Home 9 Blog Posts 9 Don’s Conference Notes-Libraries: Tech Partners for Community Sustainability: Computers in Libraries 2023

Don’s Conference Notes-Libraries: Tech Partners for Community Sustainability: Computers in Libraries 2023

by | Jun 7, 2023 | 0 comments


By Donald T. Hawkins, Freelance Editor and Conference Blogger

The 38th annual Computers in Libraries (CIL) conference was held in Arlington, VA on March 28-30, 2023 and attracted 785 attendees. Each day began with a keynote which on the first two days, was followed by a brief “Diamond Sponsor Keynote”. On the second evening, Lee Rainie, Director, Internet and Technology Research at the Pew Research Center, gave a presentation on Technology, Social Media, and Libraries. Other features of the conference included 

  • A well-attended exhibit hall that began with an opening reception and included 15 minute “cybertours” on subjects of current interest such as local history in libraries, AI apps for libraries, ChatGPT, and local archives,
  • “Birds of a Feather” lunch concessions in the exhibit hall,
  • Half day workshops and an interactive session, “Games, Gadgets, and Makerspaces” on the day before the opening of the main conference,
  • A full day workshop: The Searcher’s Academy: Rethinking Search Practices, 
  • Five tracks on each day of the conference, each of which had 5 presentations, and

Opening Keynote

Eppo van Nispen

The keynote address by Eppo van Nispen, Founder, DOK Library 1 and Director, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision was entitled “AI Parade: Human-Centric, All Inclusive, Artificial Intelligence”. He began by addressing the audience as “an extraordinary gathering of knowledge guardians and champions of literacy” and said that we are at the intersection of the ancient realm of the written word and the cutting edge domain of artificial intelligence (AI). Librarians bridge the gap between the past and the future, and now with the advent of AI, their impact is amplified. He concluded by urging us to embrace this brave new world and harness the power of AI to unlock the full potential of our libraries and the human spirit.

Diamond Sponsor Keynote

Robert McLaughlin, Executive Director, National Collaborative for Digital Equity, said that addressing intergenerational poverty is a crucial role for librarians who can point their users to financial, educational, and economic resources. A National Summit on State Planning for Digital Equity and Economic Inclusion was held in Atlanta on April 27-28, 2023.

Track A: Search and Discovery

It was interesting to note that several speakers in this track mentioned the same search products.

Super Searcher: Tips for Making an Impact

Mary Ellen Bates, Principal, Bates Information Services, one of the most popular speakers at CIL conferences, led off this track with this advice for searchers.

  • ChatGPT is like a bad librarian: it speaks with an authoritative voice, refuses to cite sources, and is not client-focused.
  • When doing a search, choose your approach. Decide if the search is different from other questions. Start focused and then expand. Use an alternative search engine. Start with a non-tracking search engine, then go to Google to use tracking.
  • Sometimes a close enough answer is good enough. The easy questions have already been answered. To help answer the question, consider analyzing the subject’s social media, product information from websites, and patent filings.
  • Use site: to dig deeper and find pages suppressed or not indexed by a website. 
  • Keep the long view and stay focused on the underlying question. 
  • Don’t try to outthink an algorithm. Trust Google’s automatic synonymizing and use Wikipedia’s wording if it is available.
  • Fight the “Google-opoly” by comparing search results with your colleagues and using customization. 

Here are some of Mary Ellen’s latest discoveries.

  • Perplexity AI summarizes search results, cites sources and improves the way people discover and share current information.
  • Sparktoro.com identifies audiences and how to reach them. It is useful for search inspiration. 
  • SearchGizmos.com lists search tools collected by Tara Calishain, author of ResearchBuzz, a site that tracks developments in search engines. 
  • No Shop Sherlock removes references to large shopping and commerce sites such as eBay, Amazon, Twitter, etc. from search results. It is especially useful when searching popular topics.
  • Alternative or private search engines include:
  1. DuckDuckGo: famously private
  2. You.com: funded by Salesforce executives and includes an AI chatbot that cites sources
  3. Search.brave.com: eliminates “copycat” sites and the 1,000 most popular sites.

