LIBRARIES, DISAPPEARING LIBRARIANS AND THE INVISIBLE WEB
view of the Information Online Conference 2003 Part 2
originally published in Online
Currents April 2003 and reprinted with kind permission of the
publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd. Part
1 was published in the January/February issue.
Last month’s article on the
2003 Information Online Conference looked at some of the presentations dealing
with roles in an information revolution which, according to some commentators,
will run another 20 years. Opinions on roles again bubble to the surface in
this month’s article, which focuses on strategy, systems and services.
WE DON’T NEED
NO STINKING LIBRARIES
Coffman, in his opening address,
Are All Agreed that Life is Better in Books, looked
at responses by public and academic libraries to the pressures of the
statistics from the Association of Research Libraries, he said that
circulation in US research libraries declined by 18.3% and reference enquiries
dropped by 25% in the period 1995-2000. In some institutions, the fall was as
high as 60%. Such trends have created the widespread perception - articulated
recently in The Washington Post that ‘we don’t need no stinking
libraries - its all on the Net’ (1). Budget
cuts have followed.
have not been taking this lying down, he said. They have been doing all they
can to disassociate themselves from the book. Library schools have been
running away from the L word. Librarians have been trying to reinvent
themselves. Some may have taken things too far. Perhaps they need to pull back
on the reins.
books are more popular than ever, while e-books are not so popular. There
has been an exponential increase in the number of books and journals.
Between 1980 and 2000, 2 million titles were produced (presumably in the US)
compared with 1.3 million in the period 1880-1980. Journal titles increased
from 20,000 in 1965 to 160,000 in 1990.
and the Internet are providing stiff competition for libraries. An average of
40 new superstores opened annually between 1997 and 2002. The number of
superstores in the USA is greater than the number of libraries with more than
100,000 titles. They have better amenities. They offer longer hours. They have
become the new community centre. Amazon delivers millions of titles to
doorsteps. Google does more reference work in 3 days than libraries do in a
people want books, a place to go to, convenient hours and good service, it
makes sense for libraries to follow the lead of the bookstores by offering a
better ambiance and more convenience. To pay for services, libraries need to
save money by engineering more efficient processes, taking advantage of new
technologies and learning how others perform similar functions. They need to
make money by increasing the proportion of sponsorship over government
subsidy, perhaps by following the lead of organisations like National Public
Radio - look at membership, pursue corporate sponsorship, and develop more
effective retail services.
need new roles? Turning The Washington Post’s quote on its
head, his view was that ‘we don’t need no stinking new roles’, we just
need to do old ones better and exercise a bit more imagination.
Brown provoked deeper thinking on this point in a stimulating paper ostensibly
about the development of an enterprise information portal at Defence Library
Services. The presentation was tucked away in one of the streams but deserved
he said, have given a ‘fulsome reception to the news that they have been
suddenly reclassified as part of the information sector.’ The reality is that ‘their revivalist effusion is
sinecurist and largely rhetorical in nature - a weak attempt to manufacture an
aura of cutting-edge hipness that sits ill at ease with their workaday
experience as cultural bureaucrats’. Their responses to new challenges have
been characterised by ‘a rearward-looking access bromide and banal, sugary
blandishments by, of and for librarians as the ultimate search engines.’
are ‘crow-eating days for libraries and librarians’ - particularly in the
government and corporate sector. The
profession is under threat from both within and without and is ‘heavily
exposed to a scholarly and trade-book publishing industry in crisis, a much
vaunted, peer-review mechanism fallen prey to lucre and celebrity, an online
industry in long term decline, falling usage measures, professional
associations in disarray, a poor public image and, of course, Internet-driven
on the conclusions of Randall Collins, he said that technological change does
not raise the skill requirements of most jobs very much; the great majority of
all jobs can be learned through practice by almost any literature person, and
the number of esoteric specialities requiring unusually extensive training or
skill is relatively small.
anatomy of failure pinpointed deficiencies in library products, services and
platforms. It is hardly surprising, he said, that many knowledge workers see
libraries ‘as marginal, irrelevant and even archaic’. And, bouncing off
Richard Helsetine, he said that ‘there is no way in which their traditional
roles can be maintained. In the short to medium term there may be a role for
the librarian as navigator, helping to guide users around complex networks to
information resources, but this role should diminish as networks become easier
to use. The locus of both information provision and information use is
shifting out of the library and librarians or their successors will need to
IT ALL COMES OUT
OF A WEB BROWSER
Portals had become the
hot topic by the 2001 conference and are now a strategic plank of National
Office of the Information Economy. They continued to dominate the conference
program in 2003 - along with website and intranet management - as various
speakers explored approaches by industries and enterprises.
