Embedding Librarians in a World of Dirty Data: the Information
Online Conference 2007
was first published in the (2007) Vol 21 Online
Currents, a publication of the ©Lawbook Co, part of Thomson Legal &
Regulatory Limited, http://thomson.com.au
A conference triggers the
search for a headline to encapsulate trends and moods. My perceptions of
recent ALIA conferences have chronicled the uncertain, shifting sands of 2001,
the search for the next sigmoid curve in 2002, the paranoia surrounding
stinking libraries, disappearing librarians and the invisible web in 2003, and
the anxieties of librarians as sorcerers’ apprentices, fighting digital bush
fires, in 2005.
Since 2005, curiosity has
been kept alive by the newswire. Mass digitisation has joined other
competitive forces to challenge the role of libraries. The phrase, the long
tail, has become a popular metaphor to describe the evolving impact of the
Internet on libraries. The Australian Government has established a new body to
lead the converging interests of libraries, archives, museums and galleries.
What patterns would emerge at
this year’s Information Online conference? About 1,000 delegates from a wide
range of Australasian enterprises, from BHP Billiton to Boystown, rolled up to
Opening the conference, the
Hon Gary Nairn, Special Minister of State in the Australian Government, lauded
libraries as “a liberating force in disseminating information.” They have been
innovators in developing online services. They are now presented with
tremendous opportunities for transforming online services in a Web 2.0 world.
The Australian Government, he
said, places great store on the potential of online technology and social
software for “citizenry interaction.” The Australian Government Information
Management Office’s agenda for implementing ‘an e-Government 2.0 strategy’,
centring on the “two-way portal” http://www.australia.gov.au and a
“many-to-many mindset”, is outlined in its strategic plan, Responsive
Government, and an accompanying Australian Government Interoperability
Framework. Those prompted to check the latter will no doubt reflect on the
absence of a library representative on the Information Interoperability
READING THE LANDSCAPE
The main attractions of any
conference are the agents provocateurs, entertainers and well-credentialed
professionals who occupy the plenary hall.
Where’s the Web heading?
Ross Ackland, research
manager at the CSIRO ICT Centre and Director of the Australian Office of the
World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3c.org.au/), after providing an outline
of the goals and workings of W3C in making the Web a trustworthy and
accessible place on everything for everyone, turned to a trinity of Internet
destinations — the Semantic Web, the Mobile Web and the Sensor Web.
Progress towards the Semantic
Web — employing machine understandable information, software agents,
controlled vocabularies, knowledge representation tools and embedded reasoning
— is about to accelerate. Web 2.0 paves the way, but it is only the tip of the
iceberg. Work by W3C on OWL (Web Ontology Language), SPARQL Protocol and RDF
Query Language, and RIF (Rule Interchange Format) are recent, small successes.
With growing cultural acceptance of placing information on remote servers,
encouraged by services such as YouTube and Myspace, and with a bottom-up,
participatory approach to information integration, the prospect of a Semantic
Web needs to be tempered with patience in securing the building blocks.
The Mobile Web is unchaining workers from their
desktops. Developing the Sensor Web — exemplified by applications for
environmental monitoring, building and home automation, security and
surveillance — creates a new challenge for managing real time data.
Possibilities for harnessing
these technologies can be found in Australia’s water crisis. Success in
implementing Australia’s $10 billion “ten point plan” for managing water
resources will depend on the availability of good data to support decisions.
Better information could flow from the development of a kind of collaborative
executive information system with visual reporting functionality and capacity
to drill down to lower levels of data. We need to move beyond the portal
approach in managing information, develop more intelligent search mechanisms,
move from human readability to machine readability, employ collaborative tools
not competitive tools, and adopt standards to ensure interoperability. The
Water Resources Observation Network (http://wron.net.au) amplifies these
Disruptive technologies and digital convergence
Damian Conway, from the IT
training company Thoughtstream, gave his take on contexts in an entertaining
and speculative presentation Four Funerals & a Wedding.
He anticipates four funerals
from the advance of disruptive technology and digital convergence. The first,
in 2012 or thereabouts, will be for scarce information, when desktops will be
able to accommodate 300 terabytes of information or the equivalent of the
Library of Congress. The second will be for publishing,
when the current model of a
limited catalogue, limited distribution and
limited duration will be replaced by a model
without limits. The third will be for Dewey,
which could be replaced when the Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) network
layer protocol for packet-switched internetworks supersedes IPv4, thereby
dramatically increasing the number of addresses available. Under this scenario
there could be a unique ID for every word on every
page of every copy of every book. The fourth funeral will be for the “infostocracy,” as print newspapers,
which have been losing 2% circulation per year over
last 27 years, will give way to “communal
information gathering and
citizen journalism” and a
semantic search framework."