Impactful Curated Intelligence: Tips and Tools

Gary Price, Co-Founder, infoDOCKET and FullTextReports is widely known for his daily curation of interesting websites. His spreadsheet listing some of his daily resources is here, and here are his comments on some of them:

  • The Federal Register advance publication site lists upcoming items that will be published in a few days.
  • Scholarcy is an AI-powered article summarizer of full text, tables, conclusions, and references.
  • VidSummary is an AI-powered YouTube video summarizer.
  • ChatGPT does not provide service information.
  • Perplexity.ai delivers search results from many sources.
  • The Research Organization Registry (ROR) contains persistent identifiers and makes it easy to disambiguate institution names and connect researchers to organizations and outputs.
  • Semantic Scholar has an index of over 200 million articles and provides AI-driven search and discovery tools.
  • Lens.org is a search service for academic patents and research articles.
  • SingleFile is a browser add-on that allows users to save an entire web page as a single HTML file.
  • Openstates tracks bills and upcoming legislation in states and Congress and has a directory of legislators.
  • Camelcamelcamel provides historical Amazon price data and alerts users when prices decrease. For example, here is a graph of the historic prices of a 790 piece Lego building set.

AI-Driven Search Engines: Implications for Librarians

Marydee Ojala, Editor of Online Searcher noted that traditional searching has been around for decades and revolutionized research in the 1970s. Algorithmic searching began in the 1990s, and the latest revolution is AI-driven search has given a new meaning to searching. 

Categories of AI-driven search:

  • Google alternatives,
  • Scholarly search, and
  • Large Language Models (LLMs) or GPTs.

Other search engines include Neeva, NeevaAI, Brave Search, You.com, Consensus, Google Scholar, Elicit, PubTrawlr, Semantic Scholar, Perplexity.ai, and ChatGPT. Microsoft and Bing are investing heavily in ChatGPT and its parent company, OpenAI; however, AI-driven search is more than ChatGPT.  Google has also been thinking about AI and has launched an AI Lab for researching the benefits of AI. Machine learning has been a key component of relevance for years, and natural language processing helps to disambiguate search language. Personalization, long a research topic and a feature of advanced search capabilities, depends on AI and is responsible for the disappearance of advanced searching capabilities of search engines. 

Become an API Magician

Amy Affelt, Director, Database Research at Compass Lexecon, began by listing roles for librarians in dealing with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), such as cataloging them and doing reference interviews, using their knowledge of databases, information sources, communication and connections among departments of the organization.  Librarians can also function as a liaison between information providers, corporate legal departments, and users as well as being a point person for renewals of contracts and suggestions for improvements to services. Here are some criteria for evaluating APIs (some of these may be too technical for users and may require the services of the API provider):

Day 2 Keynote

Jane Dysart (L), CIL 2023 Program Director and Phaedra Boinodiris (R), Keynote Speaker

The second day of CIL 2023 began with a keynote address by Phaedra Boinodiris, Consulting Global Leader for Trustworthy AI at IBM entitled “Library Communities, AI, and Possible Futures!” She began by listing IBM’s principles for trust and transparency:

  • The purpose of AI is to augment human intelligence, Data and insights belong to their creator, and New technology must be transparent and explainable.

She moved on to discuss what it takes to trust a decision made by a machine and noted that AI can affect one’s worldview.  For example, this word cloud contains descriptions of opinions about ChatGPT.

Without transparency there is a significant risk to our understanding and predictions. Data lineage means tracking the flow of data over time, and data provenance means tracing the origins of information. Using these principles will promote the responsible use of AI in our communities. Librarians are very trustworthy in curating content for their communities and can advocate for accessibility of those involved.

