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The Thursday Keynote: Digital Transformation and Community Impact

Jane Dysart and Jeanne Holm

Jane Dysart (L) and Jeanne Holm

Jeanne Holm, Senior Tech to the Mayor and Deputy CIO, City of Los Angeles, reviewed some of the smart city and information technology developments in Los Angeles. (This is an update of her keynote speech at Internet Librarian 2017.)

Information is rampant. Every minute we are subjected to a deluge of it.

The Information Deluge

The Information Deluge

How do we make sure that people are getting appropriate and secure information? Online games like SimCity help us envision the future and what people’s roles can be. We must give people power through knowledge and balance that with privacy considerations. We have amazing tools to do the digital transformation.

Information Tools

Information Tools

LA has 4 million people and covers over 500 square miles. 25% of the residents are below the poverty line. We need to give them the opportunity for education to improve the quality of their life.

Geospatial information can be used to create digital data. It is used in a smart city initiative. What are we getting out of it? There are a lot of sensors around the city of LA. Smartphones are watching the traffic; LA is no. 1 in congestion. We are giving up our privacy for convenience of finding out information. Devices are in public, but they count numbers and understand traffic patterns. They do not collect personal information. For example, they can detect a person crossing the street in a wheelchair and give them  more time to get across. We are looking at how technology can help the aging population. The criteria for being independent involves a person’s desire for independence.

Libraries are becoming the central point of resources. Using open data provides information about government, traffic, services, etc.  MyLA 311 systems let people contact government and submit service requests.

MyLA 311

This service gets  about 6.1 million calls a year and gives 24-48 hours response. Open data is used to find where vulnerable populations are in case of wildfires, floods, earthquakes, etc. Earthquake sensors can give people a minute or so of advance warning on their cell phones, which helps remove uncertainty and fright. Autonomous vehicles give independence and receive information, but surprisingly for LA, many people don’t own cars.

We support the Paris Climate Agreement goals to keep greenhouses gases down.

Paris Climate Agreement

Smog days are now less frequent and the city is much cleaner.

LA Smog

Artificial agents like Alexa are empowering devices for people, especially for aged people (Alexa has become a new best friend for many seniors!), but we must balance AI with the human touch. “Officer Chip” is a chatbot in City Hall to interact with people and give quick answers to questions.

There is a growing need for connections in some areas of the city, and libraries are an important part of providing them. In poorer areas, home connections are dropping. Libraries can provide connectivity, access, and literacy. Telecom companies are a large part of this strategy.  Computer giveaway programs are also helping large parts of the population. Libraries provide training programs to teach people how to use these computers. Tech2Go systems let users check out a computer and wi-fi hotspot and get  a month of internet service.

In LA’s “Every child ready to read” program, on the first day of kindergarten every child gets a library card and learns its power. LA Makerspace programs are partners with non-profits to let kids to create things and help demystify science and engineering. 781 workshops have been held and 15,000 kids have gone through the program. FindYourFuture is a user-friendly program to connect people with the knowledge they need to help them find a career.. LA College Promise gives students the perception that they can afford college; they can get 2 years free in a community college, so they can get their AA degree. The Federal Crowdsourcing and citizen science toolkit to let people connect with science programs in the government and helps them get access to education and digital literacy. The goal is to end poverty everywhere, and libraries are at the central part of the effort. Access to information empowers people to make better decisions.

Connecting With Clients: Communications Theory and Reference Interviews

Caryn Wesner-Early and Laura Hjerpe

Caryn Wesner-Early (L) and Laura Hjerpe (R)

Reference interviews have been a central part of librarianship for a long time, so it was appropriate that Caryn Wesner-Early, Search Strategy Expert, ASRC-MS and Laura Hjerpe, CGI Federal, presented a fresh look at them. Their talk covered the various types of reference interviews, why have them, how to do them, and what to do if the  client is not happy with the results.

Reference interviews are not easy because frequently the requester is trying to describe something they don’t know, is unaware of what is available, or needs help defining the scope of a project. So it is easy to misunderstand what the user want. We know what is in our libraries, but sometimes we don’t know if what was found is the right answer. Here are some good reference interview characteristics.