Brown in Cooler Runnings,
after examining the broad professional contexts summarised above, described
progress at the Defence Library Service (DLS) in developing an enterprise
information portal in collaboration with a commercial partner.
Librarians will find the
transition to information portals very difficult, he said. ‘They are not now
nor have they even been in the information business. They have no overall
concept of the whole communications environment.
Contrary to hyped up claims, specialisations in the collection,
organisation and preservation of largely print-based materials does not extend
to managing community and work group netspaces containing essentially
open-end, unstructured, volatile and, yes, ephemeral, digital content’.
Current library systems, he
said, contain ‘debilitating design flaws that compromise information
services delivery’. New service strategies and systems are demanded to
deliver dynamic electronic spaces, integrated information management, and
collaboration and workflow environments that catalyse information sharing in
the context of key business processes. Solutions are needed which redefine
‘access’ and seed and shape customer information use behaviours.
The DLS portal was initiated
in December 1999 and, following a tendering process, a partnership was formed
with Wizard Computer Training and, later, Synergy Innovations, to begin an
‘exploratory journey with major, unidentifiable risks’ to become ‘one of
the more successful government-commercial sector partnerships in the recent
history of Defence’. The
project management story, technical components based on Lotus Domino,
functionality and success measures are described in Brown’s 72-page report.
Lim and Earle Gow provided a progress report on the
Australian Academic and Research Library Network Portal Project,
involving twenty Australian universities and the National Library of Australia
in the development of improved access to analogue and digital resources at
Australian university and research libraries. Initiated in 1999 by CAUL, the
pilot phase, with $2.8 million from the Federal Government, established a
consortium framework and identified interoperability standards and
technologies that will underpin phase 2, which is expected to begin in 2003.
case studies were represented by the following: Groenewegan and Huggard on
Monash University’s portal project which tested Fretwell–Downing’s
ZPortal software; Girke, Porter and
Westwood on CSIRO’s portal (using ENcompass and other Endeavour products);
Raunik and Browning on another Endeavour site, the State Library of
Queensland’s Queensland Information Portal; Korale and Forsyth on a cooperative
public library website developed by Leichhardt
Library and the State Library of NSW; and Easton on the
Australian Resource Centre for
Hospital Innovations’ portal.
management was explored by Kirton, Brady and Reilly (NSW Agriculture), Scolaro,
Archer (WA Women’s and Children’s Health Service), and Sellick, Beacham
and Kalucy (Primary Health Care).
Hildebrand presented findings of a survey of
Australian public library websites, highlighting the fact that most are still
static. He urged public libraries to rethink the way their sites can be used
to provide interactive, real time online services and to make a stronger
commitment of staff and financial resources to online services.
Blake, in The Lonely Librarian, contemplated
the impact of the user interface
on corporate library services, based on the results
of a survey she conducted recently. Siding with the views of one survey
respondent, she concluded that, on the whole, librarians have let
themselves down by not getting up to speed on technological and marketing
requirements. Some librarians,
however, have achieved a higher visibility and adopted innovative ways of
providing services. Their responsibilities are broadening to include a
wider range of tasks. Web-based services are proving that there is
opportunity for librarians who are willing ‘to grab hold and get on the
THERE’S MORE TO
IT THAN MEETS THE EYE
things in the shop window is one thing, meeting service expectations is
of the tools
and techniques for meeting these expectations are described in the following
summaries, which I hope will serve as navigation guides to individual papers
and virtual reference services
Collaborative reference and
information delivery service is now the main productivity frontier for
libraries. Collaborations to create digital content will continue to be a key
strategy for some libraries well into the future.
Krym, from CISTI, promoted the need for partnerships to expand access, develop
systems infrastructure and provide workflow efficiencies. Diane Kresh gave a
progress report on the LC-led QuestionPoint, which,
she said, is leading to true 24/7 service, increased internationalisation,
adoption of relevant standards and systems integration. Elizabeth
Dracoulis reported on Australia’s
equivalent, AskNow, in the context
of the National Library of Australia’s strategy
to digitise collections, provide electronic resources, and develop aggregated
services like PictureAustralia, MusicAustralia and DancingAustralia.
