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At CIL: The Future, Innovation, and Visiting the LOC

Submitted by Tom Peters on March 25, 2006 - 8:12am

Thursday—The second day of the Computers in Libraries Conference in DC was packed with sessions. Megan Fox from Simmons College started it all off with her keynote presentation about planning for a handheld mobile future. She encouraged the conference attendees to understand both the possibilities and limitations of offering library content and services for use on handheld information appliances (cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, portable media players, GPS devices, smart watches, gaming devices, ultra PCs, etc.) with small screens. If you've ever heard Megan speak on this topic, you know she packs in a lot of tremendous information in a small amount of time.

One of her main points, it seemed to me, was that as more people are always connected to the net via their mobile device of choice, the need for information that is very sensitive to time and place becomes acute, and thus a great service opportunity for libraries and commercial-information providers alike. Examples of info-a-go-go include: comparisons of gas prices at filling stations close to where you are currently located; movie theaters near your location, with what's showing and the start times, plus the opportunity to purchase tickets online and then display your ticket on your mobile device's screen as your pass into the theater; real-time, mapped travel conditions and delays. You can even use online services optimized for handheld devices to tell if your washer has finished it's cycle, or if the dryer has finished drying your clothes. No more wrinkles!

I also attended a presentation by Lorcan Dempsey from OCLC about how better, acclerated release of the value inherent in metadata and other structured data can contribute to the entire Library 2.0 experience. Lorcan reported that a new version of LiveSearch should be released real soon. He described it as a "satisficing engine" that provides immediate results—to wit, with each keystroke made by the user—that are good enough to satisfy immediately and encourage further exploration of the database.

Hard Times by Charles DickensStephen Abram, the VP of Innovation (great job title) at SirsiDynix, was part of a panel discussion about the opportunities and limits of digitization. As usual, he was provocative. (His mannerisms remind me of those of John Cleese, too.)

Stephen said all our conservation and preservation efforts are to facilitate future use of that content, not to fossilize (or petrify) it. If this is true, Abram encouraged us to think about and discuss what future use—say, 100 years hence—could be like. He predicts there will be no PCs, no Web, and no browser software, because we won't need them anymore. Our clothing we wear will become our personal, portable information/communication appliance, so we won't need handheld devices anymore. (This scenario assumes that global warming won't trigger a wholesale adoption of nudism.) We need to create digital vaults with permeable boundaries. We need permeable taxonomies, too, with the agility of user-driven taxonomies. Students have been brought up in a thinking-based curriculum, not a Reading Room at the Library of Congress.fact-based curriculum. Students can think, but they have a poor basis of facts. As Charles Dickens wrote in the opening chapter of Hard Times, the one thing needful is facts.

Later in the afternoon Lori Bell, the Director of Innovation (obviously, I am envious of anyone with "innovation" in his or her job title) at the Alliance Library System and I went over to the Library of Congress to meet Judy Graves and Peter Armenti, two LC librarians we have worked with online for several years, but had never met in person. That was a real treat, and Judy gave us a behind-the-scenes tour. Who would have guessed that the stacks area in the Adams Building has marble floors? The highlight of our brief tour was to climb the original staff access stairs in the Jefferson building from the lower levels directly up into the center of the magnificent, ornate, round reading room (at left).


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