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CILIP Umbrella: Day One – morning

Another week, another conference… Tuesday and Wednesday this week were spent at the CILIP Umbrella conference in Hatfield. I’d been looking forward to this one: not having been to many CILIP events, I was interested to see what they had to offer. The conference programme looked very broad (although being CILIP there was a heavy emphasis on public and academic libraries, which aren’t enormously relevant to me right now – interesting, but not really related to the job I’m doing), so I was looking forward to finding out what new and exciting things were going on in library world.

After arriving at the conference, registering and dropping off my stuff (and running into a friend from my course at City – very unexpected and very welcome! Was good to see another student there, and is always good to see someone you know at a conference) we all headed into the auditorium for the opening plenary session with Charles Brown, Director of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, USA. Charles gave a fascinating talk on the “Imagine 2010” programme at his library service – an initiative to make the library more relevant to the community, move the service outside of the four walls of the library buildings and “be the best” by 2010. All in all, a pretty inspirational talk! Charles discussed the aims of the project, including greater customer focus, community involvement and responsiveness to employees. He talked about the need to break down information silos, and foster a culture of communication and collaboration among staff. One point that I found interesting was that they had actively involved staff at all levels within the organisation: Charles pointed out that there were more front-line staff involved than there were senior managers and directors. He said that this was a conscious decision to “ask people who’d never been asked before how to make our service the very best”. I was really impressed by that – I know from experience how difficult it can be to get the people in charge of planning the service to hear ideas from those who actually deliver it. I actually got into a conversation about this with another delegate at the exhibition later: we both agreed that the levels of bureaucracy that prevent good ideas from being passed on and picked up are a massive problem, particularly in academic libraries – it just leads to wasting talent.

Another point that caught my attention was that, of the new department leaders hired to support the project, only one post was identified as requiring a library qualification. I attended a session later on library education which echoed this point – more on that later.

Charles finished the session with some encouraging stats on library use – demand for the service had increased since the start of the project, with computer use up 11% and loans up 8.5% – but also some sobering points about the effect of the economic downturn. At the same time as the rise in demand for the service during the project, County funding for the library has been cut by 10%. He pointed out that they have managed to make reductions in budget without losing staff, but that there were probably tough times ahead. He rounded off his talk with a point about the difficulties faced in the project, noting that “if you want to make enemies, try to change something”.

The first of the parallel sessions I went to was Richard Wallis‘s talk on “Libraries coping with technology: waving or drowning?“. Richard started by emphasising just how much technology has moved on in the last 40 years, pointing out that a child’s interactive toy made today has four times the computing power as the Apollo 11 lunar module. He went on to discuss the technology adoption curve, discussing the importance of engaging the groups at the beginning of the curve, but also in bridging the chasm between the early adopters and the early majority, as this is where many new products fail.

The development of the Internet and the Web was discussed – the progression from web 1.0 (read only) to web 2.0 (read-write), and on to web 3.0/the semantic web (meaningful linked data), and the changes in information habits. Richard talked about the traits of the so-called “Google generation” – impatience, expectation that everything will be available instantly and free online – and the fact that these are now common to all web users, regardless of age/generation (I wonder if these are in fact the traits of the consumer generation, rather than the web generation, as Katie Hill described?).

There was some entertaining discussion of the development of web OPACs, including a demonstration of “If Amazon sucked like our old OPAC“, a web OPAC interface overlaid on Amazon’s database (which, I have to say, looked disturbingly like my own University’s OPAC – I think we’ve still got some work to do there!). Richard talked about the development of next-gen OPACs, and the developments possible (and arguably necessary) with web 2.0 and the semantic web, e.g. faceted search, mashups. He described the Juice project, which is intended to make it OPAC extensions easy for those who aren’t experienced with Javascript and don’t have access to the source code for their OPAC.

Richard then had a bit of a rant about the need to break down silos in order to provide a better service to our users (because the various resources we offer (e.g. catalogue, e-journals, special collections) are all integrated, aren’t they? And managed by the same people, who talk to each other? And on the same systems, using the same metadata? /sarcasm!) He talked about the possible solutions offered by cloud computing (because it doesn’t matter any more where the data lives, as long as it is accessible) and constant beta (yes! Allows application to evolve over time, more flexible approach).

The presentation closed with a plug for Talis’ Connected Commons: free data hosting within the Talis platform for Open Data licensed content, with the aim of reducing the barriers to entry for developing the linked data web. There was a short Q&A afterwards, raising points such as ensuring the accuracy of data used in the linked data web, referring to known inaccuracies within Google Maps (Richard answered that web users will ensure that only reliable data survives, but also pointed out that identifying reliable data sources is an obvious role for librarians), and the need to use push technologies for the OPAC, rather than expecting users to come to us.

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