ITI's National Online Meeting Celebrates 20th Anniversary
|Library Automation Technology at IOLS '99
by Marshall Breeding
The IOLS '99 conference, which runs parallel to the National Online Meeting, focuses on technologies related to library automation systems. Whether you're looking to implement a new system, make more efficient use of your current system, or find new ways to integrate your IOLS (integrated online library system) into a larger information environment, this conference provides useful content. Attendees benefited from an interesting suite of conference presentations and workshops, vendor exhibits, and from sharing of insights among themselves.
A number of the events on the conference program were of exceptional interest. Pamela Cibbarelli did her usual outstanding job of organizing the program. Leading off was a plenary session titled "Project URL: A Resource for Professional Librarians Seeking IOLS Information," given by Thomas R. Kochtanek, who teaches at the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri—Columbia. While ostensibly describing a Web site of IOLS resources created collectively by his students, Kochtanek covered a significant amount of material about the history of library automation, key concepts in the field, and on the process of remote learning and collaboration. Be sure to check out Project URL on the Web at http://www.coe.missouri.edu/~is334/projects/Project_URL.
While I spend much of my time working with large-scale library automation systems, it was interesting to hear Robert Rowen talk about library automation on the smaller end of the spectrum. In "Library Automation: An Independent View," Rowen talked about the issues that face the smaller libraries—especially school and special libraries—and what to look for in automation software in the $3,000 to $6,000 price range. Rowen notes that many of these lower-cost systems are beginning to gain advanced features previously found only in the large-scale IOLS.
Other sessions offered solid information related to library automation, though not directly focused on the IOLS. Frank Cervone, for example, gave an expert session on "Using WinFrame/Microsoft Terminal Server to Provide Remote Access to Information Products." The use of thin-client technologies has gained significant popularity and can solve a number of problems faced by libraries. Cervone gave a technically thorough, yet accessible, presentation.
The development of library Web sites continues to be a topic of great interest. In recent years, I have often found that interest on Web-oriented topics overshadows the primary focus of a conference—no matter what that focus is. Such was not the case with IOLS '99. The program was well directed on its main topic, with the right mix of sessions on Web technologies. One of the Web-oriented presentations that I found most interesting was that of Paul Adalian and Judy Swanson entitled "Beyond Static HTML: Creating Dynamic Pages for a Web Site and a WebPac," which described their efforts at California Polytechnic State University. As the quantity of information increases, it becomes untenable and too difficult to manage solely with static HTML. The speakers described a number of approaches using a database to manage information presented in their Web environment. Their approach consisted primarily of a database maintained in Microsoft Access interfaced to the Web through CGI programs written in Perl. This presentation was an excellent overview of this important issue with lots of practical information and advice on how other libraries might follow with a similar approach. See the results of their work at the Web pages of their library at http://www.lib.calpoly.edu.
Peter Scott got the second day of the conference off to a good start with his plenary session on "Indexing Libraries: Past, Present, and Future." Scott, well known for his HYTELNET and webCATS indexes of library OPACs, talked about how he came to create these resources and described some of his current projects. His latest interests include ways that libraries and librarians can become involved in electronic commerce. Also, expect to see his new LibDex, which takes webCATS a step further by expanding the information available for each library.
The IOLS conference traditionally winds down with Pamela Cibbarelli's extended workshop on library automation systems. She named this year's workshop "Library Automation Software: An Overview of Best Selling IOLS Options." In this 2-hour session, as she does every year, Cibbarelli reviewed the general trends that have transpired in the last year or so in the library automation marketplace, and systematically reviewed the performance of each of the major vendors in the field. The data for the presentation derives from both the annual Library Journal review of library automation and from her own user satisfaction surveys that she regularly conducts. The statistics for each vendor included in the IOLS '99 Proceedings are an exceptional resource.
The exhibit hall included a number of vendors of integrated online library systems. At the last IOLS conference, the vendors of library automation systems were grouped together. This year they were interspersed among the other exhibitors, most of which deliver Web-based information systems of one sort or another. I rather liked this year's approach. While it was somewhat convenient to have the IOLS vendors clustered together, I found it rather uncomfortable to talk to one vendor within range of another.
The IOLS '99 exhibit hall pulled together a respectable selection of the vendors of library automation systems. Those represented included DRA, Innovative Interfaces, Endeavor Information Systems, EOS International, Winnebago, CARL Corporation, Sirsi Corporation, Cuadra Associates, Auto-Graphics, CAPSR Library Systems, Ameritech Library Services, SIRS Mandarin, Nichols Advanced Technologies, and SydneyPLUS. None of these vendors had any major product announcements to unveil at this conference, but each was well prepared to demonstrate the latest versions of their systems. Some of the major companies not represented included Follett, Gaylord Information Systems (though they participated in at least two conference programs), Ex Libris, Geac Computers, Inmagic, VTLS, and The Library Corporation. While IOLS does not bring together the comprehensive group of library automation vendors, it does attract enough for librarians to get a good perspective on the types of systems available.
