Zoë reports from day one of the conference and Garth reports from day two.
I attended day one of Internet Librarian International 2014 as I was sharing the conference with my colleague, Garth Bradshaw. This was the first large conference I had attended since returning to the profession following a break from librarianship; my review reflects my thoughts following an absence of eight years from the profession, a long time in our fast moving world.
A note on the venue and general organisation to begin: I thought the Conference Centre was a good venue; roomy, clean, well-staffed, consisting of a main auditorium, conference rooms, break-out areas, and a large central space for the exhibitors - all on the same level. Refreshments and lunch, served informally in the central area, also proved very good.
The organisation of the day was exemplary: with sensible timings for the events - the lengths of the sessions worked well and 15 minutes between the end of one and the start of the next meant that extra questions, writing up notes, and comfort breaks were all considered, and nothing felt too much of a rush.
Particularly interesting at this conference was ‘Track X’, running alongside the formal presentation tracks in the breakout areas and main atrium; informal pop-up talks, sharing sessions, and the ILI Unconference featured here, as well as opportunities to ‘book an expert’ for a 15-minute one-to-one with the speakers, and engage with the ILI App. This meant that there was always something going on, even if the formal sessions didn’t appeal.
During the conference, tweeting and pictures were encouraged; there was even a dedicated ‘Selfie Space’, with prizes (notably for the most people in a selfie, with the proviso of no injuries). The 3D printer which chuntered away throughout the day (without breaking - clearly worlds away from a 2D printer) usually garnered quite an audience, myself included- science fiction in action!
I had studied the schedule beforehand; there were three simultaneous main tracks: Track A (New Blueprints for Libraries), Track B (Technology, Innovation and Impact) and Track C (Content Innovation). I chose to attend sessions across the tracks. All the presentations I attended were worthwhile; for the sake of readability I shall focus on just a few.
The keynote by Michael Edson, Smithsonian Institution, Open Knowledge Foundation and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) was a thought-provoking multimedia presentation entitled The Dark Matter of the Internet - highlighting the types of information which we don’t yet officially recognise, value or measure – 90% of the Internet. Michael selected many interesting examples of the types of social start-up information amateurs who are reaching a vast audience with great success; establishment information professionals may not (yet) recognise these sources as legitimate purveyors of information- but no one has informed the third of humanity currently able to access the Internet. Entrepreneurial information purveyors The Vlog Brothers (- 'raising nerdy to the power of awesome') have 6,353,850 subscribers, and have had 839,931,854 views across their 26-channel YouTube network which includes 6,173 videos .
Michael concluded by reminding us that Tim Berners-Lee had created the Internet as a read/write environment, and this ‘democratic vision of knowledge’ created new types of information as a result; the information profession ignores this at its peril. The options open to the profession were either: to ignore; compete with; or to help this opportunity/threat: a message reiterated elsewhere in the conference.
Tomorrow’s World Today: Trends in Library Services: this title was wide-ranging enough to constitute a conference in its own right: but given three speakers and a half -hour time limit, each of the speakers chose two main topics: Sharon Bostick, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, opted for change management and library building design, including the phrase ‘makerspace’, (again, unfamiliar to me after my leave of absence, which would come up a lot later on in the conference); Liz McGettigan, of SOLUS, chose hybrid (physical/digital) space and staff development ( and offered the extremely tweetable titbits: ‘I’m a Librarian; if I don’t know, I can learn’, and the forthright ‘if you want change, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable.’).
So far, this was all recognisable to me, issues I remembered well from my previous professional incarnation. Marydee Ojala, Editor-in-Chief of Online Searcher Magazine, then echoed themes that Michael had highlighted in his keynote, and chose to talk on the democratisation of information and big data, new strands for me. She drew out the implications and opportunities for information professionals in areas such as media literacy, and also advised evolving our core competencies to take advantage of opportunities in data analysis - shining a light into the dark matter.
