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Technology & Libraries: Now & Into the Future

ThomasMary Augusta Thomas, Deputy Director of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (there are 20 of them), presented her views on technology and libraries in her keynote talk on the third (and final) day of Computers in Libraries. Given the Smithsonian’s preservation mandate, it was unsurprising for Thomas to say that knowing our history is important. Managing the past helps us plan strategically for the future. At the Smithsonian, new research methods, new discoveries (even new species), and new technologies change how people work. However, they still rely on the library for information. The library has moved into data curation and open access, for example, and will be creating profiles for Smithsonian researchers.

Thomas thinks that the mission of libraries will not change, but the mission statement and the way librarians accomplish their mission will change. Smithsonian libraries were embedded before the term embedded became popular. Their new mission statement is:

“The Smithsonian Libraries promotes new ideas through knowledge sharing. We play a dynamic role in advancing scientific and cultural understanding and in preserving America’s heritage. Our expert staff and extensive collections are a crucial resource for research and education communities at the Smithsonian, within the United States, and around the world.”

The Smithsonian continues its international exchange programs, although most is now done digitally. Future librarians, according to Thomas, will have highly developed skills to collaborate and cooperate. In the future, you may not know your users. Librarians need to learn how to tap into their community. Collaboration is crucial to this, as is knowledge management.

As library print collections move from books on shelves to special collections, library strategies much evolve. The act of discovery will not be dependent upon printed books. Technology will be important as libraries move into the future, as it has always been. Library as place will change as librarians give up ownership in favor of access. What happens to library? A quiet place to do research? An information commons? A person going around with a backpack? Community space? Whatever future libraries look like, what remains constant is the desire of librarians to want to be better than we are now. We want to be engaged with users and have our collections to relevant to their needs.

Decades of Innovation and Tips For the Future: The Tuesday Evening Session

Tuesday Evening Panel

Tuesday Evening Panel: (L-R) Marshall Breeding, Meg Backus, Jason Griffey, Jan Holmquist, Darlene Fichter

Led by Marshall Breeding, long-time CIL attendee (very long–he has attended every CIL conference since it began!), the Tuesday night session featured a lot of history, information, and amusement.  The panel included Meg Backus, IT Manager, Anchorage Public Library; Jason Griffey, Founder and Principal Consultant, Evenly Distributed, LLC; Jan Holmquist, Global Librarian, Denmark; and Darlene Fichter (GovInfo Librarian, University of Saskatchewan).

Marshall began with a trip down memory lane, looking back at CIL’s 30-year history. Libraries have experienced incredible change since the first Small Computers in Libraries conference took place 30 years ago, and so has library technology. At the start, not only did the internet not exist, but networks did not even exist. Here is an early IBM 360 mainframe for which the data was contained on those reels of magnetic tape (left rear).

IBM 360 mainframe

IBM 360 mainframe

One of the first online interfaces to the mainframe was through Telex terminals that operated at 9600 baud (a blazing speed at the time!).

Telex Terminal

Telex Terminal

Strategic library systems ran on mainframes; small computers provided tools for innovation and productivity beyond the more formal and structured mainframe systems. Here is a photo of Marshall working at home on his small computer with a monochrome monitor.

Marshall's Small Home Computer

Marshall’s Small Home Computer

The kinds of computers that were coming into libraries when CIL started had 20mB of storage, which was considered ample for the needs of the day. The operating system was CP/M–MSDOS  did not exist yet! Performance was measured in megahertz in contrast to today’s gigahertz. Here are the communication technologies of that time; there was no internet and no LANs.

Communication Technologies

Communication Technologies

Then the internet began to emerge: Telnet allowed catalogs with text menus; HyTelnet provided access to library catalogs.  FTP was used to transfer files, and e-mail became international.  CD-ROMs were used for content distribution; library databases were distributed on physical media, and they were initially intended for use on a single computer. CD-ROM networks enabled broader access. Here is Marshall managing Vanderbilt University’s CD-ROM networks.