Diamond Sponsor Keynote

Paul Quelch, Founder and CEO of Communico LLC said that his customers have a unified user experience because Communico removes duplicate tasks from their workflows. A study of 46 public library systems following COVID revealed that many of them were performing similar tasks, which is not surprising. Communico has developed an integrated suite of 8 cloud-based app modules to help libraries increase usage through technology.

Day 2 Sessions

Out of the Wreckage with Community Partners

Molly Kane, Head, Library Systems and Building Operations, Upper Dublin Public Library (UDPL), PA described the aftermath of an EF2 tornado with 130 mph winds that went through over 8 miles of Upper Dublin Township on September 1, 2021 and caused extensive damage to many structures, including the former library, the roof of the high school swimming pool, the police department, and numerous houses. Fortunately, the library had just moved to new quarters and was not damaged. (Ed. Note: UDPL is close to where I live and is the public library I use most frequently.) UDPL serves 26,000 residents and has about 115,000 books in its collection and a $1.2 million annual budget. It is important to prepare an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) before an emergency occurs and ensure that copies of it are available in every public area and at every service desk and staff are trained in its use.  Here is what should be in an EAP:

In an emergency, the library building, technology, and staff assets belong to the responders. In UDPL’s case, the police department was able to move into a vacant 8,000 square foot space for a temporary police station. Local government agencies used library meeting rooms for their meetings. Note that an emergency operations center can be remote from the location of the emergency. 

The experience of UDPL was highly successful; even the police force became members of the library community:

UDPL police interacting with the library 

Innovative Digital Programs and Platforms

Phaedra Boinidiris and Beth Rudden, CEO, Bast.ai wondered what it would feel like if you could augment your business or yourself and also involve children with trusted AI. Librarians have a pivotal role as curators of trusted AI models and as community developers.  One way to understand their role is to go to a GPT model and ask what a librarian does all day, and then from the results ask which task you would like to create and learn more about. 

AI will not replace people, but a human using AI will. In America we don’t appreciate the diversity we have; for example, you can tell where someone is from by the language they use, (i.e. Is a boot something you wear on your foot or is it part of a car?).What is data? Everybody has a different answer. We all create data, like digital exhaust.

Library Technology Update

American Libraries publishes a summary of major industry events (typically in its May issue each year) that is compiled by Marshall Breeding, Editor of Library Systems Report and a long-time attendee at CIL conferences. He noted that there have been fewer deals than usual between companies in the past few years because the industry has gone through a period of disruption. Many technology companies have become public companies and have become open source. 

The major trends in academic libraries are a transition from integrated library systems to library services platforms, index-based discovery systems, and curriculum and research support tools. Integrated library systems are continued in public libraries and are supplemented by enhanced discovery and user engagement modules.

Technology Skills Assessment and Training

Regina Burgess, Director, Professional Development, Panhandle Library Access Network (PLAN) and Diana Silveira, Novare Library Services got an ARPA grant to bring technology into rural areas and developed websites for small libraries in the Florida Panhandle. Library staff members need to be educated in technology so they can help users, but most librarians do not have 4 year degrees. What are the best subjects to teach? What do people need to be successful using their libraries? Simple problems can cause a rural library to be out of service if the staff is not knowledgeable about technology. Future efforts: Creating a curriculum for training using survey results, offering a PLAN Technology Day conference, adding additional niche content, and creating web-based training courses. 

Resources (including a copy of their survey) and slides are available at https://novarelibrary.com/traininggrant-presentation-resources/

Personal Relations: Building Relationships Across Campus

Audrey Welber, Librarian, Teaching and Research Services, Princeton University launched Princeton’s Personal Librarian (PL) program in 2017 in which first and second year undergraduates were paired with a reference or subject librarian who guided them through the library’s collections and programs. Each PL was assigned 50 to 100 students. The PL program became crucial during the pandemic and was appropriate for non-librarians and catalogers who wanted to interact with students. It was expanded to athletes, especially football players because many of them were struggling academically. Other sports teams heard about the program and wanted their own PLs; other teams will be added in the future.