Real-world Tech: Making a Difference with 3D Printers: enough of these huge and mind-boggling concepts, time to indulge my inner nerd. I had already spent some time in the atrium area, marvelling at the Makerbot 5. I knew a little about the architectural and medical applications of the machines, but I was interested in the practical applications of a machine in a library environment. Maureen Hood,Outreach Services, Dundee Library and Information Services, spoke first about using the printer in a public library, specifically as therapy for those with additional needs, although also as a crowd-pleaser (‘public libraries have image issues’), and as a tool for children’s learning (creating and constructing the characters from a specially written book). The machine adds a creative element, allowing people a sense of achievement in creating solid objects from templates or their imaginations; bringing thoughts to life. It can also have a practical purpose, printing accessibility aids for homes, or manufacturing equipment for the library. Maureen talked about the possibility of recreating a child’s face from a photo, or a wedding bouquet, creating a tangibility particularly important for the visually impaired. She also mentioned ongoing funding issues, and specialist/training issues.
Heather Moorfield-Lang, School of Library and Information Science, University of South Carolina, then spoke on 3D Printers in the Real World, explaining she was researching this burgeoning area, and having conducted some interviews across the board into real uses of the technology, she was expecting to move to the next step and start investigating the policy/copyright/privacy issues that were occurring – the formation of user agreement policies which are so far unregulated.
Although the machines have been extant for 10 years in technical/medical environments, their use in libraries was really very new- most people interviewed had only had the machines from six months to two years. There was description of the varying uses to which the technology had been put, in a real-world library environment. Heather then characterised the challenges of operating a 3D printer: keeping up with public demand (often very popular); understanding the differences between a good model and a bad one (understanding how to make a good model); sharing, siting, staffing and funding; and the noise the machines generate in the makerspace.
Training staff appeared as another challenge, given how new the technology is, and how relatively few ‘experts’ there are in the field available to help. Learning was characterised by a ‘leap of faith’ approach, using YouTube videos to help, being prepared to experiment and fail. Training users had primarily been done on a face-to-face basis, supplemented with online training and Web page information.
Heather concluded by reiterating what an exciting area this was, so innovative that that there was very little peer-reviewed research available – she really is forging ahead into unknown territory.
Karin Byström, Uppsala University Library, Sweden, gave an interesting session entitled Starting a Dialogue with Publishers, offering an insight into the ebook situation in Sweden. Inspired by a presentation called ‘Publishers and librarians: We share the same values – why are we fighting?’ given by T. Scott Plutchak at the UKSG Conference in Bournemouth on 10 April 2013 , Karin decided to try and start a dialogue with Swedish publishers, with a view to working together to improve the current situation.
A revelatory piece of information was how tiny the ebook market is in the Swedish language. The ebook format is primarily devoted to fiction in Sweden, for use in public libraries. Karin suggested that there were only 1,000 or so titles available. As for academic titles, she hazarded a guess at 100 titles which were available as ebooks; even the academics who authored the books were often unable to obtain an electronic copy of them. So Karin organised an ‘ebook seminar’, and invited four publishers, one trade representative, two aggregators, 40 academic librarians, and the National Library of Sweden. They had discussions on the current situation and their goals; focussing on the areas of supply and demand, models and platforms, competencies and continuing the dialogue.
Buoyed by the success of the seminar, and the possibility of a pilot scheme working together, Karin and her colleagues organised a smaller-scale, focussed workshop - but the publishers turned down the invitation; and only the trade representative attended. The publishers had withdrawn from the dialogue - Karin could only assume that they were unable, or unwilling, to share ‘trade secrets’ or strategies.
Karin is now exploring other approaches - trying to get to publisher meetings, and attending publisher conferences to increase her level of recognition on their turf; whilst simultaneously working with the other librarians to formalise library collaboration in order to ensure that when the publishers do engage, they will be prepared. Although the pilot is not expected in the near future, she feels that if she can keep things hypothetical and generic, there may be a path to be trodden.
