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ITIís Internet Librarian conference makes its overseas debut
by
Posted On April 19, 1999
The Internet Librarian International conference and LibTech International exhibition took place March 29-31 at the Olympia Conference and Exhibition Centre in London, with pre-conference workshops on March 28 and post-conference workshops on March 31 and April 1. The conference program followed the same style and format as the Internet Librarian conference in the U.S. and was attended by nearly 300 delegates and speakers from 24 countries, with over 2,800 visitors to the exhibition.

The Background

First a little history. The LibTech International exhibition had been organized by the University of Hertfordshire and held at its Hatfield campus for many years. It began as a staff training event in 1985 when there was no exhibition of library systems in the U.K. It has since become an important fixture in the library calendar and combined as many as 40 satellite meetings organized by the library profession with some 60 exhibitors.

Having outgrown its site and with a date (September) and location (Hatfield) inconvenient for many visitors, the University collaborated with Reed Exhibitions to move LibTech International to London and run the event in conjunction with the London International BookFair—the largest event in European publishing, with over 23,000 visitors and exhibitors. The larger exhibition setting at London Olympia and the electronic publishing synergies offered by the BookFair were compelling reasons for the decision, and the availability of lecture-style accommodation meant that the satellite seminar meetings formula could be reviewed to fit better with the new venue.

Because of their many years experience in designing library and information conference formats in such venues, Reed Exhibitions (who also run the BookFair) and the University of Hertfordshire approached Information Today, Inc. (ITI) to develop a conference component for LibTech International. The subsequent negotiations led to ITI acquiring the LibTech International Exhibition in December 1998—leaving very little time for the development and announcement of a full conference program for an event to be held in March!  As conference co-chairs, ITI retained Jane Dysart, of Dysart & Jones Associates and chairman of the Internet Librarian and Computers in Libraries conferences, and, additionally, this writer. The whole show—both exhibition and conference—was managed jointly by Information Today, Inc. and Rubicon Communications, Ltd., the latter being an event-management company specializing in the library and information-management fields.The conference component was developed in remarkably short time despite the Christmas break. The international aspect was immediately apparent from the mere location of the organizers: ITI is in the U.S., Rubicon Communication sis in England, Jane Dysart is in Canada, and I am based in The Netherlands!
 

The Keynote

The keynote speaker on the first day of the conference was David Seuss, CEO of Northern Light Technology LLC, who took as his theme the magic of the Internet, reflecting on the Net's development, Northern Light's strategies, and looking into the future.

Seuss noted that for many years, with high-quality material from the print publishing world, traditional research tools dominated the scene. But they were expensive and hard to use, and besides there was a limited penetration of desktop PCs. Things changed in 1994 with the advent of the World Wide Web, which is now virtually the premier source of news information and announcements, even beating out the television—the epic report of Kenneth Starr being first made available on the Internet was a case in point. A further point is that there is a blurring of home and office life—an estimated half of Internet usage from the office is personal, while much use from home is for business matters. In fact, what we are witnessing now is a 24-hour electronic work day in which business is coming out ahead. Seuss made the point that everyone is an Internet Librarian; search engines and the Web have made it a requirement to frame queries and filter results. The Web has drastically reduced the costs for various services. E-commerce, for instance, is low cost because people like to be able to do work themselves, they can access the world from a single location, and there is a lower telecommunication cost overhead.The result will be what Seuss calls the long boom—rapid, uninterrupted, economic growth with a large increase in per capita income. In fact, we are looking at 25 years of prosperity because of the Web, Seuss asserted.

Having given some interesting facts, figures, and assessments on the development of the Internet, Seuss went on to talk about the pioneering role that Northern Light was playing.To search the vast amount of information—by mid-1999 there will be some300 million Web pages—there have been a number of search engines, most of which have been universally available and free but using brute-force text retrieval with often poor-quality results. Northern Light's philosophy is to index and classify all human knowledge to a simple consistent standard, said Seuss. Currently it has the largest Web search database, with some130 million pages being indexed compared to Alta Vista's 101 million and most of the others being much lower. For those who like statistics, this equates to 750 GB of textual information indexed by Northern Light. Seuss wants to double the number of Web pages indexed by the year 2000 and believes that with the billion-page database soon to be upon us, the opportunities for Internet librarians are greater than ever before.
 

