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The Internet Librarian í98 Conference. ITIís second West Coast show provided networking information and opportunities
by
Posted On November 16, 1998
Last year I reported enthusiastically about the impressive debut and resounding success of the first Internet Librarian conference, sponsored by Information Today, Inc. (ITI). This year, I am pleased to report that the second conference, held November 1-5, again in picturesque Monterey, California, added more of everything--more participants, more exhibitors, more high-quality content, and best of all, more networking.

The "nothing but Net" gathering focused on information professionals and Internet related technologies, and proved to be an appealing venue for discussing, learning, exploring issues and challenges, and stretching to new visions for our information futures. The conference attracted over 2,400 participants (including speakers and exhibitors; this is 400 more than last year), of which 1,400 were paid registrants, and provided a sold-out exhibit hall with over 90 companies.

The first two days offered preconference workshops--23 of them, on a wide variety of hot topics, covering intranets, Web authoring, searching and resources, knowledge management, training, and content acquisition. There was also a full day devoted to Internet@Schools '98, a new conference within a conference that focused on the impact of the Internet on K-12 librarians, media specialists, and technology coordinators. According to the conference organizer, Jane Dysart, "the school track was very successful its first time out, and we will likely expand it to two days next year."

Then, the full three-day conference began, offering over 100 speakers in three concurrent tracks, providing 48 conference sessions, two evening plenary sessions, and a wrap-up panel chaired by inimitable emcee and industry watchdog Barbara Quint. Plus, for those with enough energy, there were three days of exhibit hall time, two receptions with food and drinks in the exhibit hall, "Dine Around" groups that gathered to network over dinner at a number of the fine restaurants in the area, and even a post-conference "Internet Librarian Golf Classic." I don't know about the other participants, but I was tired by the end--though exhilarated by all I had learned.
 

Preconference Sessions
Many of the topics offered in the preconference workshops looked interesting to me and offered top-notch experts in their areas--and drew large numbers of registrants. Among the choices, one could hear Helene Kassler, library director at Fuld & Co., Inc., focusing on the creative uses of the Net for global competitive intelligence research. Howard McQueen and Jean DeMatteo gave a full-day seminar on intranet development for information professionals--and provided a 200-page handout. (McQueen is editor of the newsletter IntraNet Professional, published by ITI.) These two themes--creative uses of the Net and librarians' involvement and leadership possibilities in developing structure and content for library and corporate intranets--were ones I heard loud and clear, echoed throughout the conference.

I attended the workshop on Managing Electronic Journals, which brought together publishers, aggregators, and users to address some of the management challenges. As a user myself, working for a publisher, I was familiar with some of the facts and viewpoints, but the session served to lay out the key issues quite well, and provided some valuable insights for working together. Several speakers addressed access issues (varying interfaces and formats, technical considerations), statistical issues (usage data, privacy), content issues (currency, completeness, image quality), licensing issues (standardizing definitions, multiplicity of contracts, ILL support), and, of course, pricing issues. Users want reasonable and predictable pricing, but generally do not understand the behind-the-scenes work involved for publishers and aggregators to produce journals in electronic format or the development costs required. Even when an aggregator is supposed to get SGML-tagged data, it may be implemented differently by publishers and thus arrive in many flavors. It seems we must all pay for entry into the electronic age with its enhanced features and capabilities.
 

Session Highlights
There were certainly a lot of choices for sessions, offering something for everyone. The presentations seemed to fall into three types, providing a valuable balance and perspective. The practical how-to-do-it talks covered HTML, training, acquiring and managing content, Web design, usability testing, knowledge management implementation, etc. The issues discussions treated digital archiving, copyright and licensing, and metadata. The discussion of trends and forecasts gave us a look at next-generation tools, Web developments, the future of library automation, and object-oriented design systems.

The track on metadata and Web tools brought me up to speed on some of the behind-the-scenes technologies and how they affect a user's ability to locate and interact with digital data. A speaker from Alexa Internet (unfortunately not Brewster Kahle, who was called to serve on a Presidential Commission), Brian Gilliat, described Alexa's project to archive the Internet and how Alexa is using metadata. The company also encourages librarian involvement, and is working to incorporate important information that is generated by librarians for their sites. He urged Webmasters to study their own usage logs to understand how to customize content.

Roy Tennant, a respected figure in digital library projects, defined metadata, discussed the types (descriptive, administrative, and structural), and some of the issues to be considered (what elements to capture, how to store it, how to make it available, object level versus collection level metadata). This was followed by an excellent presentation by Joyce Ward, director of content classification at Northern Light, who delineated the techniques used by search engines to tame results sets and how Northern Light uses subject classification of metadata to sort results. She noted that the folder organization provided a visual overview of results, showing aspects of a topic.

The trend toward visual representation of data was picked up later in that track by Steve Arnold, who gave the audience a view of the future in discussing some of the developing products and trends that will give us the next generation of tools. I listened in amazement as he described and showed a tool from Cartia.com that automatically generates a terrain map of text or content, and mentioned products that provide multi-object display and others that let users fly into a visualization space. He also touched upon the use of new change monitoring agents for competitive intelligence, new interfaces, and image indexing. This was exciting stuff!

Here are some of the interesting Web sites Arnold mentioned. Since returning from the conference, I have gone to some of these sites and been fascinated by the technologies and the potential applications. Go have some fun with them:

I was impressed, as usual, with Reva Basch's view of the current Net environment, organized neatly around her "gratuitous buzzwords": aggregation, differentiation, and integration. She predicts we will see more use of "bots," collaborative filtering, and data visualization. Sue Feldman also discussed the features of some new search tools, and noted that it is time for information professionals to move beyond simple searching and into roles involving analysis and evaluation.

Well, I've used up my space and not touched on many other highlights of the show. Kudos are due to Jane Dysart, the organizing committee, and the conference management for a high-quality event with timely topics, a first-rate roster of speakers, and excellent arrangements. Participants were even treated to some fun and laughs in the two evening sessions and in the wrap-up panelóalong with the serious stuff, of course.

A volume of conference proceedings and tapes of the sessions are available for purchase from Information Today, Inc. (800/200-9868). The company Web site (http://www.infotoday.com) has the conference schedule of sessions, with links to exhibitors and speakers, and with links to sites providing many of the electronic resources used in speakers' presentations, including outlines and PowerPoint slides. Next year's Internet Librarian conference will be held November 8-10 at the San Diego Concourse, San Diego, California. The ITI Web site will have a call for papers, and a schedule as it develops. See you in San Diego!


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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