By Amy Affelt (Director, Database Research Worldwide, Compass Lexecon)
Column Editor: Donald T. Hawkins (Freelance Editor and Conference Blogger)
Column Editor’s Note: I am delighted to welcome Amy Affelt from Compass Lexecon as a guest columnist for this installment of Don’s Conference Notes. I have known and respected Amy as a colleague for many years, and I hope you enjoy her report on Information Today’s Internet Librarian 2022 conference.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges and ways of doing things to our work and personal lives in irreversible ways. The lasting effects of the dramatic changes brought on during this almost-three year period of our lives are still being determined,but their imprint was evident in all aspects of the Internet Librarian 2022 Conference, held October 17-20 in Monterey, California.
For many of us, this was our first in-person conference since 2019, and it is hard to overstate the benefits of gathering together again to share and learn from our colleagues. The morning keynote presentations underscored this phenomenon, as speakers talked about the impact of local and world events on their work. Azi Jamalian of The Giant Room kicked off the Tuesday morning program with an outline of the three distinct aspects used to create a culture that inspires a sense of belonging—the spark, the creating, and the sharing. The Giant Room builds more than makerspaces: the idea is that the actual space itself can be anything that the creator desires. This seemed to take on renewed urgency with regard to the mental health challenges for kids (and adults, too) that have resulted from the trauma and isolation of the pandemic.
Diamond sponsor Communico followed up with some great news: their data shows that library usage is up post-pandemic, and they have unveiled several solutions in response. They have an e-reader app, as well as “Roam,” which is basically a library service desk “in your pocket.” They also offer a product that allows for meeting room check-ins via QR code. One of their premiere innovations post-COVID is a product that provides pop-up virtual library experiences from any location.
Information Today conference attendees always flock to any presentation by Mary Ellen Bates, and this year was no exception. Using images created by dall-e, an AI tool that generates images based on keywords input by the user, Mary Ellen offered insight into how we can maximize our skills and our role, in an era of “no easy questions.” First, she reminded us that clients are asking what they think we can answer, not what we can actually do. Therefore, it is imperative to hone and tweak our reference interviewing skills so that we first find the real question that they need answered, and second, offer the best answer that we can find, whether or not it is “the” actual answer. Mary Ellen stated that one of the most powerful questions we can ask is “If I can’t find what you asked for, what would be second best?” as she believes this is one of the best ways to get the perspective on what is really needed. Mary Ellen also shared practical tips and advice. In what seems to be a contra intuitive suggestion, she stated that if you are familiar with the subject matter, it is OK to enable Google tracking. Your results will be more relevant to what you already know. She also talked about researching industry trends, and what to do if you are getting few to zero results. In addition to news and literature searches, she suggested doing a patent search, to see if there are any new discoveries in an industry.
Stephen Abram and I presented “Tea Bags in Hot Water: Showcasing Our Strengths in a Kettle of Disinformation and Book Challenges.” I started off on a high note with some good news, talking about a new report from EveryLibrary which found that only 8 percent of voters think that “there are many books that are inappropriate and should be banned,” and that half of voters believe that there is “absolutely no time when a book should be banned.” Although book challenges are clearly on the rise and reaching unprecedented levels, there is still some positive news: just as only 10 websites are responsible for almost 69% of climate change denial on Facebook (the so-called “Toxic Ten,” as identified by the Center for Countering Digital Hate), and almost half of all counter-disinformation litigation involves one particular bad actor; two thirds of book challenges in Texas, which is the state with far and away the highest number of challenges; over 700 in the first three months of 2022 alone occurred after a single State Representative (Matt Krause) circulated a list of books for school districts to “check.” Luckily, the majorities of those removed were deemed “out of date,” and were replaced with newer material on the same subject.
The current environment surrounding book challenges presents librarians with the opportunity to hone their challenge policies and procedures. Stephen had a great line: “We are public bureaucracies; use it!” It is imperative to remember to have a process in place that requires a separate challenge form for each title, precluding individuals from presenting the librarians with a list of titles. The requirement should be that the challenger must read each book, and mark the passages on individual pages with which they have an issue. We should also remember to default to why we are including a particular title, not why we should get rid of it. It is also important to review the content, independent of the author and any preconceived notions about the author. After all, the book is going to be housed in the library; the author is not going to live there. Finally, it is very important to ally with other community groups and like-minded individuals who share our dedication to freedom of information and thought, as there is strength in numbers; most officials remain committed to defending and promoting the values of a community.