Evening Session

Technology, Social Media, and Libraries

Lee Rainie

Lee Rainie, Director, Internet and Technology Research at the Pew Research Center and a very popular speaker at CIL and Internet Librarian conferences, began his evening session by noting that the mission of most think tanks is to change the world. In contrast, Pew is a fact tank that finds news in numbers. Librarians were an early surprise audience for Pew’s work, and Rainie has long believed that any day spent with librarians is a better day; in fact, 17 years ago he gave his first CIL talk in the same hotel and same room where he spoke this year. He showed this cover from Time magazine which illustrates that some issues of concern then are still relevant today.

These 8 realities characterize our environment today:

  1. Millennials are a distinct age cohort, according to many measures of generational behavior and attitude, and middle aged people of the 2020s have some of the same characteristics as those in the 1950s had. Their technology is mobile, and the internet plays a special role in their world.
  2. Millennials are immersed in a world of media and gadgets. 
  3. Teens’ technology is mobile. 33% of them share their own creations (artwork, photos, stories, or videos) online. They are multitaskers and are often unaware of and indifferent to the consequences of their use of technology.
  4. The internet plays a special role in teens’ world.
  5. They are multi-taskers.
  6. Millennials are often unaware of and indifferent to the consequences of their use of technology.
  7. Their (and our) technology world will change radically in the next decade, and the place of change is increasing.
  8. The way they approach learning and research tasks will be shaped by their new techno-world.

Social media now has a new terrain.

The communications environment has a very pronounced complexity; no single platform fits all, and community still matters. We often find different tiers of engagement with different kinds of information; the most active people are those who are engaged with political media. There are many calculations about how much we should reveal about ourselves on social media. Women are very concerned about self-censorship.

The use of online platforms and apps varies widely by demographic group. Facebook remains one of the most widely used by US adult consumers, and a growing number are using YouTube. Twitter is the most common platform that US journalists use for their job. Since 2014, teens’ use of TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat has grown, and their use of Facebook has dropped. They feel that social media provides a space for connection, creativity, and support, and it has had a positive effect on them because of friendships and connections. About half of teens say they use the internet or YouTube “almost constantly”. Over half of them say that it would be hard to give up social media. 

The relationship of children with digital devices varies by age. Many children own a smartphone with the approval of their parents because the children can contact them; they can keep in touch with each other; children can do their homework; and their friends and classmates have phones. However, many parents fear that smartphones will hurt children’s ability to learn social skills or develop friendships, even though they say that technology has made parenting easier today than it was 20 years ago.

Libraries continue to be one of the most valued and trusted institutions in our society. They are regarded as

  • Pathfinders for trusted information and curators and arbiters of it,
  • Technical and data experts,
  • Teachers in the age of lifelong learning, and
  • Visionaries for the knowledge economy and the jobs it produces.

Therefore, people keep coming back to them. Libraries have become the “first place” to meet, have filled in “market holes”, and are innovation test beds. They are trusted institutions for learning, advocates for free and open access to information and the closing of digital divides, and privacy and algorithm watchdogs. Rainie closed his presentation with sincere thanks to libraries and librarians.

Day 3 Keynote

Future Libraries and Information Communities: Next-Gen Skills and Opportunities

InstaCart is an online grocery shopping business that serves businesses and consumers in large markets in the US and Canada. In her keynote address, Laurentia Romaniuk discussed some information practices that can be applied to the grocery industry, which has over 80,000 stores and 1.5 million products. What is success and how can we measure it? Is it sustainable growth (revenue, number of people served, etc.)? Your first idea is not necessarily your best. InstaCart is creating recipes and a world where everyone has access to the food they love and more time to enjoy it together.  

Prioritize your efforts based on impact vs. cost. What ideas align best with your mission, and which ones can you afford? If you need some inspiration, talk to people and look at the data. People love grocery lists, and there is lots of choice in the grocery aisle. They use complex decision making trees when a category is robust, and often their lists have hidden meanings known to them, as shown here

Customers also use decision trees in making decisions, like this.