The Arts Minister

The conference was also addressed by Alan Howarth, British Government Minister for the Arts at the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. As Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department, his responsibilities include the arts, crafts, museums and galleries, libraries, the Royal estate, architecture, and design. The Arts Minister spoke about the vital role of information technology in the future of the library sector and how the (British) government was seeking to provide the opportunities for librarians and information managers to spread the benefits of the information revolution that is shaping people's lives. The government's information strategy aims to transform education,so that everyone in the U.K. can gain the knowledge and skills they need or want to develop. The targets for this strategy are ambitious: By the year 2002, 25 percent of government services should be available electronically; all schools, libraries, colleges, and universities should be linked to the National Grid for Learning; and all teachers and librarians should have had the chance to update their information and computer technology skills.

Howarth stressed that the opportunities of the information age—for education, entertainment or employment—must be open to all, and that there should not be a society divided into the information haves and have-nots. He believed that the public library's role in this was crucial since almost 60 percent of the population held library membership. New technologies would ensure that in addition to offering core services, libraries would also operate as cyber libraries. They would become places where people could go to pay bills, enhance educational opportunities,and collect e-mail from family and friends.

The government recently announced that it was making the equivalent of some U.S. $350 million available to promote access to lifelong learning in the U.K. Although this program is not exclusively for libraries, it will help support the infrastructure and equipment to link libraries to each other and to schools, and enable them to provide a full range of electronically based local and community information. In addition, some $105 million has been pledged over the next4 years to train librarians in computer/IT skills and to create digital content for lifelong learning.

The Minister closed his speech by saying that he looked forward to working with librarians as his government's vision for the creation of a learning society took shape.He answered several pertinent questions from the audience, who seized the opportunity to press him on issues dear to their hearts, such as better information access for persons with disabilities, and continuity of resource funding when programs ended. Howarth rounded off his appearance at the event with a quick tour of the exhibition.
 

The Roundtable

The Webmasters' Roundtable, ably chaired by Andy Breeding of Compaq Computer, was a lively, interactive session where designers and managers of library Web sites shared their experiences and knowledge and lessons learned. Panelists included Sean Dreilinger, SavySearch, Ltd., USA; Pieter van Brakel, Rand Afrikaans University, South Africa; and William Hann, FreePint, U.K.

The session started at the outset with an invitation to the audience to ask questions of the panelists,and this they certainly did—touching on requirements for Web sites, Web page design and creation issues, and managing and running Web sites. Surprisingly and interestingly, quite a bit of discussion revolved around users with disabilities. The myth had to be debunked that people with disabilities don't or can't use the Internet. The U.K. Government is apparently making it law that all Web pages must be accessible to people with disabilities,and so the question was posed: How do you make Webmasters more aware of access possibilities? A number of technologies were briefly mentioned,including Braille printouts, talking Web pages, and adjusting color settings—simple enough things, but  Webmasters have to be aware of the needs of such users and what technologies or techniques are available to meet these needs.

The discussion also considered just what or who was a Webmaster. There was a very broad definition, but the consensus seemed to be that the Webmaster should be much more part of a team rather than just operating as an individual. Another comment was that Web site content should be separated from the technical issues since this worked better and was more manageable. One other aspect that the panelists and audience covered was the problem of finding Web sites. Solutions included having easy-to-remember URLs, the use of metadata, and better marketing and registering of sites.
 

The Sessions

The conference had three simultaneous tracks over its two and a half days, accounting for nine track sin total and covering a wide variety of topics deemed to be of interest to Internet librarians. Tracks included the Webmasters' Symposium, Internet Services, Internet Librarians: Issues and Case Studies; Web Tools; Intranet Librarians; Internet Librarians in Action; Content Management; Future Focus:Issues and Trends; and Emerging Strategies for Libraries Using the Web. Within each track were a number of excellent speakers and papers, giving a well-balanced and interesting program with a good mixture of presenters from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and elsewhere. With three parallel session sat any one time, it was not possible to attend every presentation and thus a selection had to be made. What follows are some of the highlights that give a flavor of the eclectic nature of the event.

Always a good speaker, Steve Arnold of Arnold Information Technologies gave an up-to-the-minute survey of next-generation Web tools and then stepped into the breach to replace a speaker who was unable to come at the last minute to speak about publishing in the age of the Internet. Pieter van Brakel, from South Africa, talked about the popularity of the Web for distance learning and outlined the requirements for the successful Web-based course he was running at his university for a post-graduate diploma in information management. Sheila Webber, University of  Strathclyde, Scotland, who styled herself "Mistress of Ceremonies" when she was chairing the Search Engines and Portals Track,described how small businesses were using the Internet to find business information.

