American Library Association Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA, 2002

This text documents my experiences at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Meeting held in Atlanta, GA, June 14-17, 2002.

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Friday, June 14

My conference experience began by attending a preconference on open source software in libraries. Specifically, I attended a presentation/workshop given by Hussein Suleman of Virginia Tech who described the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) . He described OAI as "dedicated to solving problems of digital library interoperability by developing simple protocols...We in libraries have tools for creating collections but they are not of any use unless there are services provided for access." He described OAI as a tool that is more about harvesting meta data as opposed to one that federates it. The balance of the presentation/workshop was an enumeration of the six OAI "verbs" implementing the protocol and the creation of an OAI data repository based on a toolkit designed by Suleman. Given the pre-existence of a set of XML documents, the toolkit would be an excellent place for somebody to start learning about OAI. It just so happened that version 2.0 of the protocol become official as of 6:30 that morning. This is ironic because just a couple of days before the presentation/workshop I had made my Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts compliant with version 1.1 of the protocol. Luckily, the protocol is backwards compatible.

After lunch I facilitated a presentation/workshop about MyLibrary@NCState . I described the problems the system is suppose to address, how to install the software, and how the system works. Participants were then given the opportunity to administrate their own MyLibrary@NCState implementations. The participants had many questions and seemed intrigued, if not pleased, with the way the system worked.

The final presentation/workshop I attended was on OCLC's SiteSearch . SiteSearch, a Z39.50 client/server application, was recently released as open source software. Stephanie Napier , representing OCLC, described the components that make up the software, as well as how to install and configure them. SiteSearch seems like a comprehensive but slightly complicated system. Once up and running, it seems that most of the work surrounds the editing of text files describing what Z39.50 "targets" exist and what they support. SiteSearch is/was an application ahead of it time since it is implemented as a Java servlet before servlets became popular. The jury is still out as to whether or not SiteSearch will be taken up by the library community as an open source project.

Friday evening I had a few beers with a number of fellow serials librarians (such as Cindy Hepfer , Susan Davis , Connie Foster , and Christy Reinke ), and I was presented with my Bowker/Ulrich's Serials Librarianship Award and check. Afterwards a dinner was hosted in my honor by the folks of Bowker/Ulrich's at Pano's and Paul's. In attendance were Cindy, Susan, and Connie (above) as well as Roy Tennant , Dan Marmion , Yvette Diven , Eleanor Cook and Boe Horton . Being given the Bowker/Ulrich's Award is quite an honor, and I am flattered to be recognized is such a way. I hope to use the award money to continue my explorations into ways of providing better library service for the purposes of enhancing learning, scholarship, and research.

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Saturday, June 15

In the morning I played tourist by visiting Stone Mountain with my cousin, who also works in a library.

In the afternoon I went to the LITA Open Source Software Special Interest Group meeting where the new officers, Rachel Cheng and Ranti Junus , were installed. The group went around the room describing what we has been doing open source software-wise. I described by work importing Web server (Apache) log files into a (MySQL) database application, MyLibrary@NCState, the OSSNLibraries project, and exploring the use of XML with a Perl module called AxKit. There was then some discussion about next year's presentation. The discussion surrounded the possibilities of a program designed for library administrators with a title like "If It Is Free, Then How Can It Be Any Good?" Speakers might include a couple of peer administrators as well as a representative from the Mellon Foundation who is increasingly supporting open source software.

In the evening I went back into tourist mode by going to a baseball game. While I paid too much for my scalped ticket, and I was seated in the second row from the top, I had a good time, and the home team won.

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Sunday, June 16

After trying to make my way through the endless exhibit hall full of integrated library system vendors, book publishers, library furniture manufacturers, and companies leasing access to digital information we should be creating ourselves, I went to a set of presentations called "How To Automate Your Library For Less Than A $1000".

John Morris of the Beugrath Parish Library described how he and his systems administrator have implemented Linux throughout their library. He described the process as an easy one since they were never heavily invested in Microsoft products. He sees the use of open source software as a money saver since it allows you to spend more money on books and payroll. "Open source software is easier in the long run...Open source software supports your local economy because the money does not go to Seattle." Morris enumerated a number of advantages of open source software such as: hardware, technical support, initial cost, licensing, training, exit strategies, and peer-review.

