The advent of ebooks, the role of play in keeping current and continuous learning, and the adoption of new strategies for online searching challenged participants at Internet Librarian 2011, held Oct. 17-19, 2011, in Monterey, Calif. More than 1,050 information professionals gathered to tackle these topics among others. Some 200 speakers shared insights, ideas, and experiences to help participants consider the possibilities.
Internet Librarian 2011 program planners learned from a previous conference that ebooks are a very hot topic that requires significant time and attention. Thus, 27 speakers in 8 full hours of session-time dedicated themselves to the issues surrounding licensing, portability, ownership, privacy, and more. The opening session on this topic clearly outlined the issues. Bobbi Newman, learning consultant, and Sara Houghton, assistant director at San Rafael Public Library, agreed that licensing demands from distributors and content providers such as Overdrive and Amazon conflict with traditional library values. Restrictions stemming largely from digital rights management (DRM) inhibit circulation and prohibit portability between reading devices.
Agreements with Amazon also include privacy and data sharing issues. Amazon stores and does not share circulation data regarding public library users who download library ebooks to their Kindles. Amy Affelt, director of database research at Compass Lexecon, pointed out that DRM and licensing arrangements require her to buy an entire ebook even if she only needs part.
Further, she must tick a box that says she will only read the content of this device and that she cannot share it. Thus, Affelt represents many librarians not able to serve the traditional role of information intermediary within an organization. Presenters throughout this track agreed that librarians need to present a unified voice communicating that libraries need access to circulation data, and they need portability so that content can move among devices. Furthermore, pricing should be reasonable and comparable to print materials, and libraries should own rather than rent ebook content.
Keynotes of Note
Monday’s opening keynoter John Seely Brown described creative strategies for learning, pointing out that the half life of a given skill has shrunk to 5 years. Brown, former director of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and recent author of A New Culture of Learning Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, stated that with this speed of change, going back to school is not the answer. Librarians need to pick up new skills on an ongoing basis.
Brown went on to suggest that entrepreneurial learners must find a new way to make sense of the world, and this kind of learning can be found in the concepts of play. With play, you have the freedom to fail, fail, and fail again before getting it right. (Consider learning to surf as an example.) In addition to the role of play in learning, Brown cited a Harvard study showing that the single best indicator of success at college today is the ability to join or form study groups. He turned to Harry Potter and the World of Warcraft to illustrate the outcomes from collective action, networks of practice, and communities of interest.
In the second day’s keynote, Lee Rainie from the Pew Internet Project struck a similar theme. Rainie noted that 78% of American adults use the Internet, 62% use social networks, and 59% are mobile internet users either on phones or laptops. We’re experiencing a new learning ecosystem wherein we learn anywhere, any time, on any device. Learning is no longer a transaction but a process. Rainie sees a future where learning will take place in communities of collaboration, citing as an example the existing practice of backyard astronomers feeding data to scientists who compile and analyze it. Rainie challenged librarians to consider how much of their work is aimed at individuals and how much is aimed at communities. He asked the question: Are you a collection library or a creation library; a portal or an archive? On Monday, Oct. 17, the Pew Research Center announced a new research initiative to study the changing role of public libraries and library users in the digital age. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at $1.4 million, this 3-year study will inform librarians, policymakers, and the public on technology trends that are shaping libraries and their communities. Rainie suggested that the output from this study will serve as market research for librarians and their communities.
The closing keynote, delivered on Wednesday afternoon by Liz Lawley from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), continued with the theme of learning and play. In “Gamification: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, she described a recently launched program called Just Press Play. With a gift from Microsoft Research Connections, RIT’s School of Interactive Games & Media developed a “gaming layer” for undergraduate education. It allows students to playfully engage in their environment. By completing tasks as well as interacting with other students, faculty and staff, the participants receive recognition for day-to-day activities. Response has been enthusiastic and wide reaching. Ultimately, RIT will open source the game for adaptation at other institutions.
New Strategies for Searching
In addition to learning through play, issues surrounding search prevailed at the conference. Personalization and geolocation skew search results more and more as search engines strive to deliver targeted advertising. Google’s popularity ranking has given way to search results dependent upon prior search history or browser version. Google looks at what browser you use and operates on the assumption that a lower version means a less sophisticated user. As Mary Ellen Bates said in “Super Searcher Spectacular Secrets!,” you are always leaking information. To enable search queries uninfluenced by anything you’ve already done, she recommends Ghoster.com to block tracking bugs and Scroogle, DuckDuckGo, or StartPage for more private searching. In Google, users cannot disable or turn off geolocation, so Google will deliver results influenced by where you are. To work around this, use multiple search engines, including Bing.
Search engine developers from Blekko exhibited at Internet Librarian for the first time. Blekko, discussed by Bates and others, facilitates filtering of search results using the slash tag. Users can create their own slash tags, limiting searches to a customized list of sites, or rely on Blekko created slash tags such as /health; /politics; or /green. Slash tags can also limit by date range e.g., Obama/date=2005-2006 or by third party e.g., /youtube or /flickr.
In general, attendees at Internet Librarian 2011 came away with the challenge to unite over digital content management, to consider using play as a strategy to learn, and to stay abreast of the changes in technology critical to information professionals in all environments.
For additional coverage of Internet Librarian and links to many presentations, see the LibConf blog and Twitter (#il2011).