Greg Notess, Montana State University, gave an excellent analytical overview of the development of search engines and portals and concluded that the future would bring smaller databases, there would be an emphasis on local content, there would be paid ads for visibility, and that we would see a rise in separate research-oriented sites. In the same session, Sue La Chance, Infoseek, summarized various Web search and Web content frustrations and noted how the market had proved that content alone was not enough and that users wanted personalization,to choose what not to receive, and get relevant recommendations. She wen ton to add that there would be something like 53 million Web users in the next 4 years, with the digital youth accounting for 47 percent and the demographics of the Web looking pretty much like those of television. Danny O'Sullivan, Search Engine Watch, U.K., had interesting things to say as well about how Web pages were ranked and how to index your Web pages so that they are found. He suggested making different pages for different engines since each had different techniques for spidering, filtering, ands pam detection.

Another excellent paper was given by Martin White, TFPL, Ltd., who looked at the range of information audit techniques available and showed how a combination of these techniques could be used to develop and design a content map for an intranet that reflected corporate strategy, business processes and practices, and the requirements for internal and external information.

In another session, two complementary papers addressed e-commerce and the library. Cindy Hill of Sun Microsystems described a Web-based revenue-generating initiative at Sun called the Electronic Commerce Book Store, which provides a discounted bookshop service to staff as well as revenue to the library while taking advantage of the latest e-commerce strategies. Hill also outlined some of the problems and issues of working in partnership with a book store,Computer Literacy (now Fat Brain), to set up the service. In a fascinating and amusing talk, Peter Scott, University of Saskatchewan, looked at other ways for libraries to make money from the Web—notably by clickthroughs, per-impressions, and commission ads. Giving numerous examples, Scott showed how you could become rich (well almost) by doing nothing at all, just by having an ad or reference on your Web site!

In recent years the pace of change in academic life has put higher education libraries under pressure to adapt their strategies and modify their vision. This has meant that the problem of integrating traditional and electronic resources within the library has become more urgent. Within the U.K.'s Electronic Libraries(eLib) program, the Hybrid Library projects aim to integrate new technologies and electronic products and services already in libraries with the traditional functions of a library. The library user should have a single interface to discover and retrieve all of a library's resources—either those held within the confines of the library or externally (e.g., Web-based). Presentations from the five hybrid library projects in the U.K. (Builder, Headline, Agora,Malibu, and HyLife) showed the variety of approaches taken and highlighted the various strands of the hybrid library concept. Builder, for instance,is developing a range of modules within different subject areas in a single institution, Headline has a business subject base, Agora is focusing on technical issues, Malibu covers the humanities, and HyLife is strongly focused on implications for the user. The sessions gave a good overview of the progress being made in the U.K. in the field of electronic and hybrid libraries and, combined with a booth in the exhibition hall, made some delegates aware of the eLib program for the first time.

Summaries of many of the papers presented at the conference can be found in the Internet Librarian Conference proceedings available from Information Today, Inc., and the remainder are to be posted on ITI's Web page (http://www.infotoday.com).
 

The Exhibition

Nearly 100 of the industry's most important companies exhibited at LibTech International '99, giving the nearly 3,000 visitors a good opportunity to sample the latest in library automation and technology. Exhibitors from the U.K., U.S., and Europe included Academic Press, Ameritech Library Services, Ltd.; The British Library; Data Harmony, Inc.; The Dialog Corporation; Dun & Bradstreet; The Gale Group; Northern Light Technology LLC; Ovid Technologies, Ltd.; SilverPlatter; the Special Libraries Association; Springer Verlag; and Swets, among others. Since the LibTech International exhibition was taken over as a going concern, and since the conference component has its emphasis on Internet Librarians, there is scope for increasing the Internet content of the exhibition.

Because the Internet Librarian and LibTech International '99 event was held in conjunction with the London International BookFair (LIBF), there was a fair amount of cross-over traffic between the two exhibitions, which added an interesting new dimension, particularly since there were several exhibitors at LIBF showing electronic and digital book technologies. This obviously could generate some synergies for next year's event.

Considering that the whole show was organized in such a short timescale, there is no doubt that the Internet Librarian and LibTech International '99 conference and exhibition were a great success. Many favorable comments were received from delegates, visitors to the exhibition, and the exhibitors themselves. The location was good (very easily accessible), the time of year was good (spring and Easter in London), and the program and speakers were strong, varied, and practical. This is an event that can be built on, and given that we now have a full year to prepare for the next conference and exhibition, I am sure that the second Internet Librarian International conference will be an even greater success.


David Raitt is editor of The Electronic Library Library.

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