However, for librarians, a
wedding looms. As opportunities grow for
knowledge navigators, guides, architects,
strategists, critics and
police, they “will rule the world.”
This was probably a clever way of encouraging a hall full of librarians to
tell their children to look for jobs outside the library.
Listening to what we’re seeing
Diana Oblinger, Vice
President at EDUCAUSE and co-editor of The Learning Revolution, focused on the
user in her presentation on the Net Generation as harbingers of social change
and as shapers of library services.
An “Alice in Wonderland,
multi-user virtual environment” is re-shaping the way education is delivered.
Students are now part of a “do-it-yourself culture.” They are action-oriented
— they tend to learn by doing rather than by listening to talking heads and
they communicate on several fronts simultaneously. However, their level of
maturity shouldn’t be assumed — their understanding of technology may be
shallow and they may be naïve about personal and professional risks. To locate
information, most college students in the United States (72%) turn to search
engines as their first choice. Only 2% use a library web site as a starting
point, although 36% consult a librarian at some point. They are media creators
and users — over 50% of American teenagers have created a blog, a web page,
posted art work, photos, or remixed content into their own creation.
Librarians need to be aware of these changes, review all the options and
The changing face of service
David Lankes (http://www.DavidLankes.org),
Executive Director of the Information Institute of Syracuse and an Associate
Professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies, promoted the
need for a more integrated world of libraries, which need to organise
themselves more effectively around a single entry point — Library.org.
Traditional services –
cataloguing, reference, preservation and instruction — don’t fit together
well. Library catalogues, in particular, “stink.” They are no more than
inventories. The information business is moving too quickly to worry about
order. Catalogues need to become more effective finding aids. Reference
services are not the only public service. Every part of the library must be
focussed on service. The customers are part of the library, not something of
Knowledge is created through
conversations. Libraries are therefore in the conversation business. They need
to engage in broader and deeper conversations about participatory
librarianship, create a participatory library test bed, involving pooled
effort in library system innovation, adoption of real Web 2.0 services and a
well-directed educational program.
The future of libraries
Joanne Lustig, Vice President
& Lead Analyst at Outsell, focussed on services in government departments and
the business sector.
In a period of exponential
change, the compelling forces are disruptive, consumer driven technologies,
changes in behaviour influenced by the rise of individualism and a glut of
information from a variety of competitive sources.
Outsell has been tracking the
changing information seeking behaviours of knowledge workers since 2001. More
emphasis is now being placed on intranets and less emphasis on the Internet as
a source of information. Significantly, knowledge workers now spend more time
gathering information and less time actually analysing information. A failure
rate of 31% in searching for information pinpoints a major productivity
functions in government agencies and businesses are sticking to tradition in
managing information — they are mainly focussed on the typical duties of an
information professional or librarian, with slow uptake in areas such as
business intelligence, knowledge management, vendor relationships, and systems
for content management and records management. Information management budgets
are not keeping up with inflation, there have been minimal staffing increases,
and there has been a slow shift from print to virtual information. There is a
lag in the adoption of library technology. RSS and e-learning tools are more
widely adopted by libraries than other kinds of technology.
New service delivery models
are required — where place is transformed or gone, users have it their way,
information is embedded into workflow, and libraries “are embedded into the
The concurrent sessions
offered responses to the compelling forces existing in individual
organisations. This summary highlights some that caught my attention and
points to topics that both of us may want to explore in more detail on the
conference website — or in other places, after sketchy Powerpoint
presentations have been translated into a less ambiguous form.
Wikis, blogs and podcasts
In the year that Time
Magazine made all of us the person of the year, presentations on social
software off-shoots —wikis, blogs and podcasts — attracted considerable
According to Kate Watson and
Chelsea Harper, based on their recent literature search and survey, 18% of
Australian libraries — mainly public and special libraries — now use blogs and
about 11% use a wiki — chiefly for internal consumption. These tools are used
for communication with customers, internal workflows, marketing, organisation
of specific events, professional development, reference services and a number
of other purposes. Somewhat alarmingly, most libraries don’t keep statistics
about blog or wiki usage and a large number don’t have policies or guidelines.
