Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Internet Librarian 2008

-- Chad Therrien

In late October, I went to Monterey, CA for the Internet Librarian 2008 conference which focussed this year on Web 2.0 technologies and implementation ideas. The goals of the conference were to expose a wide variety of technologies from a diverse array of speakers and also to provide concrete implementation ideas through XML/HTML and code snippets in JavaScript and PHP.

The Saturday and Sunday sessions were four hour presentations for those with a developer interest. On Saturday, we looked at various ways to use XML (Ajax) to build rich interactive web sites similar to Google Maps, Flickr and NetVibes. The use of XML (Ajax) allows Web 2.0 concepts like mashups and customization possible so that we can bring next-generation library applications to our patrons. On Sunday, we looked closer at the various Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and examined how to bring library-relevant content from various sites together onto one page. Scripts using JavaScript and PHP were implemented during the course of the presentation to demonstrate the ease and power of using API's to bring research materials to our patrons.

After spending an intense four hours examining code and API implementations, we were a hungry group of library professionals! The conference center provided a lunch for the attendees which also gave us chance to meet and share our backgrounds while enjoying some local specialities.

Some of the major points I observed over the two pre-conference sessions were:

  • Design sites that are still fully functional without JavaScript enabled. This may seem fairly obvious, but the important part here is that a higher reliance on XML and JavaScript (or PHP) for content makes it more difficult to develop non-scripted content.

  • The goal is to bring desktop functionality to the Web. Using technologies like XML, JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) and cloud computing, web applications can leverage many technologies to quickly deploy responsive and interactive web elements.

  • There are already many web services and script libraries that provide library-relevant content. The standard for most of these services is to provide API's so that pieces from multiple services can be pulled together to build a single, homogeneous and locally-branded application.

The main conference keynote speaker was Howard Rheingold who presented his unique perspective on social computing and libraries. Having been credited with creating the term 'virtual communities', Howard shared how the internet and ubiquitous computing are evolving and are defining the ways that information is shared and retrieved. Large domains of data are disseminated throughout the web and people who are looking for this data are want more convenient ways to not only find but also view this data. Ideas like tag clouds and micro-blogging (Twitter.com) provide information seekers with a more personalized and interactive search environment with previously unavailable accessibility through mobile computing devices like iPods and web-enabled cell phones.

The keynote speaker on Tuesday, Danny Sullivan (not spin-and-win Danny Sullivan), talked about how search engines are evolving and how Google.com became and remains the most popular search engine. Elizabeth Lawley was the final keynote speaker on Wednesday and closed the conference with a look at the cutting edge of social and interactive computing. She talked about devices such as the 'Ambient Orb' which displays different colors when a certain condition is met (i.e. glows blue when the weather is cold and red when it is hot), the 'Nazbaztag' wifi-enabled desktop rabbit (yes, a rabbit) that displays light patterns and moves it ears when a friend comes on line or an important email is received and the 'Home Joule' that provides a real-time way to see at a glance how much power a household is using.

Between the keynote speakers, the conference held between four and six sessions on three different tracks each day which provided a very wide range of topics. The sessions that I attended were primarily focussed on web design, Web/Library 2.0 technologies and web navigation and analysis. Some of the interesting statistics that I picked up which demonstrate the importance of being proactive rather than reactive are:

  • 61.8% of typical library patrons own computers (so 38.2% don't!). At our Library, this number is probably lower than for a public library but the underlying point is that not all patrons have their own computer. Our Library public access stations and collaboratories have great value and we should always bring awareness to these services.

  • Of the 'top rated' library web sites, more than half have already adopted Web 2.0 services.

  • About 1/3 of library web sites currently have blogs.

As we move into the next generation of web applications and web site designs, it is important that we present our Library web site in the ways that patrons want and expect. They want to access our catalog and services in new ways and they have a higher expectation for the information they get. Patrons want to visit our site with remote devices, they want interactive content and a library 'experience' when they visit our web site.

Our patrons are a community and they bring a lot to our Library. If we provide a library web site experience that makes research enjoyable, we make our patrons both more effective and also more likely to recommend UNCG to their friends and family.

No comments: