Top Tech Trends (Good Parts version)

You should really listen to the podcasts. There are things I won’t be able to do in words. Like give you the experience of Karen Schneider singing her recruiting song. Or summarize Clifford Lynch (can anyone do that?).

So, for the time-pressed, here is a summary of the Top Tech Trends discussion at ALA Midwinter, in the fabulous Spanish Ballroom of the Fairmont Olympic in Seattle.
Present were: Jennifer Ward (the committee chair), Maurice York, Clifford Lynch, Marshall Breeding, and Karen Schneider. Absent speakers were: Roy Tennant, Sarah Houghton-Jan, Eric Lease-Morgan, and Thomas Dowling.

There was much discussion of possible alternatives to the traditional OPAC.
Tennant and Houghton-Jan mentioned OCLC and some version of Worldcat as a potential OPAC for consortia. Schneider questioned the assumption that our primary finding aid should be a locally tweaked dataset, and Breeding commented that the trend is toward national or international aggregations of that data. Pace commented that OCLC’s Pica, in Europe at least, is an ILS for all intents and purposes.

Several panelists mentioned the Evergreen open source ILS project in Georgia, which has been the live ILS for a 250-library consortium since September 2006. That is, a large consortium of public libraries is using a software platform they designed themselves and intend to help other libraries install and support. Breeding commented that this changes the game: For the first time there is a viable non-commercial option if commercial ILS systems continue to stagnate. (Promotional note: come see the program on Evergreen at Annual in DC, sponsored by the Open Source Systems Interest Group–CS, co-chair)

Lynch also wondered whether we were clear enough about what we wanted from a new ILS to get a really good product from anyone; and Pace commented that some of our ILS vendors spent themselves into oblivion building the features we said we wanted. And on open source, Schneider reminded the audience that “free ILS” was like “free kittens” rather than like “free beer”, but she and Breeding agreed that part of the consideration was strategic — that is, what other kinds of things a “free” ILS would make possible.

A second trend was consolidation of ILS and publishing companies. Breeding commented that the new owners of traditional ILS vendors tend to be private equity companies, which may result in a more long-term view of things — and hopefully better products. Pace commented that the scale of media company mergers dwarfs that of ILS vendors, mentioning that Ovid had recently laid off a large number of people because of extremely expensive fluctuations in exchange rates.

What I’ll call online outreach was a third topic of discussion. Houghton-Jan mentioned social networking sites as being where our users are at the moment, and that reaching out to them there was not essentially different from the other kinds of outreach we do. Lynch was interested in the still unclear possibilities for Second Life, where there is a lot of experimentation in new media going on, as well as what may be the development of a standard platform for virtual worlds. This prompted a lively discussion about when libraries should jump on this kind of bandwagon, with references to courseware and Facebook. The consensus was that if most of our patrons are there we should probably be, too, but Lynch commented that lots of undergraduates spend lots of time in bars and there is probably no good reason to set up library kiosks there.

(Though Pace suggested moving the bar into the library….)

Several panelists mentioned portable devices for Internet access and other computing, like Apple’s newly announced iPhone. Schneider intoned that she had not “drunk the iKoolaid and was iBored,” but thought that the fanatical loyalty of users to the iPod held out some hope for getting users to love our quirky services. Lynch and Pace commented that the excitement about the iPhone partly spoke to how bad cellphone interfaces currently are. Lease-Morgan’s question about how 24/7 access to the Internet changes library services is probably the critical one here. (Sadly, it was a rhetorical question).

RDA, the move toward modernizing cataloging standards, was much discussed, and much skepticism was expressed. There were several references to Coyle and Hillman’s article in D-Lib, which suggests that the fundamental assumptions of RDA are flawed and inappropriate for the current information environment. Pace described RDA as on the rails and headed for the station, but starting from the wrong place–description rather than access.

Other random items:

Lynch saw the problem of large scale management of data, research and otherwise, to be a major looming concern and opportunity to build new relationships for libraries. He also thought that anyone who says we know what the interface for 5 million online books looks like is lying. (Pace commented that Google is pointedly not answering that question).

When asked what new technology would bring users into the library, Schneider responded “Meetware”. Meaning that personal interactions with staff, happy users, and word of mouth are the way to go. Pace said that his favorite form of marketing was “awesome services, collections, and technologies,”.

And with some reluctance I feel obligated to mention that Houghton-Jan did, in fact, get the committee chair to say “stinky-poo” twice, while reading her trends item on OPAC interfaces. And now I’ve fed it to a thousand RSS readers. Curse you, LiB!

It was a very long, detailed session and a spirited conversation. Very much worth your investment in the easily digestible series of podcasts.


  1. Sarah Houghton-Jan (LiB)

    Making a well-dressed respectable librarian say a silly little kid word like “stinky-poo” brought some joy to my life, making up for the fact that I couldn’t be there with you all 🙂

  2. Patricia Lofthouse

    It would be great if when an acronym is used in an article in AMERICAN LIBRARIES, it could first be written out in its full form. In this article, for example, not everyone immediately knows what OPAC, ILS and RDA stand for. I think you will find that you will catch a lot more readers this way.

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