Monday, October 29, 2007
Internet Librarians Take to the Streets!
At least that's how it seems - look how quiet it is here at the Monterey Conference Center now. Just myself and two guys, furiously typing on our laptops. I am not a complete wallflower/
couch potato, however - I have just returned from a warm and convivial dinner with some new acquaintances, including our library system director, Sarah Ann Long, and my dining companions proved me wrong on the "Librarians are anti-social" theory. In fact, one of my fellow Illinois librarians, Karen Kleckner of the Deerfield Public Library, made the same observation I made earlier: these Internet Librarians seem particularly clammed up. Too much virtual reality, methinks - maybe some kind of "Hugs for Librarians" movement is in order. Earlier this evening there was a reception when the exhibit hall opened, and while there I met some librarians who actually wanted to talk to someone without using an electronic gadget! I met librarians from Waco, TX, a corporate librarian who works in biotech, and a systems librarian at the Defense Language Institute right here in Monterey. Many vendors are giving away iPod nanos, so I expect the exhibit hall to be a lively place for the rest of the conference, even when the wine and cheese have stopped flowing.
The day began with a keynote address from Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. If you don't know Lee and his work, but you have an interest in how people are using technology on a day-to-day basis, check out www.pewinternet.org. Pew (nothing to do with church pews, btw) is an independent, objective, non-profit organization dedicated to research on how people use technology. Maybe that doesn't sound important, but it's tremendously valuable. Consulting the type of statistics that Pew Internet & Family Life generates allows libraries to understand their communities and plan online/electronic services that are valuable and meaningful to people. Rainie's keynote was the kind of information explosion that I love - fast-paced, funny, and nothing but factoid piled upon factoid. I also appreciated his balanced and sensible view of technology - he acknowledges the habits of the "omnivores," those young, techie guys whose lives are dominated by gadgets and applications, but also reminds his audience of those folks who feel harassed by technology and use it only reluctantly, and even those who prefer older media - the people for whom a good quality TV, no cable, is just fine. Since much of the rest of this conference is devoted to the movers and shakers in technology, the early adopters who have 57 new Web 2.0 features on their Facebook pages, it was good to start with an overview of all kinds of users - and non-users. If you're reading this, rest assured, you are not a non-user.)
Rainie also referred to the new digital, technology-driven world as an ecosystem - multimedia gadgets are ubiquitous, "the Internet" is now synonymous with the computer (remember when we used to use computers without being online?), and users are now content creators as well. Large percentages of users are sharing photos, making movies and writing blogs. Rainie went on to describe his user typology with "omnivores" at one end of the scale (8% of Internet users) and unconnected non-users at the other end of the scale (twice as many as "omnivores" at about 15%). For libraries, where meeting the needs of our diverse population is so very important, the challenge arrives as we attempt to provide services for every part of the Internet user spectrum. I think we're up for it.
The rest of my day was filled with presentations on marketing and Web site design. The latter was a focus of mine when I decided to attend this conference, since we are in the beginning stages of a total Web site redesign at DPPL. I now feel more inspired - and more confused. One of the speakers this afternoon shattered many of the long-standing rules about Web design but upheld others, and got me thinking that we need to rethink our redesign before we get too committed to one idea. Yet other speakers seemed to reinforce what I already knew and believed. When it comes to Web sites, one size does not fit all. Nevertheless, judging from the amount of notes I've been taking, I'll be returning to Des Plaines with plenty of ideas and inspiration for Web services, so keep your eyes on www.dppl.org!
I'll check in again soon - oh, and thanks to my colleague Sara McLaughlin for catching a typo in one of these posts. When I'm writing on the fly it's hard to stay focused on the details. (I have, however, noticed typos in every single Powerpoint presentation I've seen today - tsk tsk!) And in case you're feeling envious that I am in California, it was warmer in Des Plaines today than it was in Monterey, and we were under thick cloud cover most of the day. Just as well, as it made the seaside seem bleak and uninviting, keeping our minds on wikis and RSS and the acronym-stuffed world of the Internet. Want to know something about the Internet Librarian conference? Drop me a note.