UKOLUG's State of the Art Conference, held in Warwick in July, attracted nearly 200 delegates including representatives from academia, publishing and commerce.
Sir Brian Follett opened the conference with a talk about technology and libraries in 2000. He described the background to the Follett report and the current implementation strategy. In outlining his view of efforts to ensure the success of the libraries review he emphasised the importance of the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) and in particular the potential of the electronic journals in the research environment. Sir Brian concluded that libraries will continue to be a core resource in the year 2000. He believes that librarians will still have an important role to play as I.T. comes into teaching and learning provided that they are willing to adapt to the new technological environment. This theme was to come up more than once during the following three days.
The second speaker Dr. Guy Fielding, Head of Department, Communication & Information Studies, Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh talked about the effects of technology on people and discussed the importance of recognising and using the links between information studies and communication studies in this area. He argued that the results of work carried out in the field of communication studies is can be seen to be extremely relevant when examining user's perceptions and use of information systems.
Next Karen Blakeman of RBA Information Services spoke about the future of intermediaries. Karen pointed out that the much discussed "disintermediation" which is predicted to come about because of ability provided by the Internet to allow end-users direct access to information without the need for trained professional help has been threatened before following the advent of online and CD-ROM technology. Yet the phenomena has yet to occur. Following the theme introduced earlier Karen provided a survival guide which emphasised the importance of keeping up-to-date with the new technology, finding new ways of exploiting the resources it provides and the librarian's valuable role as trainer.
Zinat Merali from the National Council for Educational Technology discussed the training issues that need to be considered to ensure that the new communication technologies are used effectively. Having first outlined what visionaries expect to happen in education in the future, Zinat used video clips to demonstrate the experience of projects currently being carried out in UK schools.
Chris Rusbridge, Director of the Electronic Libraries Programme rounded off the first day with an update on the progress of the eLib programme. Chris outlined the background and aims of the programme and issues such as project evaluation, exit strategies and sustainability. One of the key issues that Chris raised was the problem of preservation, how to ensure that material, stored only in digital form, can remain accessible in the future.
Thursday opened with three sessions concerned with publishing on the Internet. In the first Rob Bamford of Sun Microsystems talked a change in the way in which we will use information technology especially as a result of developments such as JAVA. He concluded that in the future we will see intelligent agents, greater interaction, ubiquity and payment.
In the second session Graham Walter of ThameSys Ltd. presented an introduction to publishing on the Web which included possible reasons why you might want to create pages on the Web such as advertising, personal, publishing, customer support and selling. He also outlined areas that need to be considered by those responsible for managing a Web site such as the use of a house style, security, update procedures, statistics, and link checking. Finally he covered areas such as ways of publicising the site in an acceptable manner.
Next was Andrew Charlesworth who gave a thought provoking introduction to the legal issues that must be considered when publishing material on the Internet. He pointed out that it is important to bear in mind that various aspects of the law both criminal and civil do apply to information published on the Internet and it may be extremely perilous and costly to ignore them. This does not only apply in obvious areas such as copyright, data protection and defamation but also areas such as blasphemy. It is also important to consider the international nature of the Internet when considering the legal implications of publishing certain information.
Breakout sessions covering designing user friendly home pages, legal issues, quality evaluation criteria, keeping up with new information sources on the Internet, providing current awareness services, saving time and money, using the internet to search online and security concerns allowed delegates to participate in discussions on areas of particular concern to them. Feedback of the conclusions of the sessions was received on Friday morning.
In the afternoon John Cox, University College, Cork presented a paper written jointly with Betsy Anagnostelis, Information Services, Royal Free School of Medicine which looked at evaluating Internet resources, an important skill as the explosion of resources on the Internet continues. Key areas for evaluation were identified as Context, Content and Access, following the model developed by the eLib OMNI Project John went on to describe various evaluation initiatives such as the OMNI Project, Point Web Reviews, Megallan, Healthweb and Infofilter, all of which vary their approach. They also drew attention to the Information Quality WWW Virtual Library which has a collection of quality-focused sections, including evaluation of information resources.
Next, Ian Watson, Caledonian Newspapers Information Services Manager, talked about the problems of effective Internet searching and in particular the use of current search engines on the Web. He pointed out that so far indexing on the Web has been done only by "Tolkein reading, Star Trek watching, coffee pot monitoring, computer science geeks" with little useful input from the library service.
David Baynes, Information Services Manager at ERA Technology Ltd, described ERA's experience of using the Internet and the positive moves they have made in managing their Internet activities.
Sue Turner and Gulsham Kayam talked about the creation and management of IT POINT which provides Internet access to the public through the public library service. Sue described the experiences and implications for the library following the establishment of IT POINT in Chelmsley Wood Library in Solihull, while Gulsham talked more specifically about the aims and services provided by I.T. Point itself.
Finally Clive Watts of Digital talked about managing the Intranet and presented on overview of the development of internal networks which allow companies to share information internally without making themselves susceptible to security risks. He described the scale of Intranet development arguing that by 1999 Intranet spending will be four times that of spending on Internet activities.
Friday's first paper was given by Jennifer Larkin, Final Years Honours Student, Department of Communication and Information Studies, Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh. Jennifer was the winner of the UKOLUG Student Paper Award with her paper Women Online - The Online Gender Gap. Jennifer pointed out that while the Internet would appear to provide women with egalitarian environment it is estimated that 90% of the online population is male. Reasons for this might include inequalities in the practical IT education in schools, societal stereotypes pursued in the marketing of IT products (e.g., Gameboy, SuperMario Bros.), the experience of women in the workplace. Suggested ways of closing the gap include the development of neutral software, hardware (painting PCs pink has been tried) and education environments (segregated teaching); constructive parental, teacher and mentor influence; lobbying companies; and self empowerment. Those women who do succeed in non-traditionalist fields can expect salaries far higher than their counterparts working in traditional areas.
Phil Bradley gave a lively closing talk about the role of the librarian in the challenging electronic environment and asked what would the ancient librarian think about the development of libraries and librarianship. The role of the librarian is changing, we have moved from being the gatekeeper of information towards a role as a facilitator, developing new skills and new ways of thinking to help people to find information for themselves. He argued that the ancient librarian may find it difficult to understand the changes to the modern library when viewed as a physical resource but if we move away from thinking about the library in a physical sense then they may find it easier to understand.
The event was very successful, it was well organised and the papers were varied and interesting. Wednesday evening's reception, was hosted by Financial Times Information and Thursday's by Elsevier Science, both were very enjoyable and allowed us to get together and relax. The accommodation and catering provide by the Warwick University Conference Centre was good and the setting extremely attractive.