Stephen talked about his consulting work in library design, and its goal of creating inclusive, community-friendly spaces. He defaults to “collision-based programming,” with a focus on commonalities, creating an environment in which everyone’s worlds and common interests collide, and people begin to see each other as having similar values to one’s own, bringing a lot of positivity. In order to build these spaces, he suggests that they be photo-friendly and Instagrammable, with activities that are not race- or religion-based, but that instead highlight shared pastimes such as food, gardening, and Wi-Fi. His admonishment: “No beige hallways!”
Marydee Ojala and I talked about ways to optimize your search results in our presentation, “Seizing Our Moment: When Someone Says to ‘Just Google It.’” We discussed when to use Google, when not to use Google, alternatives to Google and their strengths and weaknesses, recent developments with their algorithm, and tips and tricks to uncover the information that you need.
Wednesday’s keynote was delivered by Christine Keung, former Chief Data Officer for the City of San Jose, CA. It was fascinating to learn about the use of data, and the pros and cons of survey data and official government statistics in determining programming. It was clear that a nuanced approach is needed in order to determine real community need and to deliver impactful programming in departments that involve the individual schedules of residents of all ages, such as parks and recreation.
Gary Price offered information about a plethora of news tools during his presentation, “Impactful Curated Intelligence: Tips & Tools.” Among the many useful suggestions was his tip for when we don’t even know where to start. He suggested looking for a report on the topic from the Congressional Research Service, or other government agency such as a UK parliament report from the House of Commons Library, or European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS).
Marshall Breeding and Richard Hulser took us through the fine points of mergers and acquisitions in the information industry in their talk, “Follow the Money: Ownership Models and Their Impact on Library Systems and Services.” It was very interesting to learn about the reasons why these deals take place, and the effect that they have on our daily work and the resources that we use.
The closing keynote on Thursday involved Chad Mairn of St. Petersburg College in an onstage interview with Louis Markoya, “a former protégé of surrealist Salvador Dalí and a multimedia artist who merges classical oil painting with mathematics, fractal geometry, AI, and 3D holographic technology.” According to Chad’s Facebook post about the session, “Markoya told wonderful stories of his work over the years. Markoya has spent 34+ years as a research scientist with more than 30 patents!” They also “discussed how important libraries are to help bring more visibility to the arts+technology to help open minds and foster more creativity,” and touched on “the iLab+Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art partnership to bring Markoya’s innovative art and 3D short film “Strange Attractors” into VR and by using traditional anaglyph methods. The conversation focus shifted to AI-generative art, which was timely.”
The three days of the conference went by in a flash; it would have been great to have more time to discuss all of the ideas stirred up by the presentations. Luckily, Information Today will be hosting Computers In Libraries, March 28-30, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia (See the call for speakers at https://speakers.infotoday.com/cil-speakers/) Attendees can look forward to more in-depth conversations surrounding many of the topics discussed at Internet Librarian, as well as brainstorming ways that libraries can move forward in to a sustainable future.
Amy Affelt is Director, Database Research Worldwide, at Compass Lexecon, a global economic consultancy, where she finds, analyzes, and transforms information and data into knowledge deliverables for PhD economists who testify as experts in litigation. She is a frequent writer and conference speaker on Big Data, Internet of Things, adding value to information, evaluating information integrity and quality, and marketing information services. She is the author of two books, “The Accidental Data Scientist: Big Data Applications and Opportunities for Librarians and Information Professionals” (Information Today, 2015), and “All That’s Not Fit To Print: Fake News and the Call to Action for Librarians and Information Professionals (Emerald, 2019), and was the Big Data columnist for EContent Magazine. She has a BA in history, Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a master’s degree in library and information science from Dominican University. She is a Fellow of the Special Libraries Association.