For more information on this very useful conference, visit the Information Today Web site (http://www.infotoday.com). You'll find the listings of the conference programs as well as links to many of the presentation slides.
Marshall Breeding is the technology analyst for the Jean & Alexander Heard Library at Vanderbilt University. He is editor in chief of Library Software Review and has edited or authored several books on library technology and Internet-related topics. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Electronic publishing, new search technologies, and CI were hot topics
by Paula J. Hane
Nostalgia, pride, and fresh enthusiasm were in evidence at this year's National Online Meeting (NOM) in New York City—the 20th year for the show that has both witnessed and influenced the changes and growth over the years in the online information industry. As Tom Hogan, president of Information Today, Inc., (ITI) opened the conference on May 18 at the New York Hilton, he reminisced on the beginnings, when conference organizers estimated a "window of opportunity of about 5 years" for such an event, not even dreaming of the vast changes that would occur with computing and the Internet. He noted that an online search 20 years ago, which took 10 days to get results and cost about $900 in today's money, could now be done in 15 minutes for an average cost of about $30. He reported a total attendance of over 5,400 and 121 exhibiting companies.
Hogan told attendees that four companies had been exhibitors at NOM for all 20 years: IFI Plenum, ISI, Dialog (under three different owners), and IAC (now Gale Group). LEXIS-NEXIS missed only the first year—back then it was Mead Data Central—and several companies logged 18 years of participation. Martha Williams was commended for her role as program chair for all 20 years, and for the detailed statistics she has been compiling that track the growth in the industry. Williams' full report can be found in the Proceedings volume for the meeting, which can be ordered from Information Today, Inc. via the company's Web site (http://www.infotoday.com) or by calling 800/300-9868.
The Borough of Manhattan and the City of New York both issued proclamations honoring the event and Information Today, Inc. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, proclaimed May 18-21, 1999 as National Online Meeting Week, and stated that the conference "breaks new ground each year by unveiling new products and services and providing an ideal platform for all online users to share ideas," and that it helps "businesses and individuals keep abreast of the trends and latest developments in this rapidly changing field."
Keynote Sets the Tone
Dorothea Coccoli Palsho of Dow Jones Interactive Publishing discussed the key challenges and opportunities facing all segments of the now Web-based information industry, and offered her optimistic and encouraging perspective on achieving success as we move into the 21st century. She picked three issues that she felt to be critical to our collective success.
First, according to Palsho, we must reconfigure our core strengths to meet the new high expectations of our users, and to respond quickly. She used the example of how Dow Jones overhauled its business in the '90s to become a thriving Internet publisher. Second, we must become strategic users of our core technology. She noted that technology governs the pace of change and acts as an enabler, but people shape the future. Third, we must recognize our value in our organizations and seize the opportunity for leadership. She stated, "There has never been a better time to be an information professional, an information provider, or an information user." She used United Technologies as an example of skilled people making strategic decisions using cutting-edge technologies, when they created a virtual information service company-wide after the physical information center was closed. She left attendees with two final thoughts: What appears to be a problem may indeed be an opportunity. And, the value of information increases because it is shared by many.
Then, in an example of Dow Jones seizing an opportunity, she discussed the previous day's announcement that Dow Jones and Reuters were combining their business information services. [Editor's Note: See the May 18, 1999 NewsBreak on the Information Today, Inc. Web site, or on page 1 of the June 1999 issue of IT.] In joining with a competitor, Dow Jones can move forward faster, and can meet the demands for increased globalization.
Waking Up with Ron
For the last 2 years, Ron Dunn has delivered a special breakfast presentation, waking up attendees with his astute observations on the state of the information industry. Two years ago, he was president of the Information Industry Association. He has since gone to work for a large information company, International Thomson Publishing, so his remarks this year were, "The View from the Other Side." He announced that the subtitle for his talk was "It's a strange, strange world we live in."
He provided some statistics on the influence of the Internet on various sectors, like the stock market, and on the increased efficiencies it has fostered. Then he outlined some recent trends in the information industry caused by the Net: the demise of proprietary systems; the rise of partnerships and alliances; downward price pressures; inflated market values; and a volatile, competitive environment. He discussed the situations of several Net companies, including Hoovers, theStreet.com, and Miningco.com (now changed to About.com), and the "famously unprofitable" Amazon.com. He pointed out some lessons learned so far: It's possible to lose enormous amounts of money on the Internet—and to survive and thrive! And Internet startups can scramble the business models of industry leaders.
The Internet model of doing business introduces a number of key changes over conventional business that include much-shortened cycles for decision making and strategic reviews, often occurring in days or hours rather than weeks or months, and a shift of the business focus from products and services to the customer experience and communities. From a user's perspective, there are problems with knowing what's available and finding it, comparing alternatives, and assessing quality and credibility. This presents a role for information professionals to lead in evaluation, assessment, education of end users, and measurement.