The main reasons for not adopting them are a lack of conviction about the
need, financial and time constraints, and lack of technical knowledge and
Gerard Egan gave an
instructive presentation on podcasts and vodcasts (media files that are
distributed through RSS feeds with attachments for playback on mobile devices
and PCs). Podcasts are used for library news, tours, database tutorials,
distributed learning, professional development, and as alternative access
points. Tools and techniques for their use were illustrated by snapshots of
applications at Yarra Plenty, the Powerhouse Museum, Flinders University, and
Curtin University, in Australia and, overseas, at Columbia University
Libraries. Krege Business Administration Library, SirsiDynix, Orange County,
and the University of Washington’s Information School, among many other sites
Experiences in particular
organisations were presented by Sue Grey-Smith and Luke Padgett (Curtin
University Library), Peter Blake (Australian Catholic University) and
Christine Mackenzie (Yarra Plenty Regional Library).
Portals, websites and intranets
The pragmatic James
Robertson, from Two Step Design (http://www.steptwo.com.au/), urged those in
charge of intranets to develop them as a valuable business tool rather than as
simply a dumping ground for second-hand documents.
Intranets in many
organisations, he said, have been through five phases. They have “grown like
fungus.” Iterations have involved “putting lipstick on a pig.” Although
organisations put a lot of effort into maintaining their current sites, they
are “running on the spot.” Too often those responsible for intranets become
fixated on constraints, waiting for the right conditions, and hence they go
nowhere. Phase 6 awaits.
How do we create phase 6?
Shift the metaphor to the process of delivering new functionality and exercise
common sense. Examine the purpose of the intranet. Prioritise constraints.
List the things that are worth doing. Rank them as version 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 3.0.
Target activities to deliver greatest value and “forget about the future.”
Deliver a little, gain support, deliver some more, and so build momentum.
Cathy Slaven, Piero Colli and
Swarna Upadasa focused on web design and usability. Ben Reese and Hans Zerr
outlined an approach for creating a low cost portal from their experience with
the Australian Development Gateway (http://www.developmentgateway.com.au).
John Roots proved that knowledge management hadn’t entirely slipped off the
radar in his talk on the implementation of an intranet at Rockdale City
Searching and metasearching
The conference offered a
number of perspectives on metasearching. Dennis Warren said that, so far,
solutions have failed to deliver on their promise. Marie Anne Slaney talked
about the limitations of federated search tools and how to exercise judgement
in using them. Vanessa Craven provided a case study on the implementation of a
federated search engine at Western Health Library. Edmund Balnaves’ focus was
on the integration of federated searches in an inter-library loans system.
On a wider front, Paul
Nieuwenhuysen and Hanneke Smulders reported on an investigation into the
practice of de-duplication by search engines and its implications for
searchers. John Dove described Diversity Preferent Ranking (DPR) in Xreferplus
and its possible application in other query systems. Amanda Spink reported on
recent Web search trends, based on studies of user data provided by commercial
Cataloguing and metadata
Tony Boston and Alison Dellit
unveiled plans for enhancing Libraries Australia. Influenced by Karen
Calhoun’s report for the Library of Congress in 2006, and other commentaries,
that the catalogue “is in decline, its processes and structures are
unsustainable, and change needs to be swift,” the National Library has
established an unrestricted Library Labs prototype website at
http://ll01.nla.gov.au to develop, test and roll out enhancements in 2008.
Calhoun’s report presented 32
options for leading, expanding and extending library catalogues. To attract
new users and improve the search experience, the National Library is
investigating the use of FRBR, clustering, “did you mean” questions, citation
links, annotations, tagging integration, links with holding repositories,
ranking of bibliographic records (implemented in late 2006), and other
techniques to leverage the value of the catalogue record.
Boston and Dellit gave a
taste of what is to come, using A9.com to produce targeted hits on the term
Dame Nellie Melba from Wikipedia, Libraries Australia, PictureAustralia
and the Powerhouse Museum, and using OpenSearch to aggregate search results.
Those in charge of services
using integrated library management software and separate systems for
archives, corporate records, digital assets and other forms of content, will
be interested in Katie Wilson’s paper charting the development of a metadata
application profile and accompanying processes and standards for their
integration at the State Library of NSW.
Anna Gifford delved into the
use of thesauri in the online space, using Victoria Online's experience in
developing a thesaurus for the main Victorian Government portal.