Managing a CD-ROM Network

Managing a CD-ROM Network

Then Gopher was developed in the 1990; it had two search engines–Archie and Veronica. A new magazine, Campus Wide Information Systems, was published by Alan Meckler, and Brewster Kahle invented Wide Area Information Systems (WAIS).

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web, and in 1991, it began to see use outside CERN, mainly by academics.  The Mosaic client was developed in 1993 by Marc Andreeson of NCSA, and its use expanded into the general population.  Since then, many other topics have been considered at CIL:

CIL Topics

CIL Topics

Nancy Melin  Nelson, VP of Meckler Corp., was the editor of Computers in Libraries, and the conference organizer. Eric Flower started the Tuesday night sessions on “Dead Technology”, which made the point that libraries are good at doing new things but not so good at letting go of old things.  The conference was started by Alan Meckler in 1985. Tom Hogan bought it in 1995, and Jane Dysart has been Program Organizer ever since.

After the history lesson, the panelists discussed their views of today’s technologies. Meg Backus wondered where the jet packs and anti-gravity boots are that were in early books given to kids in school. We still have only simulations of cool things. The amount of creativity is disappointing; we need a broader range of imagination. Technology has actually given us fewer options because we already have it. Funding has shifted from technology to finance because that’s where the money is.  We need time for thinking and structures that reinforce the cycle of creativity.

Jason Griffey said that we don’t create enough technology because librarians are often beholden to interests not their own.  The interesting thing about technology is the speed at which it changes; at present, we are at its slowest and most expensive point; normal goods get better over time and cost more.  We have just started making technology; the next 20 years will be like nothing has happened yet. Today’s emerging technology has the capacity to change the way we live and do our jobs. We are building robots that look like things we already use, like cars. In 10 years we will see self-driving cars everywhere.  The first thing in the library world that computers will destroy is reference.

Jan Holmquist said that we should celebrate all our mistakes because they have gotten us to where we are now and make us wiser. Local is cool and depends on the wisdom of the crowd. Although we are online more, sometimes we need to be offline, and there is even an app for that! But online will be even more present in the future. Libraries should not be quiet places but loud places where all types of stuff is made. We can be inspired locally and act locally as librarians. We will be even closer in the world because of social media platforms.

Darlene Fichter showed a video: “Welcome to Tomorrowland’s Libatorium Tour”. (When she had trouble getting her computer to show the video, she predicted that in the future, devices will be personal and will work only for you because they know you.)

IBM’s Watson envisioned book reading.

IBM's Watson

IBM’s Watson

Google built an AI-driven interface to answer any question asked. Here are some early book reading devices.

Early Book Readers

Early Book Readers

Today we are talking about customized stories and social reading.

The rights we enjoy today such as the right to be forgotten, right to cloak, and right to go online are because a lot of library people were activists.

Don Hawkins
Conference Blogger

 

Community: Engagement, Partnership, and Impact

Sue Considine

Sue Considine

Sue Considine, Executive Director, Fayetteville NY Free Library (FFL), described how her library became an early adopter of making in libraries.  The power of fabrication is social, not technical or in the equipment or technology. The library creates an environment that promotes community engagement and connecting.  Community members transformed their lives.

3D printers were initially embraced and were enthusiastically embraced by the community.  FFL hosted makerspace labs once a month; hundreds of people who were very excited about the events came from the local community and surrounding area. The library staff soon realized that many talented people in the community wanted to share their talents, so an instrument to capture conversations and let people apply as a volunteer to get involved was developed.  The library was opened as a platform for them to share their knowledge with no middleman involved.

Here are some of the programs led by community members:

Programs Led By Community Members

Programs Led By Community Members

These programs incurred small or no costs, and the community is getting the advantage of skills in it as a result of what the library did.  The programs were led by participants, not library staff, and their number grew dramatically in the last two years:

Program Impacts

Program Impacts

The platform was openly accessible to an engaged community.  It would not have been possible without the library’s involvement.

