As a new NLA member, I attended my very first C&U/TSRT Joint Spring Meeting. The theme of the Next Generation Library excited me, and the meeting did not disappoint.
Rachel Bridgewater’s keynote address, “What We Talk About When We Talk About 2.0″ was very stimulating. She observed that “Web 2.0″ is not so much a completely new thing as simply “Web 1.0″ grown up. Widespread broadband access and cheap memory are the key factors that made 2.0 possible. The five key factors differentiating 2.0 from ye olde web are:
1) Web 2.0 as a platform. Rather than using their own hard drives as their primary platform, increasingly users are moving to the web as their primary workspace. The web provides an excellent platform for collaboration, although there are still some security and backup issues to be worked out.
2) 2.0 is participatory. You don’t just view web pages anymore, you contribute to their content. This has economic and ethical issues, such as, how do you define authorship when an article on Wikipedia may have been written and revised by dozens or hundreds of people?
3) 2.0 is about microcontent. We’re breaking away from the print world metaphors. Rather than thinking of a gallery page as a document, we are now thinking of the individual photo as the smallest unit of content on a gallery page. Websites, therefore, are being viewed as collections of microcontent rather than discrete pages in their own right. A blog, for example, is a collection of posts, rather than a unified entity.
4) 2.0 is open. With RSS feeds, content can be completely decontextualized. A reader doesn’t need to visit the blog to read the post, but instead can have the post appear in their own reader, reformatted to their own specifications. The information may look very different than in its “native habitat.”
5) 2.0 is easy. Codes? We don’t need to know ‘em anymore. You can edit on Wikipedia, create a blog, or write a mash-up that overlays on Google Maps without knowing any html, XML, or anything else. You don’t need to be a techy to add content to the web anymore.
Rachel advised instructors to assign Wikipedia, rather than tell students not to use it. Have students read the discussion and history pages of articles in order to learn about the controversies, to learn to “interrogate their sources.” The thing about Wikipedia is that the dirty little secrets of the knowledge creation process are now out in the open, visible for all to see.
Rachel left us with the advice, “The best way to understand the participatory web is to participate in it.” You don’t have to do everything, but pick one thing, maybe blogging, maybe del.icio.us, whatever interests you, and dive in.
Within the week, Rachel will be posting resources related to this session at
Moving along to the first breakaway session, I attended Mark Andrews’ presentation “Through a Glass Darkly: Divining the ‘Next Generation Catalog.’” This was another fascinating exploration of ways to bring the catalog into the 2.0 age. Mark observed that open source does not equal free; it only means that you choose to spend your money differently, because when something breaks, you have to fix it yourself. He talked about faceted searching and mash-ups. Mash-ups, based on APIs, are very difficult to do with ILSs, because ILSs are based on old, outdated technology. We need to demand new and better things from our ILS vendors.
Mark demonstrated the Omaha Public Library’s use of WebFeat federated searching. The library catalog is part of the base search, but it need not stand alone anymore.
He stressed that we need user-contributed content to our catalogs, from folksonomy tags to reviews, and we need “people who checked out this also liked” recommendations.
Mark introduced us to Cycorp, a machine that knows how to read ontologies. (http://www.cyc.com/). Cyc learns one fact and one assertion at a time, the way a child learns. So this machine can grow and become smarter, hopefully developing common sense and genuine cognitive reasoning. (Mark admitted that Cyc scares him a bit.)
I didn’t hear a lot at Mark’s session that I hadn’t heard before (except for Cyc), but that just reassures me that I’ve been following the right trends. Some of the things he mentioned, like Danbury Library’s mash-up of their catalog and LibraryThing, I’ve only heard about within the last week, so Mark was definitely on top of everything.
The second breakaway session I attended as “Library Friendly Technology: Applications that Work@your library” by Karin Dalziel and Marcia Dority Baker. They talked about portable applications, which can be stored on a flash drive and thus need not be installed anywhere as you move from computer to computer. These are open source, typically free, and typically PC only. There are Mac versions of a lot of these applications, although they are generally not portable and must be used on the hard drive.
They demonstrated quite a few applications from nifty Firefox extensions to OpenOffice to PBWiki and far too many others to describe here. Their sources for these applications are PortableApps.com and SourceForge.net. One of my favorites that I was not previously familiar with is skrbl (“scribble”), an online whiteboard. (http://www.skrbl.com) You can share your skrbls with anyone, and they can add/delete/alter them. This could be great for committee work. (The only problem is that it does not seem to work properly with Firefox.)
Karin and Marcia recommended that each library survey its staff to find out who is using which technologies. Libraries may turn up in-house experts that they never knew they had.
The third and final breakaway session I attended was Michael Sauers’ “The Social Web: Wikis, Blogs, Flickr, and More!” He started with the idea that users are “prosumers,” that is, they are simultaneously producers and consumers of content.
He discussed a wide array of social features of the web, including simple publishing, tagging, friends lists, comments, recommendations, feed publishing, and sharing. Practical examples ran from the familiar, such as wikis, blogs, YouTube, LibraryThing, etc., to the unfamiliar, such as last.fm and Squidoo. He demonstrated the NLC presence on some of these services, including YouTube, Flickr, and Second Life. And he demonstrated his own presence on some others, such ad Digg and del.icio.us. Covering so many topics did not allow him to go in depth on any of them, so it was really more of an overview, a catalog of potential services for librarians to explore on their own.
He observed that librarians are used to taxonomies (authority controlled headings) and often suspicious of folksonomies (tagging). However, he suggested that when enough people add enough tags to enough items, patterns really do emerge.
All in all, while there was a lot of overlap in content among the sessions I attended, the spring meeting was definitely a useful, informative experience.