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Gadgets, Gadgets, and More Gadgets

For me, the gadget session presented by Hope Tillman of Babson College is always a “don’t miss”. Gadgets are fun, and there are so many new ones out there! Hope’s session usually points me to the next “toy” that I will buy. This year’s session did not disappoint.

Hope suggested that we can get a revealing look at our world by consulting the Beloit College Mindset List, which lists all the things that students in each incoming class have always had in their lives. For example, the class of 2008 has always been able to have photographs processed in an hour or less, Alan Greenspan has always been setting the nation’s financial direction, and computers have always suffered from viruses.

So what is a gadget? According to the dictionary, gadgets are more unusual or more cleverly designed than normal technology. But are they productivity enhancers or distractions? Are they useful or just time-consuming toys? They blur work and personal time, which is not necessarily a good thing! Gadgets represent what consumers are willing to buy, reflect customization and personalization trends, and continue to change.

Library applications of gadgets include marketing (podcasts, blogs, etc.), operations, communication and collaboration (IM, Wikis, Video conferencing, and learning or entertainment.

For librarians, Hope recommends Peter Morville’s book Ambient Findability as a “must read”. Below are a few screenshots of the gadgets that Hope described; her presentation will shortly be available on her Web site.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today


The Internet: Enhancing Work and Play

The final day of CIL 2006 was kicked off by Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life project, (shown in the photo speaking with Marydee Ojala, Editor of ONLINE magazine) who gave us a fascinating look at how the Internet is enhancing work and play. He focused on the Millennial generation and gave us eight realities of the lives of this large generation. The main point of his talk was that it’s important for librarians to address the needs of this generation. Here are the eight realities:

1. Millennials are a distinct age group, according to many measures of generational behavior and attitude. They are the biggest and most diverse generation in US history—now comprising 36% of total population. This age group will be bigger than the Boomers. They are more diverse—31% are minorities. They are special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, achieving, pressured, conventional, tech-embracing (but not necessarily tech-savvy—they are digital natives in a land of digital immigrants and have never known a day without a computer. Rainie recommended that everyone read the book Millenials Rising by Howe and Strauss, published in 2000.

2. Millennials are immersed in a world of technology and gadgets. Nearly half of them have broadband access at home. They expect to be able to gather and share information using multiple devices. Their information needs are contextual and contingent on whatever device they happen to be using.

3. Millennials’ technology is mobile. They share information in ways that allow them to act quickly. Rainie called this activity “smart mobs” in which spontaneous text messaging or cell phone calls leads immediately to unplanned action by a large number of people.

4. The Internet plays a special role in their world. 33% of online teens share their own creations (artwork, photos, stories, videos) online. 57% of them have contributed a creation to the online world. 32% have created or worked on blogs or web pages for others, 22% keep their own personal webpage, 19% have created their own journal or blog, and19% say they remix online content into their own artistic creations.

5. They are multi-taskers and approach research as a self-directed process. Libraries can serve them by positioning themselves as “info support” organizations (like tech support). They do 8½ hours of activity in 6-1/3 hours by “continuous partial attention”—simultaneously scanning several incoming alerts for the one activity most interesting to them.

6. Millennials are often unaware of and indifferent to the consequences of their use of technology, i.e. copyright, privacy. They are constantly doing “soft surveillance” (checking out what their friends are doing) using the Net. They need to be educated about copyright principles and media literacy.

7. Their (our) technology world will change radically in the next decade. The Internet will change from a network of people to a network of things (using RFID devices, etc.). More mobility will be built into the environment. Search will get better. The long tail will get more important.

8. The way that Millennials approach learning and research tasks will be shaped by their new techno-world. Learning and research will be more self-directed, more reliant on feedback and response, more tied to group knowledge, and oriented to people being their own modes of production.

Rainie’s best advice to librarians in dealing with the Millennial generation is to just be brilliant at what you do!

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

A Tale of Two Taxonomies

Taxonomies occupied a double slot ("Taxonomy Tales") on the program on Thursday afternoon. Jennifer Evert, Taxonomy Product Manager at LexisNexis and Marjorie Hlava, President of Access Innovations each discussed their work on taxonomies.


At LexisNexis, taxonomies and indexing are seen as a key strategic focus to help users find answers quickly and efficiently. They are used to analyze answer sets and suggest search terms, classify sources, and launch new searches. The power of taxonomies lies in their ability to manage large amounts of information, provide a common terminology, create metadata to enhance the search process, and help users find answers to make more informed decisions.

The LexisNexis taxonomy has more than 3500 subject or industry terms, 330,000 company names, and 900 geographic area terms. Many of the terms were created using rules developed by the indexers. The rules base includes rules for weighting, location, frequency, and variety of terms. Expert indexers research, test, and maintain the rule sets, and the entire archive is re-indexed quarterly. Automated indexing helps develop terms, but human editorial expertise is still needed. The coverage is currently being extended from English to other languages; German and French are the first non-English languages to be included. LexisNexis has developed parallel interfaces: one for sophisticated searchers that takes full advantage of the taxonomies and thesaurus metadata to build queries, and one for casual users that provides simple search aids and analysis of answer sets to help them fine-tune their searches.

Access Innovations

Access maintains the thesaurus of the National Information Center for Educational Media (NICEM). Developers have access to a tool that provides them with various views of the thesaurus: alphabetic, hierarchical, and term records. Extensive use is made of machine-aided indexing (MAI), which suggests terms, tracks suggestions and editor’s choices, and enables rule changes. However, MAI is only an aid and prompt; the editor makes the decisions about term inclusion. The editors can also write rules based on term selection criteria.

Requirements for indexing tools include: suggesting terms that are valid, correctly formatted, and conceptually appropriate, but not suggesting terms not meeting these criteria. Good indexing tools will lead to faster and more consistent production by providing memory prompts for forgotten terms, indexing all relevant concepts deeply and specifically, and integrating the thesaurus with the database management system.

Searchers find info 50% faster using browsable categories instead of list returned from a full text search. They prefer browsable category search terms. Integrated thesaurus tools provide cross-checks, validation, feedback, error prevention, interconnection, cooperation, coordination, and seamless integration with the database.

With all these benefits, there is little wonder why thesauri and taxonomies are such popular subjects today.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

Is Plagiarism Relevant at a Computers in Libraries Conference?

How does a talk on plagiarism fit into a conference on computers in libraries? Because the Internet makes it easier than ever to plagiarize, plagiarism has become a significant problem in academic institutions. So yes, this talk was relevant. A panel from Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) reviewed what they have done to educate their students and faculty on the plagiarism problem.

The key issues in plagiarism are prevention, detection, policy, and enforcement. At ECSU, a Web site and a blog have been developed to present guidelines for both students and faculty. Students are shown the links the faculty can use to detect plagiarism (one of which is TurnItIn), so they know what the faculty can see. This site has done much to dispel the “Them” vs. “Us” mentality.

The library staff has taken a lead in this area and is active in promoting information literacy as a significant way to deter plagiarism. An unexpected fallout from their educational efforts was a high interest in the subject by the faculty, which has resulted in the library being invited to faculty meetings and even receiving invitations from other institutions to come and present their course.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today