Case studies:

  1. Sewing: Classes, clubs, events, and spaces developed for community members by members.  The library bought two inexpensive sewing machines and put notices in the restrooms, and the response was enormous, from people age 7 to over 84. Additional donations of machines and supplies were made. Here are the impacts of the sewing classes:

    Sewing Impacts

    Sewing Impacts

  2. Lego robotics: Community members said there was nowhere in the community where children could become members of the First Lego League. Over 30 families came to the initial meeting, and the library has now hosted 4 sessions. The coaches witnessed students who did not know each other working together and learned to have the mindset of an innovator and were not afraid to fail.
  3. FFL Geek Girl Camp: An informal STEM opportunity was provided for girls in grades 3 to 5. The camp sought to provide female role models and provided hands-on activities led by women in STEM careers.  Here are the impacts of those camps:

    Girl Camp Impacts

    Girl Camp Impacts

  4. The FFL Fab Lab includes 3D printers, sewing machines, and much more equipment that people can use independently after they have completed a brief safety training class.  Participants have led over 2,800 equipment certifications, 62 3-D modeling sessions.  The impacts:

    Fab Lab Impacts

    Fab Lab Impacts

Every FFL staff member is empowered to capture users’ stories and share them with the community as powerful evidence that the library is having in the community by creating access to things that would not be accessible anywhere else. A local company used the lab to develop prototypes of products they were developing.

Having access to making in the center of the community contributes to discovery and having an impact for the 21st century. It results in new types of impacts, facilitation of the development of inventions, and spreading STEM technologies.

Don Hawkins
Conference Blogger

Capturing, Using, and Analyzing Data

Capturing Data Panel

Capturing Data Panel (L-R): Lei Jin, Dana Thomas, David Stern

Lei Jin, Electronic Resources Librarian, and Dana Thomas, Assessment Librarian at Ryerson University described an attempt to link demographic information to database use using OCLC’s EZProxy system that reports library usage for off-campus users (Ryerson is largely a commuter school).  They wanted to identify usage patterns by database usage, affiliation, and other characteristics and began by analyzing commercial EZProxy analyzers, but decided that they were not satisfactory for their purposes. So they partnered the university’s computer science department, registrar’s office, and computing services to produce the data. In busy months on campus, over 5 gigabytes of data had to be analyzed, cleaned, and anonymized in a complex and tedious process. Finally, these reports were generated:

Reports Generated

Reports Generated

Here is a sample of the results:

Database Usage by Faculty

Database Usage by Faculty

This graph shows that business users are using resources at a lower rate proportional to the size of the department. Other analyses showed the number of hits by faculty and department, top databases (vendors and publishers) used by department, average number of sessions by department. Some results were to be expected, but there were some surprises; for example, business students made heavier use of Ebrary than nursing students. Here are the overall results of the project; they provided guidance for future marketing efforts by the library:

Overall Project Results

Overall Project Results

Because of the volume of data and the number of providers, it was not possible to extract detailed usage information for specific books and journal articles used. Challenges of the project included messy data, difficulty of mapping vendor URLs to resources, interface design of the reports, and data being in multiple systems within the university.

David Stern, Library Director, Saint Xavier  University, described how personal and organizational repositories were built. Considerations include:

Considerations in Building a Knowledge Database

Considerations in Building a Knowledge Database

Tools for capturing personal data have historically existed on phones and other platforms, but linking them together was a challenges.  For research, the complexity increases.  Now, we have more integrated support that provides seamless functionality; for example, Zotero or IFTTT (If This Then That). IFFF permits linking to other tools to get the data in a single tool.  Organizations have scaling problems; then need controlled vocabularies and taxonomies and sharing files on a single server.

Some useful tools:

  • Zotero can capture citations, full-text articles, web pages, images, sound files, and some personal feeds, then annotate records with tags, thus producing an integrated repository.
  • Diigo can create groups of URLs and tag and share them.
  • Outwit captures URL links, images, or text, and creates a spreadsheet of links, and downloads the files linked to. It can also scrape unstructured data from a website and generate a spreadsheet from it. It learns from the data if desired.
  • Contactout is a simple browser extension that helps you find email addresses and phone numbers of anyone on LinkedIn.

RDA triplets can be used to build a relational database that can be used to analyze the data downloaded using these tools. Visualizations can be created to present the data that has been mined.

Don Hawkins
Conference Blogger