes available information, consumerism and entertainment trump research. Best case: intuitive interfaces, info is accessible & available, producers are profitable, searchers are satisfied, searching and finding coalesce.

Innovative Tools for Reference Service by Tomalee Doan and Hal Kirkwood, Management & Economics Library, Purdue University.

Cool presentation about making a difference to students, helping them in virtual spaces and not just in physical spaces. Some innovative ideas here. Create a set of tools to provide better service, go from linear to non-linear provision of service.

First tool: a library tool bar that has a bunch of tools and interactive features and links to subscription databases. Next, a BizMap conceptual mapping of all the various business subjects and how they interrelate. Next BizFaq, an online FAQ.

These tools break away from the reliance on the library web page. MyMEL toolbar created with google search box, drop down has catalogue, news, stocks, federated search, sfx journal finder, worldcat, list of premium dbs, also access to other tools like citation styles, writing lab, university tech lab, career services, rss feeds. Uses 3rd party software: Conduit. With minimal marketing the response has been fantastic, on all dept computers, can get usage stats. Message to students: take us with you.

Also use Footprints IT helpdesk software for tracking online reference transactions.


Overall I have to say that this was one terrific conference, with lots of sessions that were interesting conceptually and theoreticall mixed in with sessions with the cool-I-gotta-try-that factor. A good balance. I also found people to be friendly and outgoing, easy to talk to. As usual, it was also nice to connect with some of the vendor reps there, particularly the IEEE, Bowker and Safari Books (hopefully some cool stuff to come out of those interations here). In particular, I'd never touched base directly with anyone from Safari so it was great to be able to give some one-on-one detailed feedback.

Low lights? The wearther: cold and windy. There was one session where the presenter got mixed up between WWI and WWII and got the dates wrong anyway (which war was from 1937-43 again?) -- the funny kind of thing that happens in the heat of a presentation. Another one, annoying rather than amusing, where the librarian presenting made the kind of casual bragging-about-my-innumeracy statement that just drives me crazy and then took an unnecessary cheap shot at supposedly humour-challenged nerds. Imagine if a techie bragged about his/her illiteracy in front of a large audience! There were also a couple of times when library outsiders made supposedly deep criticisms of library systems while apparently never having visited one. And then there's the overcrowding on the main funtion level, with some sessions being vastly over attended (or under spaced, if that's a phrase). I hope that next year they're able to spread the function rooms around a little more, even if it means using another level. But these are minor quibbles that in no way detracted from the overall good vibe and incredible conference experience. I really hope to make it again next year. Even the wait in the airport on the way home was fun, having a nice long chat with fellow Torontonian Amanda.

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