And case studies involving
collaboration between other kinds of libraries were presented by Rigney and
Cummings (Queensland Police Service and Justice and
Attorney–General’s Department), Drummond
and Campbell (Queensland Government Library Consortium) and Lewis
and Saunders (Yarra Plenty Regional Library and Brisbane City
Council Library’s for managing NetLibrary eBook titles).
strategic positioning, demonstrating value & marketing
Knowledge management is no
longer the Next Big Thing. Demonstrating value and good marketing have been
catch-cries for the past few decades and deserve to be repeated as ingredients
for providing effective service rather than as panaceas for reaching the top
of the information industry mountain.
Martin North, in Harnessing
the Insights from KM to Ensure Success, said KM needs another 3-5 years to
overcome growing cynicism and find widespread acceptance. Nearly 60% online
initiatives, he said, have failed to deliver on their promise. Only 15% of KM
projects have had a significant impact within two years, although 50% have had
limited traction within 3-5 years. He compared a successful and unsuccessful
project against his company’s Knowledge Management Assessment Framework
consisting of work, information, application and technical KM architecture
Merle Conyer, in Influencing
Decision Makers to Support Knowledge Initiatives, said there is no
sure-fire formula because we don’t have control over decision making, but
the odds of success are narrowed by listening, leading, positioning,
balancing, communicating and demonstrating. Anne
Caputo said people make decisions based
on the information at hand and the trick is to make sure the information is at
hand by integrating online services into the work environment
using the right combination of people, processes and technology. Kathleen
Lazzari approached things from a resource
discovery perspective, using her experience as part of a knowledge management
business requirement within Centrelink.
Kassel described methods for determining return on investment,
identifying and tracking contributions, and conveying value to stakeholders
and upper management. Jeremy Hodes talked
about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission’s Information
Initiative, involving an information cycle aligned with the budget cycle to
help create effective and sustained information partnerships with business
Missingham’s paper was on the value of
digital collections and hybrid libraries from the perspectives of information
seekers, libraries and information producers predominantly in a public and
academic library context The
digital library creates value when collections, the needs of users and
information production are in synchronisation or harmony. Measures of
value, reflecting the match between the three perspectives, can be made within
specific disciplines (where in the past variable patterns have been noted) based
on usage, availability and production indicators for measuring ‘digital
Ford provided an overview of intelligence work and systems and pointed to a
potentially greater collaborative role for librarians in intelligence
gathering and decision making processes, while Babette Bensoussan gave a
lesson on analytical tools and
and search engines
Sherman explored the scope and quality
of information on the Web. The Web is a treasure trove of
authoritative, high quality information, but search engines crawlers have
difficulty with about 46% of pages. The invisible Web is two to fifty times
larger than the visible Web and resources are of a much higher quality.
Certain file formats such as pdf, Flash, Office files and streaming media are
not currently available –although this is likely to change. Real time data,
dynamically generated pages and Web-accessible databases are also not
available. In future some of the more difficult content will be indexed (eg
Flash and dynamic content) and we
will see development of data-centric search engines; agent brokered database
searching, and form crawlers.
Technologies’ Bette Brunelle surveyed technologies, standards
and issues relating to the quest for ‘a universal search engine’. She said
there is no one-size-fits-all answer to
search integration. The tools are still at the lowest common denominator and
are likely to remain so for a while. Information vendors and
institutions, however, are ideally positioned to work together in providing
solutions for varied institutional users.
Tenopir gave us a picture of the growing world of e-journals. The
librarian is now offered 2 major aggregator models, 6 types of e-journal
categories and 3 main choices. There are now about 250,000
periodical titles in the marketplace, including 15,000 refereed
scholarly periodicals - of which 12,000 are available in e-form from scholarly
e-publishers (like Elsevier, BertelsmannSpringer and Blackwell), general
e-journal aggregators (like OCLC ECO, EBSCOhost, HW Wilson, Gale and ProQuest),
specialised aggregators (like Ovid and JSTORE), news and business aggregators
(like LexisNexis, Dialog and Factiva), and free and partially free aggregators
(like www.findarticles.com. e-journal.coalliance.org,
highwire.stanford.edu, pubmedcentral.nih.gov and www.arXiv.org).
