For its 20th birthday, Information Today, Inc.’s 2018 Internet Librarian International (ILI) conference celebrated with balloons, cupcakes, and inspiring talks. Throughout the 2 days of the event (Oct. 16–17), which was held in London, variations on the phrase “We talk tech, but it’s about people” pervaded the sessions. ILI is a library technology conference, but it’s also a community. And it’s truly international; delegates from 28 countries attended. I was the event’s co-chair as well as a moderator and a speaker.
‘Cultivating Knowledge Communities’
In her keynote, “Cultivating Knowledge Communities,” Katherine Skinner (executive director of the Educopia Institute) announced the beta version of her organization’s Community Cultivation Model. (The full release will be on Nov. 1, 2018.) The Educopia Institute’s community partners include the MetaArchive Cooperative, the Library Publishing Coalition, and the BitCurator Consortium. In its work with groups, the Educopia Institute maintains that to be successful, communities need a network of common experiences, strategies and models for growth, ways to recognize opportunities, and ways to handle transition and change effectively.
Skinner thinks libraries need to build communities because they now face competition for knowledge dissemination from companies such as Google, Amazon, and YouTube. These companies are interested in the commodification of knowledge, which is not the library way. Library associations face the challenge of older librarians retiring and younger ones uninterested in joining or taking on leadership roles.
Communities, whether of librarians or not, tend to get into comfortable habits. This makes it hard to recognize opportunities, which is one reason the Educopia Institute came up with its model. Growth areas for communities include vision, infrastructure, finances and human resources, engagement, and governance. At the same time, it’s important to recognize what to discontinue—and when—in order to make room for new initiatives.
Our ‘Fantastic Future’
The second keynote speaker was Martin Hamilton (a futurist at JISC), who presented “Fantastic Future? Predicting Promise and Peril.” He sees a role for libraries in the near future as promoting information and digital literacy. Librarians, through understanding and teaching about technologies such as AI, robotics, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR), will prepare people for the fourth industrial revolution.
But there are downsides, particularly when it comes to weaponized information and opinions. He introduced the concept of the Paperclip Maximizer: An AI tool is created to make paper clips and, to fulfill this mandate, strips the environment of metal to make more paper clips. Who, asked Hamilton, is standing up for progressive values? “It should be us,” he proclaimed, citing projects such as Data Refuge, which was created to protect and save data that the government wishes to make unavailable.
His vision of the fantastic future for libraries is, indeed, futuristic, as he spoke about what humans need to know to live off-planet. What does an interplanetary internet look like? At the moment, it relies on lasers. Considering how much we need to learn about off-planet living, the importance of libraries becomes obvious. The library is a “mystic portal,” the gateway to literacy and numeracy, the place that fills people’s minds with amazing ideas.
Technology and People
ILI bills itself as The Library Innovation Conference. Most of the innovations described by the presenters involved technology—and what a variety of technologies they were. Gary “Ash” Green (digital services lead at Surrey County Council Libraries in the U.K.) talked about gaming technologies and interactive fiction. He showed how literary games help students study Shakespeare and Beowulf. Games open up new opportunities for readers and writers and foster collaborations between libraries and communities.
Stephen Shelton (digital development librarian at the University of Tennessee–Chattanooga) gave an overview of robots in libraries. They’re pretty good at shelving books and cleaning floors. Virtual assistants and chatbots may help out at reference desks of the future. Makerspaces and fab labs bring practical applications of technology to library patrons. On the library systems front, Helle Lauridsen (an independent consultant) and Dina Raabjerg (senior manager of business development at Systematic) described the Cicero software from Systematic that has been adopted by public libraries in Denmark, and Bethan Ruddock (NBK product manager at Jisc) brought everyone up-to-date on Jisc’s efforts to improve its National Bibliographic Knowledgebase (NBK) in the U.K.
Other technologies covered by conference speakers included podcasting, web archiving, online reading challenges, touch displays, and user experience enhancements. Panel discussions about the diverse workforce and skills that librarians will need going forward provided much food for thought.
That’s What We Do
The closing keynote, “20 Years in 20 Minutes,” by Phil Bradley (a soon-to-be-retired freelance librarian and internet consultant), started out as a reminiscence of his many years as an information professional and then transformed into an amazing call to arms about the values of the library profession, punctuated with the sentence, “That’s what we do.” At a very young age, Bradley realized he wanted to be a librarian because those were the people with power. Librarians stand up for their communities. They empower their communities. In today’s world, where it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s fake, libraries have a vital role: “We don’t do ignorance; we fight it.” Librarians have a higher calling to enrich and improve society. Librarians exist to make people’s lives better. That’s what we do.
Photos courtesy of Marydee Ojala