Derek Whitehead gave a
stimulating paper on today’s confusion about the word publication.
After outlining the range of definitions from legal and industry sources, he
posed several questions. Can I be online and unpublished? Is nothing out of
print any more? Do we need a word for online but unpublished?
Although Web 2.0 is here,
Copyright 2.0 is a long way away. Action is called for on three fronts. Change
the laws. Change the language associated with the words published and
unpublished. Change our behaviour. “Treat the rights to what you say and write
in the same cavalier way you would in conversation or informal
Among other papers on the
topic were Vanessa Tuckfield’s, on copyright issues in the education
environment, with particular reference to the Australian Flexible Learning
Framework's Project’s Copyright Kitchen (http://copyrightkitchen.flexiblelearning.net.au),
and Vicki Bates’ update on implementing Digibank at the Southbank Institute to
track intellectual property.
Business research services
were established as commercial or semi-commercial enterprises in Australian
state libraries during the 1990s. At least one was sold off and became a
successful private enterprise in the hands of someone with business acumen,
unshackled from the constraints of the state library. I’m not sure about the
status of the others. It was therefore interesting to hear keynote speaker
Neil Infield speak about the development of the Business & IP Centre at the
British Library. Inspired by SIBL, the Science Industry & Business Library at
New York Public Library, the British version has faced the challenges of
operating in a “schizophrenic environment,” of accommodating new types of
customers in a traditional library setting. Developing the service has
involved the provision of workshops and events involving high profile
entrepreneurs to complement access to online databases, redesigning spaces to
reflect a new image and functionality, more dynamic marketing, training staff
as business advisers, and new partnerships with other organisations.
Generalising about these lessons for other types of libraries, Inman said “we
need to move from disintermediation to re-intermediation by adding value.”
Leanne Perry & Kerrie Burgess
took stock of Asknow!, the online reference service run collaboratively by
national, state and territory libraries in partnership with public libraries,
and future opportunities for the service. Leona Jennings described the
implementation of RFID at Gold Coast City Council Library Service. Alison
Rigby and Amanda Smithers provided insights into the development of
performance indicators for digital reference, involving University Librarians
in New South Wales. Peter Smee and Ian Stubbin described the development of
centralised management of health information using Trimagic at Illawarra and
South Eastern Sydney Area Health Services.
Other presentations were
devoted to improvements to inter library loan and serials management systems
(Diane Dougall and Lisa McIntosh), the use of Wireless Tablet PC at Thuringowa
Library Services (Warren Cheetham), virtual information services at the
University of Western Sydney (Margaret Pavincich), improving research
capability at the Australian Tax Office (Michael Aulich and David Feighan),
and implementation of the EBL ebook nonlinear lending model at Swinburne
University of Technology (Gary Hardy and Tony Davies). Shauna Hicks described
changing approaches to delivering services in state archives, using the
example of the Public Record Office Victoria.
Services in educational environments
Evidence of the widening role
of university libraries was underscored by Sten Christensen, who reported on
the Sydney eScholarship Repository (http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au),
encompassing a suite of digital library and publishing enterprises. Howard
Amos considered new imperatives in e-learning and e-research, based on the
experience of the University of NSW Library. Markus Buchhorn concentrated on
issues surrounding the preservation of research data in Australia. Mark
Sutherland and Peta Hopkins provided advice on establishing an institutional
repository for a small institution, using the example of Bond University.
Julia Bale explored collaboration between teachers and librarians in secondary
Those who have tended to side
with GE Gorman’s 2003 assessment of information literacy as an overblown
concept, will be interested in Janet Fletcher’s presentation, Is Information
Literacy Dead?, the presentation by Colin Bates and Bernie Lingham on Deakin
University’s efforts to develop a more interactive approach to information
literacy training and support, and advice by Sevilay Esat and Lyn Christie on
the use of Macromedia Captivate to create videos on database searching, and
using specialised software at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Helen
Hobbs presented a paper on engaging distance learners at the Queensland
University of Technology, while Lea Beranek, Graham Walton and Ruth Stubbings
outlined the use of computing facilities in the library and in other
Roles and directions
Several speakers explored the
relationships and opportunities for those working in the broad field of
information management. Lisa Tyson’s focus was on librarians and IT workers in
library settings, based on her experience at the University of Western Sydney.