Another new concept for me, in the first presentation, I learned from Jan Holmquist, Guldborgsund Public Library, Sweden, in his talk about Gamifying the Library Experience. Gamification was the process of using ‘game mechanics and designs to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals’. The idea of ‘Hidden Treasures’, a game created by a Danish public library which offered insights into the hidden history of its town on three different walks, really made sense to me. Bringing the library outside and attracting new customers back into the museum/institution seemed a great idea, and the game itself seemed akin to orienteering, geo-caching or treasure-mapping. Jan gave more examples of gamification on a global scale – I loved the idea of ‘World War M’, which took place on Moraine Valley Campus – a zombie invasion scenario game based in the library but working across the disciplines – maths: trying to predict the spread of the disease; biology: trying to find a cure; history: explaining the previous tracks of infections/plagues.
Kay Munro, University of Glasgow, and Ciaran Talbot, Digital Technologies and Services Team, University of Manchester, then gave their presentation on Engaging the Gaming Generation, explaining their joint project using Librarygame software to ‘add a social layer to the library, making it more fun’. They had only just introduced their respective versions of the game (‘Librarytree’ in the University of Glasgow and ‘BookedIn’ in the University of Manchester), and were currently evaluating gamification as a means of increasing customer engagement.
The idea is that students gain points, badges and awards for using the library ‘properly’ (borrowing, returning), and also for engaging in additional aspects such as book reviews on items borrowed. Good behaviour is rewarded in an environment familiar to those who use social networks – elements are very recognisable from Facebook and its ilk - privacy settings, an activity timeline, friends, networks, bookshelves, review/rate recommend options, while a leader-board element appeals to the competitive game-players out there.
The figures are impressive: Glasgow has 41% of its first-year undergraduates in the game, and 27% of its postgraduates; 24% of game-users have at least one friend in the game. There are clear successes to be had here, especially with the freshers; there is certainly something to be said for ‘the power of like’.
This conference provided lots of food for thought and much research for me to do. I was inspired; it is indeed a brave new world of big data and open access out there, and the future for the information profession offers a positive prospect. Overall, I thought it would be an intense and very worthwhile two-day conference, and I regretted that my visit had to be a truncated one. I could have benefited from more time for networking, and the continuity the two days would offer (more time to engage with the ILI App and X Track activities). The full conference, including the workshops offered on Monday 20 October 2014, and the trip to the National Library on Thursday 23 October 2014, would have made a tremendous combination. Maybe next year.
I attended day two  as this day, particularly Track B, was more targeted towards the search experience, discovery services and the experiences and perspectives of Web-based search at different institutions. As cataloguing and metadata librarian, I am interested in the challenges faced by cataloguers in the age of resource discovery systems and how these tools have been influenced in their development by Internet search engines and Internet search behaviour.
The opening keynote, Digital Inclusion – The Big Mission, was given by Rachel Neaman, CEO of Go ON UK, the digital inclusion charity. Go ON UK sees digital literacy - after reading, writing and mathematics - as the fourth pillar of basic literacy and its mission is to empower everyone in the UK to reach their digital potential.
Rachel spoke about the irrevocable and not entirely controllable changes brought to our everyday lives by technology that, on the one hand, empowers people, organisations and businesses but has also led to an increasing divide and polarisation of opportunity between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. The ‘haves’, already operating in a digital environment in which the minimum threshold of online skills is continually advancing, encounter little difficulty in refreshing their own digital literacy. Meanwhile, the ‘have-nots’ - over 4 million people on the UK of working age - have low basic digital skills because they do not generally function in an online environment. This is largely due to economic barriers arising from poverty but also partly due to a distrust of the online environment which is often believed to threaten personal security and intrude on privacy. The ‘have-nots’ are falling behind in a world in which digital skills are increasingly required for such routine activities as banking, using government services, claiming benefits, applying for jobs and, indeed, demonstrating the technological competences now seen as the baseline marketable skills necessary to obtain and perform those jobs.