Reference interview characteristics

Goals of the interview include making contact, identifying the real question, checking that the need has been met, and encouraging repeat business.

During the interview, there may be a shift between quick reference and research. The requester and librarian are colleagues in the process. Both have the same goal: to find the needed answer. Let the requester do most of the talking.  Repeat, summarize, paraphrase.

Good communication skills are vital because the requester is providing the terminology to determine the search.  Body language and facial expressions influence what we hear. Make eye contact with the requester and have a relaxed open posture.

Listen carefully and give full attention to the request. There are three kinds of listening: competitive/combative (the listener interrupts and challenges the speaker), passive/attentive (the listener is considerate but might not be engaged enough or provide feedback), active/reflective (the happy medium, the listener is engaged but suspending judgement of the requester). Active listening tips: provide feedback, defer judgement, summarize, then respond. Ask the requester to clarify or give an example of what is desired. The Mindtools site has good advice for communicating. Use open questions to encourage the requester to talk, such as

  • What are you focusing on?
  • What else can you tell me about it?
  • If you had the perfect reference or were writing an article on this, what would it be called?
  • What have you tried so far?

Sense-making questions add structure to the interview and help fill in the gaps:

  • What industry is this term used in?
  • Do you want results only from that area?
  • What does term mean in your field?
  • Where would you like to begin?

Advantages of the in-person interview are that the requester and information professional can see each other’s body language and can go to the shelves together to check materials that might be relevant to the question. Disadvantages are that participants may feel rushed, and language differences can cause problems.

If you are doing a phone interview, smile when you are talking which will give you a good voice. Remove all distractions and don’t multitask, ask speaker to clarify, say more, give an example. It can be more difficult to explain a process even if both participants have the same site open on their computers.

Virtual reference interviews using chat, IM, or email present their own problems. If possible, read the request before starting to work on it and isolate parts of the request that are not clear.  Another colleague of a supervisor may be able to help. Nuanced conversations are difficult; tone, mood words, capital letters, and punctuation must be regarded. Emoticons and informal language can be used to advantage, but a professional tone must be maintained. Virtual reference interviews often provide time to think about the question and compose a thoughtful answer.

Here are some suggestions for chat etiquette:

  • Be conversational but professional.
  • Be concise but not rude.
  • Break a long answer into two or more parts.
  • Use short, frequent messages.
  • Accept a few typos in your response.

Research interviews on advanced or complex topics are different; they are more extensive and require different methods. The interviewer must ask for alternate terms, jargon, concepts that must or must not be included in the results, and other specific details. At the end of the interview, review what you and the requester have agreed on as the scope of the search. The scope of the search can change during processing, so be sure to document and review these changes with the requester.

Reference interview problems and solutions:

  • If an interview is taking a long time, use closed questions to signal the end. Ask if anything else is required and offer to schedule a time for a follow up.
  • If the requester is unhappy, review the original request and what was done. Ask what is missing and make sure you understand the problem. You may need to refer the requester to a supervisor to resolve the problem.
  • If a requester is angry, do not argue. Use active listening skills to focus on the complaint. Parrot back key points to confirm your understanding and focus on the solution.



YSee paper on anger in the library from 1999.

The Wednesday Evening Session: Facts in the Digital Age: Coping in an Era of Total Noise

Don Hawkins and Lee Rainie

Don Hawkins (L) and Lee Rainie
(Photo by Jim Tchobanoff)

The popular evening session was a conversation by well-known CIL speaker Lee Rainie, Director, Internet, Science & Technology Research, Pew Research Center and Peter Raymond, a serial innovator, entrepreneur, strategist, and creative technologist who has worked with cognitive AI and the Internet of Things.

