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Highlights from Internet Librarian 2001 (Pasadena, California)
by
Posted On November 12, 2001
The following are edited excerpts of reports from Barbara Semonche, who attended the Internet Librarian (IL) conference last week in Pasadena, California. The full “dispatches” were sent to the NewsLib listserv and several others.
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November 4, 2001
Headline: Amelia Kassel (amelia@marketingbase.com) presents “Cost-Effective Online Research” at a pre-conference seminar

This session was so outstanding that the audience, small but savvy, applauded enthusiastically at the conclusion of 3 hours. They recognized that Kassel offered timely, effective, comprehensive information on how and where to get the best stuff from commercial databases and Web resources. Kassel is a recognized skilled researcher, a thorough deep-data analyst, and a respected industry journalist. She is also an exemplary instructor. Such a combination is relatively unique in our business; rarely can info pros handle both research and instruction equally well. Kassel can and does. Her online presentation and 28-page handout are models of information: thoughtfully filtered, tightly organized, and insightfully presented. This session could have easily been expanded into an entire day. Be advised that Kassel’s presentation and handout will not be on the Internet Librarian Conference Web site. Most of the pre-conference sessions are not offered that way. This is one very important reason for attending the IL conference in person.

Kassel has a new book out, Super Searchers on Wall Street, published this year by CyberAge Books. It’s highly recommended. Also check her seminal article on the comparison and evaluation of commercial databases in the September 1998 issue of Searcher magazine. [See http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/sep98/kassel.htm] And while you’re on the Information Today, Inc. Web site, check out the archived articles from many of its publications. Good, useful material!

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November 6, 2001
Headline: SLA President Hope Tillman Delivers Conference Keynote Speech

Hope Tillman’s keynote address was titled, “Who Needs Internet Librarians Anyway?” A ubiquitous query that’s often followed by the comment, “Yeah, who needs ’em? After all, everything we need is on the Net and it’s free!” To which Tillman adds, “Yes, but you get what you pay for.” This exchange is a familiar one to all Internet librarians, yet Tillman offered a useful perspective.

The keys to being invaluable in this high-tech information economy involve innovation, collaboration, and creativity. To accomplish this, Internet librarians need to be more vocal and more visible. Tillman went on to observe that technology is really neutral, and to enhance its use librarians must make technology one of the key assets in our professional toolkit. And how do we do this? She had some examples of how we are doing it already. Internet librarians are doing the following:

  1. Creating content
  2. Improving access to electronic and non-electronic resources
  3. Packaging and synthesizing information (some info pros like Mary Ellen Bates and Amelia Kassel call this “post-processing” or adding value to research results)
  4. Selecting and acquiring a broad range of content. (Note: Negotiating licenses to electronic resources requires a different set of information management skills than ordering books and serials.)
  5. Teaching information literacy, which is really about determining the quality of information retrieved
  6. Partnering with colleagues and others, e.g., faculty, network administrators, corporate product developers, marketing consultants, and others
  7. Serving as the magnet hub of information and research. (Tillman strongly recommended Larry Prusak’s book In Good Company because of its relevance on this topic.)
Tillman concluded with some star examples of role models for Internet librarians:
  • Eugenie Prime (Hewlett-Packard research center)
  • Lucy Lettis (Arthur Anderson Consulting vice president)
  • Trudy Katz (MasterCard Information Center)
  • Kee Malesky (National Public Radio reference librarian)
  • Donna Scheeder (Library of Congress)
  • Mary Ellen Bates (principal of Bates Information Services, an independent consulting firm)
  • Gary Price (of “Price’s Lists,” former reference librarian for George Washington University and now an independent consultant)
Tillman selected a prime example of the crucial importance of information use in the 21st century. The Nobel Prize for Economics was recently given to three U.S. academicians whose work on “asymmetric information” was heralded for its innovative contribution. This topic addressed the issues involved in making decisions from unequal information resources.