Go ON UK recognises that a successful digital arena is one that is not a divider but an equaliser. Based on evidence across Europe showing proportionally high use in libraries of online services by disadvantaged groups (the elderly, Roma and other ethnic minorities, people from rural areas), Rachel argued for the need to harness the enormous potential of libraries – already increasingly the lifeline of the digitally dispossessed by providing free access to non-formal lifelong learning opportunities – to be at the forefront of digital inclusion initiatives.
In New Search Apps and Tools, Phil Bradley, independent consultant and information specialist, walked us through his latest findings in the world of social media tools, mobile apps and search engines - including the many alternatives to Google - of potential interest to information professionals and the information community that have come to his attention in the last year or so.
There followed a panel discussion, Pushing the Search Envelope. On the panel were Marydee Ojala, Editor-in-Chief of Online Searcher Magazine, Arthur Weiss, Managing Director of AWARE Competitive Intelligence and Andrew Preater, Systems and Innovation Support Services Team Leader at Imperial College, London. The panel asked what have librarians, having learned and taught the discipline of Boolean searching, been obliged to ‘unlearn’ in an environment where: one search engine has become dominant; where searchers have become accustomed to typing two or three keywords into a simple search box to find all they want to know; where the user deems the results obtained to be perfectly satisfactory - so much so that anything not returned is automatically dismissed. The panel considered if, in this environment, new skills and competences are required to stay one step ahead so as to be able to teach search techniques that find information of quality. If so, what are those skills? Or is it simply all the more important for librarians to draw upon their long-held information skills and aptitude for information literacy skills teaching so as to educate users to consider search strategies critically and to cast a more discerning eye over search results. The panel discussed the dilemmas faced by librarians in a digital environment in which search engines and discovery tools rank, recommend and connect concepts for us automatically . Do we really want them to do this or are we bypassing some vital steps that would normally draw upon our own instincts of independent problem-solving? Modern search tools are indeed remarkable in their ability to interact with, second-guess, even ‘understand’ our search - connecting entities and making suggestions that would not necessarily occur to us - but are we trusting these tools a little too much: by whose criteria are search results returned, displayed and prioritised: ours, or the creators and configurers of the search tool? Are the results what we want to see, or what they want us to see?
The next session comprised talks from representatives of two university libraries: one already using Ex Libris’ Primo discovery tool and another that was considering it alongside others. Both had conducted observational studies of student search behaviour.
In her talk, What Do Students Want from Discovery Tools?, Keren Mills, Digital Services Development Officer at the Open University, described an OU project that set out to understand better students' expectations of library resource search tools. Information gathered from search logs and traditional feedback methods in the form of questionnaires or interviews were not seen as sufficiently comprehensive or reliable to help the library understand what did or didn’t work well with discovery tools; or paint a full picture of how students interacted with them. Respondents may not report accurately or in sufficient detail about their behaviour because of gaps in their recall, and the human tendency to answer questions that put ourselves in a favourable light. Being able to see what students were doing would clearly bring more reliable results.
The method was to give students a selection of tasks using several discovery tools in use at different universities, including Ex Libris’ Primo at York, Proquest’s Summon at Huddersfield, Google Scholar and the OU’s own prototype discovery tool, badged as ‘One Stop Search’. Participants worked through the exercises whilst also being interviewed remotely, thus allowing their search methods and their interaction with search results pages to be observed.
So what behaviours were observed? They found a very common search method would be to enter a whole (44% of participants) or partial (26%) reference into the search box and, if that failed to bring the desired results, another attempt would be made with just the author’s name; only 25% of searches made use of author or title radio buttons; students vocalised a desire for search limiters but, in reality, rarely used them and the facets were perhaps more of a ‘comfort blanket’ - there if needed. Terminology was found to be important: students didn’t always associate ‘articles’ with journals; students also expressed a desire to be able to navigate their way back through previous screens since, having hit upon their desired search results, it was easy to forget the terms that had rendered their search successful.