Jane Dysart, Lee Rainie, and Peter Raymond

(L-R) Jane Dysart, Lee Rainie, and Peter Raymond
(Photo by Jim Tchobanoff)

Lee began by presenting some thoughts drawn from Pew’s recent studies. Many things are happening in our culture that are making it more of a challenge than ever before to find the truth. We are in a world of total noise. If you want to be an active, engaged citiizen, you will feel stupid all the time. In a world of total noise we have lost faith in institutions that give us the truth. The word of the day is agnotology, or the science of not knowing. It has created a lot of social challenge and struggle in a world of discerning the truth.

People who make policy are a rare species now. Personal relationships are affected; you judge people by which “team” they are on. Those on the other team are considered to be bad and lazy. Fake news makes life so different that people can’t agree on what’s going on. Polarization of the information environment affects many things; for example, where you buy things becomes a political statement.

The media environment has become part of the story. There is less capacity for institutions to promote the same facts ad share the culture. The environment has created a way for people to be nasty to each other. Online they will say things they would not say to someone’s face. 41% of Americans have been harassed and 66% have seen people harassed online. The tone of conversations is now much more nasty, less civilized, and more angry than it is face to face.

Social media platforms are based on a business model that emphasizes the most nasty and challenging content because the more you are inciting people the more they sell ads. One survey asked if truth will be in better shape or worse in the future; the results were almost evenly split; half of the respondents said that things will get better and half said they will not because this is tribal, and the trolls will always have their way. But we have changed over time as a culture; maybe we can draw some hope. The fake news people got new life because of the printing press and found new ways to promote their cause. And people believed it! The amazing thing about truth is that it is better arrived at by gathering evidence rather than by thinking about it. The best evidence is gathered dispassionately.

Librarians are entering the cyborg age where machines help us evaluate information. People like this and trust libraries because libraries have a lot of good will. Librarians, firefighters, and teachers have survived with their reputations intact in this environment.

Peter responded that we never thought that people would manipulate videos and make fake videos. Why do we enjoy opinions as facts? How are people to understand how you find truth and facts? We can no longer rely on things that we were formerly comfortable with.

Lee: This the first time we are thinking about how technology serves us before it becomes our master. The basic model is that if we give people good information, they will make good decisions. We are now learning that this is not true. If you are presented with a fact that doesn’t agree with your world, you don’t say you are wrong, you say that you will find a way to make it agree. As soon as Facebook put warnings on something, it became click bait for people who wanted to believe it. Trust is an identity marker more than it is the pursuit of truth: “I’m on this team and there is nothing that will move me off it!” We have a tribal attachment to media sources.

There are now new non-human actors involved with information flows; 56% of Tweeted links in popular websites came from bots. Some bots are partisan and others just send out information.

Peter: The idea of speed is interesting. We have gone through a cycle when you had to write something to being able to print it. Now we have bots that send you information.

Lee: An article in Science said that lies have 10 to 15 times more spread than the truth.
If librarians do their job well, they can be very helpful: there is a demand for them more than ever before. People are not sure their filters are set correctly; librarians are antidotes to echo chambers. If the libraries provide truth that is different from what people believe, that is a way to talk about things. It is a teaching moment because librarians are viewed as knowing what they are talking about. We are now learning about cognitive science enough to know what will favorably influence people.

Audience question: If there are two sides to something, and there is a war on truth, are they competing at the same level?

Lee: That is the dilemma of journalism; now they have to call out lies.  Fact checking is a thriving effort. We are developing systems to assess what authorities say when an event happens, but we will never be able to develop systems that always deliver the truth.

Peter: What is our peril? There will be an event that will change this and cause us to become sober. Moderation is the ultimate risk model. The words you put on a page are not as significant as those you choose to omit.

Audience question: We know that mistakes were made when we got rid of the Fairness Doctrine. What are the frameworks we need legally around slander, libel, and fairness? Where should we explore the research to deal with the fake news problem?

Peter: We have a responsibility to help and enable a well informed electorate. We hold certain truths that have been formed over the years. The electorate has a lot of power, and there is an accountability in that. Children are now embarrassing politicians on national  TV; they are the new educated electorate.

Audience question: What is the library’s role in individual change vs. societal change? How can a librarian reach an entire society or community instead of just being at an individual level?