Chris Colwell commented on the converging worlds of librarians and records
managers in government and business organisations. Glenda Browne’s emphasis
was on indexers and the opportunities for continuing work in vocabulary
control. Gillian Hallam presented preliminary findings from the Nexus census
project, which is being undertaken by Queensland University of Technology and
ALIA to gain a better understanding of library workforce planning issues. This
exercise is complemented by similar overseas studies, such as the one being
led by US Institute for Museum and Library Science (http://libraryworkforce.org/tiki-index.php).
In the final session,
Macquarie University Librarian Maxine Brodie challenged a panel of keynote
speakers to produce lasting takeaway messages.
David Lankes said that we
live in a world of “dirty data,” but it is far from “our problem.” In order to
engage with other players, we need to recognise that librarianship is a
technical profession — we need to be immersed in the information, be
technically literate, and serve people within the applications. Participating
in the search for the right metaphor, Diane Oblinger supported the notation
that librarians need to be “embedded in applications”, while Joanne Lustig
suggested that information services need to be “more like electricity” — a
separate library is no longer applicable, they need to provide invisible
intermediation, involving new business models and “embedded skills.” Neil
Inman urged delegates to think about being part of the next step in the
information value chain. Local panellist Brenda Yarker, from TAFE’s Western
Sydney Institute, struck a cautionary note with a reminder that not everyone
is necessarily on the same page and that users are a diverse lot.
Brodie posed three final
questions. Where will you be when the library fits into your pocket? Where are
you in your clients’ minds. Are you there in your clients’ conversations?
Sensing, perhaps, that ideas reverberating at the conference won’t necessarily
lead to action on a grand scale, she urged delegates to pick one idea,
converse with the presenter, and take action.
Accolades for action came in
the form of two awards at the conference. The Gold Coast City Council received
the inaugural ALIA Information Online Group’s Award for Excellence for its
implementation of an RFID system. And Elizabeth Swan, one of the founders of
the Information Online Conference 25 years ago, and its constant force,
received an ALIA fellowship for “extraordinary drive, commitment and passion
for the role of the special librarian.”
Do we really need to worry
too much about exponential change?
Several speakers used the
steeply rising smooth curve of exponential change to galvanise delegates out
of their assumed lethargy. It was again popular to call for paradigm shifts of
one sort or another. The new recipes for change were recycled old ones — good
business planning and marketing.
Exponential change has been
experienced through the ages. Each generation has had to absorb new
information and adjust to rapidly changing circumstances. Abraham Lincoln told
the US Congress in 1862: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the
stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise
with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” In
calling for his congressional colleagues to “disenthrall” themselves as a way
of moving ahead, he may have been anticipating James Robertson’s suggestion to
take it one step at a time.
The call for dramatic change
has its detractors. Walt Crawford wrote in his recent essay on Library 2.0,
assessing the opposing views about the future of libraries and librarians,
that there’s no need for a revolution. He urged librarians “to relax and take
a deep breath.” He questioned whether public libraries have ever been most
people’s primary source of current information and expressed bemusement at the
need to make libraries the heart of the public’s everyday information usage.
Library 2.0 “encompasses a range of new and not-so-new software methodologies
that can and will be useful for many libraries in providing new services and
making existing services available in new and interesting ways…With luck,
skill and patience, these new services and ongoing changes will continue to
make libraries more interesting, more relevant and better supported.”
In calling for more effective
organisation and broader and deeper conversations as necessities for
transforming libraries, David Lankis emphasised a point made by Lorcan Dempsey
in his article Libraries and the Long Tail: libraries need new services
that “operate at the network level above the level of individual libraries” —
services that go “far beyond sharing of cataloguing records and ILL
infrastructure.” Libraries need to “get to the heart of aggregating supply and
It is a message that has been
voiced in a variety of ways at past conferences, and it is one that seems to
have slow traction in a sector that has limited control over rapid
technological advances. The focus on digitisation in previous conferences gave
way to questions about interoperability in this one. The convergence of
libraries, archives and museums did not occupy any space, except by
implication, in the presentation by Tony Boston and Alison Dellit. Further
discussion on this topic awaits the delayed release of a report from the
Collections Council of Australia’s summit in August 2006.
Convincing macro strategies
are often dependent on confidence generated by early experimentation. At a
time when we seem to be in a world of constant experimentation, a suggestion
by David Lankes is as good as any: “Aim high and hope, but exercise caution.”
Jacques Barzin, in The House of the Intellect, offers solace: “Great
cultural changes begin in affectation and end in routine.”
Paul Bentley is Director
of Paul Bentley & Associates
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