International Vistor to the 2006 LITA Forum

From October 26 -29, 2006, a fairly large group of librarians and information technology professionals from various institutions across the United States descended upon Nashville Tennessee to attend the LITA Forum. The 2006 Forum had as its theme ‘Web Services as Library Services.

I was fortunate to be there as I had been selected by LITA-IRC to be the recipient of the International Visitor Grant in memory of the late Professor Errol Hill. My children, living in London, could not picture their father in Nashville, home to the Grand Ole Opry and the legends of country music. I come from Trinidad and Tobago, the land of calypso and steel pan music. In Nashville nonetheless, is where I was, and I found the city and the LITA Forum a wonderful experience.

For me, it was an honour and a privilege to have been selected for the award, particularly as it was granted in memory of a great son of the soil of Trinidad and Tobago, Professor Errol Hill. I had been exposed to the work of Professor Hill early during my years as a high school student at Naparima College in San Fernando, Trinidad, when we studied his folk play/musical “Man Better Man”. I therefore felt that in attending the LITA Forum through this sponsorship, I was somehow reconnecting to this aspect of my past.

The fact that library services could be developed through the interoperability of web services programs along a continuum ranging from the very simple to complex sophisticated applications engaging the library user in highly interactive ways was the underlying thread of this conference. Throughout the conference venue, there seemed to be a sense of excitement in a future limited by our own imagination and creativity as librarians. There was also a sense that there was so much that the profession had to think about in order to meet the growing expectations of our ‘new’ users, that it simply boggled the mind.

As usually happens at any good conference, attendees were spoilt for choice when it came to the concurrent sessions. We wished that we could have attended all the sessions as they all had something important to provide in terms of expanding our understanding of how libraries could effectively use the Web to deliver added-value services.

The LITA Forum keynote speakers all provided serious food for thought. The opening session featured Alan Stoker, Steve Maer and John Rumber of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Although their presentation was not in the main about web services, they did provide some useful insights into the preservation and archiving of acetate and vinyl recordings. The conference was also privileged to hear digitized audio recordings of excerpts from some of these cultural heritage pieces. Incidentally the archive is using DSpace to manage its digital repository, a fact that I found particularly pertinent as we are also experimenting with DSpace at the library of The University of the West Indies where I currently work.

The second day’s keynote session was very interesting. It featured Thom Gillespie, creator and designer of the MIME program in interactive communication in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University. He maintains that in the twenty-first century libraries should be about supporting very active learners in the ways in which schools rarely support them, namely with books and video, software, training, and potentially, even a venue for publication Gillespie is enthusiastic about computer game design and sees gaming as a tool for creating user interfaces that libraries could tap into to teach information literacy and generally engage the user in ways that are relevant to their cultural and learning background in this new millennium.

Stephen Abram, the man with the really intriguing job title, VP Innovation, SirsiDynix, was the keynote speaker on the final day of the Forum. He stressed that there is a global conversation presently engaging many across the world about the next generation of the web. It’s happening under the name of Web 2.0, a concept that refers to a perceived or proposed second generation of Web-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users. Abram spent considerable time challenging the librarians in the audience to be introspective and to question what are the skills and competencies that they will need in the environment of the Web 2 and perhaps the Web 3 in the not too distant future.

The concurrent sessions were as interesting as the keynote addresses. Among those that I managed to attend were presentations on the following:

• innovative library instruction modules developed using web
based applications,
• improving library services with AJAX and RSS,
• exploring the use of podcasting and blogs in libraries, and
• developing database driven web sites using Cold Fusion.

All these sessions pointed to the fact that libraries continue to experience technological innovations as they strive to be creative in the delivery of content to their users and to create more dynamic, robust and interesting websites. It was also clear that librarians will need to continue to grapple with the question of how best to use the web’s communicative advantage to help library users find the most useful, relevant and authoritative information available. Should we as librarians distrust the web, or should we embrace its best characteristics and technologies in order to better treat with our users?

One of the highlights of the LITA Forum is the opportunity for professional networking during the unofficial meetings. Everybody likes to socialize during the breaks and the lunch sessions. It was really a pleasure to be able to meet and discuss issues with colleagues from all over the US and some from Europe as well! This international and multicultural aspect makes the conference so much more interesting and rewarding.

In conclusion, I feel that that the 2006 LITA FORUM concretized in my mind some of the ideas and concepts associated with the leading edge information technologies that are fast being adopted under the promise and potential of the Web 2. Perhaps more importantly, it served as timely reminder to us librarians of the tremendous responsibility to adapt to this new scenario. I now feel confident that I can help my librarian colleagues at the University of the West Indies to apply some of the knowledge of leading edge technologies that I imbibed at the conference to ensure that our students and faculty have a research and learning environment that is on par with international standards and best practice. It would be great if more librarians from the Caribbean and other developing regions are exposed to such ideas through this type of conference.

I think that the conference was a success and, for all of us who were able to attend, an unforgettable event. I would like to thank my sponsor, Mrs. Grace Hope-Hill for the grant which enabled my travel and participation in the LITA Forum, 2006.

2007-02-28

Frank Soodeen
Librarian III (Systems)
The University of the West Indies
St. Augustine
Trinidad and Tobago