Christou offered golden rules for managing electronic content licences based
on an understanding of user and potential user needs and requirements, Vicki
Nicholson and Heather Layton discussed a trial partnership between
DSTO Research Library and EBSCO Australia in developing a model licence for
e-journal management between the two organisations. Dianne
Hodge looked at the challenges faced by Australian Maritime
College and other tertiary institutions
with a small, dispersed student population to provide online
services and information literacy programs. Beverley
Forner presented some of the emerging models for online payment
services with particular reference to buying and selling items of very small
value to enable ‘pay-per-view’. Micropayment systems, she said, are likely
to have a positive impact on Australian information services and products by
opening up new and more flexible ways to pay, creating revenue streams that
can be re-invested and development of better delivery infrastructure.
developments in recordkeeping and archival practice, evaluated successes and
deficiencies in the last ten years, and proposed an agenda for collaborative
action. Good recordkeeping has often been overlooked in the rush to adapt to
new technologies, adopt email and web-based information delivery, and deal
with the increased volume of information and changing user expectations. But
there are grounds for increased optimism, based on solid international and
local research, the emergence of standards and best practice guides, the
development of strategic alliances between commonwealth and state government
bodies and with other professional groups. New legislation and digital
preservation strategies are in force. The recordkeeping profession is
reinventing itself. But more work needs to done. Standards need to be
implemented. The message needs to more effectively communicated. Change
management techniques need to be employed to modify bad habits and promote the
benefits of good recordkeeping. Too many recordkeeping professionals live in
comfort zones. They need to work on their image as managers of paper and deal
more effectively with people they don’t normally talk to.
Garlick, from OneSource, considered a subject likely to find more
prominence in future conferences - external
and internal content integration. Anne
Parkhill, facing one of the big challenges of the electronic age, looked
at issues surrounding the transfer of metadata responsibility to authors and
outlined e–learning modules which she is developing to train
web authors in metadata use.
literacy and information literacy.
a broader educational and training front, Leanne Cummings discussed the
development of an online tutorial program at the Queensland Police
Service to promote more effective use of department information resources to a
large remote client base stationed throughout Queensland. Marie
Therese Van Dyk and Richard Siegersma of Monash University addressed
the practical realities of collaborative learning, with particular emphasis on
the role libraries, using case studies and lessons learned within corporate
and educational environments. In
the school arena, Alan Caters spoke on meeting
the challenge of integrating online information resources into school
curricula, while Estelle Lewis’s
presentation was devoted to teaching
strategies for managing online resources.
who has experienced the messiness of information management in the health
system, will be interested in Mary Peterson’s experience at the Royal
Adelaide Hospital Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in exploring wireless
applications and the integration of library databases and resources into the
hand–held (PDA) environment.
The conference, in attracting
more than 1200 delegates, was one of the most successful in its 17-year
history and owed much to the experience, drive and commitment of its convener,
Elizabeth Swan and her committee.
The need for clarity emerged
as a common theme in a number of papers devoted to roles, strategies and
services. In this context, it was refreshing to encounter provocation –
reality checks - in a number of presentations. Too often professional
discourse is cloaked in a security blanket. But even the most provocative
pieces sometimes fall prey to emotion. Generalisations muddy positions.
Opinions tend to be supported by literature reviews rather than hard data.
Statistics, when they are used, are sometimes selective in supporting claims.
: In discussing library strategy and practice, we will do well to remember Dr
Roger Summitt’s exhortation in the final plenary session ‘distinguish
between different types of information needs, from broad public needs to the
needs of the commercial workplace.’
Stephen Coffman opened the
conference by sticking up for the printed book and for places which hold lots
The value of the book was
underscored in attending and writing about the conference. There was no
printed proceedings this time, in line with an emerging trend, in part driven
by the major cost of producing them. It is only physically possible to attend
40% of the sessions. Presentations are increasingly only available as slides,
which sometimes fail to give full value. At the time of writing the article,
less than half the presentations are available from the conference website.
Paradoxically, the most efficient way of gaining a comprehensive understanding
online information trends and issues exposed by the conference is by reading
the book, which no longer exists
It is a sentiment sometimes
echoed in consulting focus groups by well-educated, experienced users of
libraries and online resources in assessing the worth of the library to their
organisation. The book, when available, is sometimes better than other
forms of information and protracted online searching.
In moving up the information
industry trajectory to maturity, we will undoubtedly continue to witness both
increasing levels of convergence of roles and deeper appreciation of
specialisations in business, strategy, systems, sources and services.
Opportunities for librarians
will be strengthened, in some places of employment, by a higher credentials in
Depending on the needs of the
user, underlying old fashioned principles - and formats for that matter - will
stand many in good stead.
Paul Bentley is Director
of Paul Bentley & Associates email@example.com
and the Wolanski Foundation www.twf.org.au.
He is also a member of the ALIA Information Specialists Group committee.
Information Online Conference
papers are available at http://www.alia.org.au/conferences/online2003
Comment from Washington Post feature article quoted by Mary
Devlin and Jeanne Goodrich in the editorial: Its Our Choice, OLA
Quarterly, vol 7 no 3, Fall 2001 <http://www.olaweb.org.au/quarterly/quar7-3/devlin.shtml>.