Tillman’s advice to all dedicated information professionals was to keep your skills sharp, your mind keen, and your passion strong. Good advice.

***

November 6, 2001
Headline: IL Conference “By the Numbers”

Internet Librarian 2001 is the Internet conference and exhibition for librarians and media managers. Net newbies, school media types, Web geeks, independent business consultants, healthcare researchers, information providers, database marketers, and more attend IL. There are many first-time attendees as well as returning conference veterans. This year, IL was held at the Pasadena Conference & Exhibition Center. Past conferences have been held in Monterey and San Diego, California. Next year it will be in Palm Springs, California. Many, but not all, conference sessions will be posted on Information Today, Inc.’s Web site (http://www.infotoday.com).

Here are the numbers that I’ve calculated—they’re not to be accepted as authoritative. Use them to get a general concept of the breadth and complexity of this exceptionally valuable event:

  • 13 conference planners (Jane Dysart and a group of 12 cohorts)
  • 1,700-plus conference attendees (estimated)
  • Four major conference tracks (Content Management, Navigating the Net, Webwizards Symposium, Digital Reality)
  • 11 sub-tracks
  • 20 pre-conference seminars
  • 66 conference sessions (including a major evening session on the Tasini case)
  • Four keynote presentations
  • 155 speakers/moderators
  • 70-plus vendors
  • Six sponsors (LexisNexis, AIIP, Information Today, Computers in Libraries, Multimedia Schools, and Searcher)
Folks, this is a conference on hot and enduring topics of genuine concern to all of us who labor in this complicated, diverse field. The presenters are an extraordinary combination of knowledgeable practitioners, skilled researchers, and gifted communicators. Attendees almost always come away from this experience with valuable insights and very helpful handouts.

***

November 6, 2001
Headline: Weblogs—Blogging in Cyberspace

I selected this session to cover for two reasons. First, I didn’t know a thing about Web logs (blogs) and second because two of our stellar contributors on the NewsLib list (Gary Price and Bill Lucey) have demonstrated the value of updating and displaying this information on the Web. Price introduced me to Peter Scott (peter.scott@usask.ca) with the comment that Scott is an expert blogger who has created a number of services in both the library and commercial world.

Scott’s Web page (http://library.usask.ca/~scottp/il2001) was created especially for this session. You’ll discover definitions of blogs, interesting historical information, useful tools, a complete guide to Web logs, as well as links to stellar examples of Web logs. Be advised that in some instances, these Web logs form unique communities of independent thinkers. Highly recommended sites include Price’s Virtual Acquisition Shelf & News Desk (http://resourceshelf.blogspot.com), which evaluates Web sites, provides critical commentary, and is always up-to-date. Check out Yahoo.com’s critical session on the best blogging software.

***

November 6, 2001
Headline: “The Tasini Decision: The End of Full Text as We Know It?”

[Note: I’m a librarian, not a lawyer, and I offer this account based on my observations. Your comments, questions, and clarifications are welcomed.]

Barbara Quint, champion of librarians and quality databases, editor of Searcher magazine, and prolific published author, was unable to serve as panel moderator. She was, nevertheless respectfully and affectionately quoted in this session.

Stephen Abram, vice president of IHS Micromedia, Ltd. in Toronto, did a masterful job serving as group squadron leader. He led off by describing the task before us and then defining the major troops in the audience here this evening, namely lovers of freedom, champions of fair compensation, supporters of market forces, defenders of legal rights, and up-from-the-trenches librarians. He then introduced the principle players in this controversial issue:

  • Jonathan Tasini (president of the National Writers Union)
  • Steve Arnold, principal of Arnold Information Technologies
  • Carol Ebbinghouse, library director of the College of Law at Western State University
  • Michael Traynor, attorney at Cooley Godward, LLP
  • James Barcelona, senior vice president and corporate counsel at ProQuest
  • Simon Bradstock, director of global marketing communications at Factiva
  • George Plosker, Gale Group
Ever the provocative interrogator, Abram began by asking, “George (Plosker), how many articles have you removed from your database (Gale)?” Plosker responded calmly that he had the figures at hand: for newspapers, about 70,000 articles were deleted; for periodicals, about 8,400 were deleted. Those numbers figure to be less than half of one percent of the total database. Factiva’s Bradstock responded that several thousand articles had been removed to date and also were less than half of one percent of the total database.