Lee: The scientific revolution eventually spawned education; you had to know things that our ancestors didn’t need to know. There is a yearning for a new set of literacy skills: information and critical thinking. Libraries can think of themselves as creators for this. You must be clear about what you are saying and how your training has equipped you to answer questions.

Peter: Libraries are the most helpful institution I can point to. If you have an ability to connect to that community and a child brings something back to the family, will they be shut down? Give them the tools to ask better questions so they will find them by themselves. How can we help people frame great questions to take to libraries? Science is not the arbiter of absolute truth and facts. Libraries are the best ones to deliver information to create a well informed electorate.

Lee: A lot of lifelong learning is based on altruism; people learn things so they can help others.

Audience question: Many people are accessing information online, but people are also saying we must be proactive. How can we revise library space to make them more effective?

Peter: What you can do to interact with natural systems (light, etc.) helps us understand how much we can incorporate from biological systems. We didn’t even know what a room is until relatively recently. The ability to have flexible space is important, not where the walls go. What makes you the most creative or inquisitive? If you change the light or acoustics, you can change the energy of the room. How do you turn the physical space into a living lesson? Bring in kids and let them do the design–they won’t be constrained by budgets etc.


Lee: The most cited article in the Harvard Business Review said that many companies don’t know what business they are in. Libraries are in the knowledge, learning, and enchantment business. Think about spaces and how you can achieve those goals. Figure out how you best serve your community and help them share and enrich their knowledge.

Peter: You have a lot of power. Know what you do, understand your services and value, and have your community help you understand what they want. Those you serve are responsible for giving something back.

Toward Gigabit Libraries

James Werle and Carson Block

James Werle (L) and Carson Block (R)

James Werle, Internet 2 Community Anchor Program and Carson Block, Carson Block Consulting, discussed two levels of high-speed internet access: the technical level and policy level. Joyce Johnston, Department of English, George Mason University, reviewed the current issue of net neutrality.

James started by discussing a project to put a pilot toolkit for high speed access in at least 30 rural libraries. How do you manage your library connectivity, especially if you a rural librarian and don’t have a networking background, yet you are the access point for the community? Many rural libraries are not equipped to provide access. James and Carson developed a toolkit containing a self-assessment tool, advocacy program, and educational workbook. The self-assessment tool lists what you need to know, the equipment, etc. The toolkit doesn’t change as people come and go. Here are its components and processes.

Toolkit Components and Processes

After developing the toolkit, they visited rural sites to evaluate their environment.  State libraries were involved to get their cooperation and provide a contact for the local librarians. It took several hours at each location to describe the toolkit and develop an action plan to improve connectivity.

The toolkit approach is to examine the technology inventory, present questions first; and then additional information and resources in text boxes. They showed librarians how to do their own speed testing. Here is a typical example of a network diagram from the toolkit.

Network diagram

They also helped libraries set up E-Rate (a government program providing discounts on telecommunications to eligible schools and libraries) if they were not already members .

Joyce Johnston

Joyce Johnston

Joyce Johnston, Dept. of English, George Mason University discussed the issues surrounding net neutrality. Here is a definition.

Net neutrality definition

Net neutrality is under severe challenge now. There is no law in the US that protects it. It is supervised by the FCC as a public service. There is a strong move to transfer internet regulation to the Federal Trade Commission and change internet access to be like cable access is now. This will cause many problems; here is what we stand to lose

What we could lose

This is ALA’s position.

ALA Position

ALA Position - 2

You can become your own ISP, then you can guarantee access. The FCC has developed a proposal for libraries.

FCC library proposal

Net neutrality vs. internet censorship: Educating the community is a good idea; most parents have no idea that this is a problem. There will also be an effect on consumers. State laws need to be changed, but this is difficult to do (a few states have recently enacted laws to protect net neutrality). We don’t have a national standard and that’s what we need the most. Legal challenges have been filed. Will we take the issue of the dismal state of high-speed internet access on as a country and have a national standard, or will we continue to have a patchwork of state laws?

The reason the FCC wants to get rid of net neutrality is because it’s more important for businesses to make money than to have an educated citizenry.