TikTok has revolutionized the grocery industry. Here are some lessons learned and keys to success.

  • Ingredient affordability and availability will be key factors in determining the success of a food trend. 
  • Simple and foolproof recipes will always win.
  • Recipes and food trends that lean into seasonality and cultural moments will see stronger traction.

The pandemic accelerated online growth and broke many online habits, but it also broke communities. People are alone today. Can libraries solve this? Online demand has risen; can you make your services as close to 1-click as possible? 

We are in the early days of AI. Everyone is trying to figure out what this means and how to use it. The mildest reaction is that it is the next wave after PCs and the internet, and it is here to stay. The most extreme reaction to AI is that we are putting bombs in everyone’s hands, and we need to slow down. It is hard to keep up with the pace of news and innovation in this space.

Data Science for Information Professionals

Frank Cervone, Program Coordinator, Information Science and Data Analytics at San Jose State University presented a useful introductory discussion of data science, beginning with IBM’s definition: 

“Data science combines math and statistics, specialized programming, advanced analytics, AI and machine learning with specific subject matter expertise to uncover actionable insights hidden in an organization’s data, which can be used to guide decision making and strategic planning.”

A simpler definition is that it is using modern tools to find unseen patterns, but it is not simply computer science, information science, or knowledge management. Programming is foundational to data science, especially in Python, SQL, and R. The primary focus should be on Python first. Some understanding of statistics, from basic concepts (mean, median, mode, etc.), sampling techniques, probability distributions, and hypothesis testing—how to predict things and why they happen—is also needed. Data must be transformed and messy or complex data must be cleaned for easy access and analysis so that it can be extracted, transformed, and loaded into a system. Visualization is an art that uses graphics to convey a message. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  Visualizations are critical during the exploratory data analysis stage. 

Data modeling allows us to understand the physical and logical aspects of the data and advanced data structures, and deploying the models is necessary to integrate tools into existing legacy systems. Then data analytics is used to arrive at conclusions about the information. The focus of analytics is more on analysis rather than technical implementation. Types of analytics include:

  • Descriptive analytics: what happened.
  • Diagnostic: why did something happen, 
  • Predictive: what might happen. Historical data are used to uncover patterns, statistical methods, and machine learning.
  • Prescriptive: what we should do.

Data analysts determine questions to be answered, and data scientists evaluate high level statistical models and techniques. 

Places to get started: LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Coursera. To test the waters first, take an introductory course on programming or statistics. 

Creative Making and Makerspaces

Justin Hoenke, Director, Gardiner Maine Public Library previously worked in public libraries in Titusville, Pennsylvania; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Wellington, New Zealand and has developed a range of library services. Everything we do today requires some degree of creativity, which includes makerspaces—creative learning spaces where people can come together.

When you start a makerspace, you must hire different types of people, take care of them, and let them be free. Listen to what your people are saying and do everything possible to make their dreams come true. Never stop learning, and trust your staff because they know what is best. Makerspaces make people curious, so everything can be a makerspace because creativity happens everywhere.  

Your community includes the people you hire as well as those you serve. Let people be your volunteers and they will be your best teachers and advocates. Get down to the level of your users; talk to them; utilize their skills; and welcome them. The library staff is there to help the community. Remember that you manage the space, but it is the community’s library.


We have come to the end of this summary of the CIL 2003 conference. Be sure and mark your calendars for the dates of the 2004 conference, March 12-14, 2024, in the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, VA.

End Notes:

  1.  “Discover Innovations at DOK, Holland’s Library Concept Center”, by Erik Boekesteijn, Marketing Library Services, March/April 2008, https://www.infotoday.com/mls/mar08/boekesteijn.shtml.

Donald T. Hawkins is a conference blogger and information industry freelance writer. He blogs and writes about conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and The Charleston Information Group, LLC (publisher of Against The Grain). He maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website). He contributed a chapter to the book Special Libraries: A Survival Guide (ABC-Clio, 2013) and is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 50 years.


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