So what did the observers find students wanted from a discovery tool? They wanted:
Keren concluded that the observational study had helped the OU decide upon a discovery tool and informed how it would be configured and implemented. Since the library’s assumptions about what users wanted had been considerably challenged by the direct involvement of the students themselves, she recommended that other institutions conduct observational research when considering future systems and service development.
Cattis Hummelstrand and Johanna Säll, both of Södertörn University in Stockholm, delivered the second part of this session with their talk, Discovery Tools: So We Have a User Study, Now What? They described their own institution’s observation exercise, which, again was used to inform local configuration of the university’s discovery tool. Similarly, an observational study was deemed a more reliable way of understanding search behaviour than student interviews, surveys and search logs.
Another reason for the study was that, while it was felt that the library was very well versed in seeking and accommodating user perspectives connected with the environment and services, it did not engage with the student community quite so much when it came to user views of technical provision, and it was felt important to be consistent with the inclusive approach taken in other areas. The study was carried out using Camtasia so that face, speech, mouse and typing movements were all recorded. Similar findings were obtained to those of the OU study: students preferred a simple and uncluttered search screen, search limiters were overlooked or of less interest, and ranking of results was regarded as important.
Cattis and Johanna compared Primo ‘out of the box’ with how the University configured it after the user observation exercise. The difference was quite striking. The Södertörn Primo had a significantly larger and centralised search box, very prominent, albeit surrounded by a ‘BBC-style’ graphic. It was felt important to make the search page consistent with the corporate identity of the University, hence changes to colours and fonts. The original positioning of the facets had been considered distracting on the left of the screen and so moved to the right, with fewer choices visible so as to reduce clutter. Those considered the most popular were immediately visible and the hidden limiters were obtainable by the addition of a drop-down menu.
The Södertörn presenters concluded that it was important for libraries to reflect on their digital environments, that they should not be afraid to conduct analyses of user search behaviour and their interactions with the discovery tool. Implementers must pay attention, in particular, to user navigation behaviour, the design of the interface and the language and terminology incorporated into the search tool.
Concluding the day - and the conference - was the presentation on the ILI Mobile App , devised and completed during the conference by Rebecca Bartlett and Robbie Beak representing the team at Nymbol in collaboration with the Library of Birmingham, the underlying theme being the potential of a co-creation experience. From the conference outset, delegates were invited to send texts, emails, ‘selfies’, video clips, tweets, opinions and other contributions. Given that the team did not know in advance what content would be received as the conference progressed, or even if the app was going to be in any way successful, their closing plenary could only be prepared during the conference itself, culminating in a spontaneous, anything-can-happen feel to their closing talk. By the time of wrapping up, statistics from Google Analytics revealed there had been 1200 views of the app; 34 delegates had contributed from 11 different countries; 30% of visitors had revisited the app; on average, visitors spent eight minutes perusing it. Naturally, most of these were from London, but also from as far away as Chicago and Jerusalem - all in all, reflecting the international and highly interactive flavour of the conference.
This was an energetic, intense and inspirational international event, with delegates from 29 countries and talks given by information professionals from across the globe. There were many opportunities to be involved in activities in the break-out areas, to find out something new and talk to exhibitors in the break-out and foyer areas. It was fascinating to hear of experiences in other countries and we came away with a feeling not of difference across the continents, but one of common practice.
Further information can be obtained from the Conference Web site .
Zoë began her library career in the Bodleian in 1995, and has worked in a variety of institutions (primarily Higher Education) since then, qualifying from the University of Bristol in 2003. She has worked in a range of front-facing staff management roles, and has a particular interest in change management and multi-skilling in the library environment. Following a career break, Zoë has returned to library work as an Acquisitions Librarian at the University of Bath, and is currently enjoying getting to grips with new aspects of librarianship.
Garth began his library career as a library assistant with Lancashire Libraries, before qualifying as a librarian at Aberystwyth University in 1992. He trained as a cataloguer at the British Library and has been an information services librarian at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Lincoln. He was a cataloguer at the University of Hull before taking on the role of Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at the University of Bath.
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