Abram turned to Tasini and asked, “Jonathan, why are you in this?” Tasini, professing admiration for librarians and their contributions to quality databases, responded that he was simply standing up for (freelance) writers’ rights. Ebbinghouse picked up on that point and questioned how accurately can we rely on database providers to determine who is and is not a freelancer? No one clarified the issue.

Questions were also invited from the audience. Mary Ellen Bates, as an independent business researcher, published author, and member of the National Writers Union, stated her conviction that this dispute was really a matter of contract negotiations between publishers and writers. Others commented as well.

Tom Hogan, president of Information Today, Inc., spoke about the challenges of this decision to small and medium-sized publishers. He observed that there were no primary publishers on the panel. Hogan also stated that publishers are not making money on ancillary rights. The amounts involved are really pennies, but the attendant costs in tracking these digital rights would be heavy. He emphasized that migrating revenue from print, then to CD-ROM, and hence to the Web was very small and probably even negative. A key reason is that librarians respond to electronic access by reducing their print subscriptions. The issues are multifaceted and complicated.

Tasini pointed out that the $55–$600 billion lawsuit was based on a model of what might be involved in payouts based on a litigation model. He said that he did not want to sue, but just deleting articles from full-text databases is not going to avoid litigation. The entire question of who is liable to whom and for how much is yet to be determined. Tasini affirmed his belief that this issue can be solved by negotiations with publishers.

One member of the audience questioned if there was any thought or action involved in creating bibliographic citations for these deleted articles. Plosker replied that yes, for the most part these citations and some abstracts—if they were part of the added-value enhancements from Gale—would indeed remain. This writer pointed out that a lengthy discussion on this topic appeared on the NewsLib listserv recently.

Many newspaper libraries have electronic archives going back decades, in some cases to the late 1970s. These are huge files and, until very recently, didn’t have a field to indicate which articles were from freelance writers. Debate focused on what could be done with the resources from our database vendors to accommodate this kind of selective full-text removal and the subsequent replacement with appropriate citations. While such software adjustments might be made, there was no certainty that all freelance records could be identified without considerable and intensive manual intervention. Such action would be costly and time-consuming. Some major newspapers decided that the only approach to remove what might become a huge liability would be to remove their entire archives from commercial vendors and their own Web sites prior to the point when the papers could be assured that contractual agreements were in full compliance with the Tasini decision.

***

November 7, 2001
Headline: Issues and Trends: What are we talking/thinking about?

Contrary to one session topic, it is not Britney Spears Does Physics. No, IL attendees are focusing on such relatively academic topics as taxonomies, metadata, and indexing. Unusual for high-tech special librarians, I suppose, but serious archiving problems are facing us and we are looking for answers.

Other issues include Web-development usability studies. Several sessions covered this topic. The keynote speaker on Wednesday morning, Eric Shaffer (CEO of Human Factors International), is uniquely qualified to lead our thinking. His speech, titled Library Science and Usability Engineering: Making the Net Effective, was a lively starting point. Most of us have a sense when our Web designs don’t work, but we rarely know why. Shaffer suggests that we need to look at the research on usability and do some reconstruction.

Digital rights, licensing arrangements, and contract negotiations plague and confuse us all. Charting our future in these troubled waters will be time consuming and costly. Sharing experiences at conferences such as Internet Librarian offer help and guidance.


Barbara P. Semonche is director of the library at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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