Finally, he left listeners with his "Dunn's Internet Maxims":
- The Internet is just a channel. Or, it's the content, stupid! (There's a risk of companies losing sight of their objectives.)
- The worst level of service that an Internet customer will accept is the best level of service that customer has ever seen. (The bar goes up all the time.)
- The laws of economics have not been repealed by the Internet. (It's not enough to have an IPO. Companies still need to focus on the long-term business proposition.)
I had looked forward to hearing Arnoud de Kemp of Springer-Verlag, who was to speak in the second day's opening plenary session about the future of publishing. Because he was unable to attend, Bob Badger, an industry veteran, ably took over the spot. Badger noted that the most important factors for publishers in the future will be the speed of the publishing process (with the goal of shortening it considerably), the enabling technologies, lower investment requirements (with the hope of passing along lower prices), more flexible output (for example, printing on demand, network printing, DocDel), and personalization capabilities.
He outlined a number of questions to consider for electronic publications, including input, storage, and output formats and standards. Another issue is how to deal with a range of intermediaries, including abstracting and indexing services, subscription agencies, library networks and catalogs, search engines, and more. Major changes that are now occurring include decreasing time to market, increased accessibility, the changing definition of a publication, changes in the way we cite and quote publications, better indexing, intelligent agents, linking, open access between platforms, and moving from subscription models to other arrangements.
Attendees interested in pursuing these issues could then continue in a whole-day track on "Electronic Publishing, XML, and Metadata," one of three offered simultaneously. Speakers explored such topics as using MARC metadata standards, achieving the benefits of XML, and evaluating electronic journals. Other presentation tracks over the 3 days were just as interesting and presented a tough choice; topics included digital libraries, competitive intelligence, intellectual property issues, online and distance education, Web searching, and "Wall Street Online," which focused on online financial information and desktop access. Luckily, attendees had the Proceedings volume and could purchase tapes for sessions they missed. Also, a number of the presentations are posted on the conference Web site at http://www.infotoday.com/nom99/presentations.htm.
New Information Technologies for Searching
I admit it, I had a favorite track. In fact, I did what I almost never do: I stayed in the same track all day. Now that says something about the organizers' ability to grab my interest—and that of others as well, judging by the packed room. Sue Feldman and Steve Arnold put together a great combination of speakers who provided an overview of some of the important developments in the field that are making their way into the commercial search and retrieval arena. The technologies and tools that were discussed allow information to be located, filtered, delivered, organized, and shared more effectively than before. Put another way, this was cool stuff!
Feldman stated that because of progress in techniques for natural language processing (NLP), we will soon see tools that will far exceed today's capabilities. She predicted that in the next few months to 2 years we would see integrated suites of tools that would include these capabilities: question-answering systems, machine-aided indexing and automatic categorization (for improved retrieval), data mining (to find facts and patterns within data), visualization techniques (for better understanding of large data sets), intelligent agents, filtering and routing, change monitoring, and cross-language and cross-discipline retrieval (to map a query to a new language).
The speakers then discussed examples of how these technologies are actually being implemented. John Snyder of Muscat Limited talked about linguistic inference and concept extraction in Muscat. Gary Stock of InGenius Technologies discussed their products for monitoring changes on Web sites. Robert Ainsbury of Aeneid Corporation (otherwise known as "the Robin Williams of CTOs") discussed the value of narrowcasting, or constraining where you search, combined with software solutions.
Other companies included Retrieval Technology, Inc., PCDOCS/Fulcrum, and Autonomy, Inc., whose representatives discussed solutions for integrating content for intranets. Liz Liddy of Textwise gave a look at their forthcoming product for cross-language retrieval. Ramana Rao of Inxight Corp. showed how their hyperbolic tree technology aided navigating and interacting with large data sets. And, there was a lively panel discussion on how information providers are making use of the new search and retrieval technologies, particularly to integrate traditional content and Internet information sources. Whew, it was quite a big day.
The 3 days in May also featured the 11th year of the "conference within a conference" for users and producers of library systems and services. IOLS '99 (Integrated Online Library Systems) was ably organized by Pamela Cibbarelli, and featured its own tracks of sessions, covering how resources are implemented in libraries. [Editor's Note: See Marshall Breeding's report, "Library Automation Technology at IOLS '99," right.] There is a separate Proceedings volume, also available from Information Today, Inc.
The Electronic Publishing Seminar XVII also took place during NOM. The annual management seminar, sponsored by Information Today, Inc. and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), was once again chaired by Joe Bremner and covered the topic: "Publishing, Pricing, and Portals." [Editor's Note: A full report by Judy Luther appears in the July/August 1999 issue of IT.]