John Brice of Meadville Public Library also describe how Linux was implemented in his library. He described the motivation for implementing Linux; he could not afford to by the firewall application for his then-existing operating system. He says his entire information technology budget is a mere $12K. He presented a number of statistics describing why open source software is less expensive than commercial software. Many of his implementations are "thin clients" harking back to the mainframe days of computing. He is very satisfied with the work they have done.

Willem Scholten of the Learning Access Institute gave a presentation surrounding the development of his open source software integrated library system (formally called OpenBook). Scholten's goal is to assist the small, if not tiny, libraries in Washington state provide better library service through automation. Many of these libraries have no automation, few staff, rely on volunteers, require a lot of staff development, and can not afford retrospective conversion projects. His application is designed to take these limitations into account and provide the means for creating database of holdings. The system is built with PHP and MySQL. It supports different languages, Z39.50, and circulation. From what I've seen so far, the system looks to be very impressive. It should be able to handle hundreds of thousands of records, and it is slated be freely available in the third quarter of this year.

Late in the afternoon I did my stint at the LITA Top Technology Trends program where panelists share their perceptions of current topics. Marshal Breeding mentioned the need for integrating content with meta-searching as well as the "one box, one button solution" to finding information. Roy Tennant alluded to online reference assistance, the "slow and painful death" of MARC and AACR2, and wireless technologies. I shared my perceptions about user-centered design, the continually developing but rarely exploited potential of XML, OAI, as well as open source software. Clifford Lynch mentioned data corruption, learning management systems such as WebCT and Blackboard, privacy, computational markup, and Google's recently released application programmer's interfaces. Joan Frye Williams thinks we should be paying more attention to the navigation of intellectual space, Google Answers, infra-red technologies, and the creation of tools designed for information professionals versus tools designed for typical users. Tom Wilson did not see the single user interface as a feasible solution to information seeking, called for more authority control in various bibliographic databases, described WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) is a thing libraries should consider, and usability testing. Finally, Walt Crawford described the benefits of the OpenURL protocol and elaborated on how it can be implemented in libraries with not too much difficulty.

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Monday, June 17

Bright and early on Monday morning I showed up to participate in a program about portal applications. Yet again, I described the MyLibrary@NCState software and the current state of the project.

Mary Jackson from the Association of Research Libraries described the Scholar's Portal project. She gave a bit of history about the project as well as its purpose -- to provide easy access to scholarly, authoritative content via a single search mechanism. She described the role of Fretwell-Downing, the vendor who will be working on creating this software, and the potential of their existing ZPortal application. "The Scholar's Portal is a project that will take a number of years to complete and as the needs of the ARL community are expressed the goals of the project will shift accordingly." As the project is currently stated, the functionality of the system looks a whole lot like SiteSearch -- a Z39.50 client/server implementation.

David Sleaseman of the Internet Scout Project described the Internet Scout Toolkit as a turnkey database application allowing content providers (a.k.a. librarians) to create lists of Internet resources and have these list formatted in various ways. The project is partially funded by the Mellon Foundation, uses LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl), and features: searching, customization in terms of the output's look and feel, workflow management, support for "push" (sort of), ratings, Rich Site Summary/Resource Discovery Framework (RSS/RDF) output, and forums for discussion. Learning Languages is an example of a site using the software.

Amos Lakos of the University of Waterloo wrapped-up the program by giving an overview and described the future of portal applications in libraries. The more he thought about portal applications the more he came to realize that they consist of 10% hardware/software and 90% campus consensus. Portals are an ebusiness in his mind much like the interfaces to campus financial aid or the use of a bookstore like Amazon.com. They must be interactive and enterprise-wide in scope. Portals have the advantages of saving time (of the reader), providing measurable customer expectations, and personalization. Authentication, the process of determining who is using the system by logging on, is a critical component to creating a successful portal application, especially campus-wide. Finally, Lakos advocated reading a book called Web Portals and Higher Education edited by Richard N. Katz.

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Summary

With the exception of the award, this was pretty much a typical ALA experience for me. It confirmed much of the things I already knew and allowed me to strengthen professional relationships built over the Internet and through email.

SiteSearch looks like a killer application, but many libraries may be overwhelmed by the amount to technology it requires to get it up an running, let alone configured. Open source software is still a viable option for libraries, I beleive, but not very many people understand the principles behind open source software, and consequently, implementations falter. XML remains an under utilized way of organizing, classifying, and distributing information in libraries. This might be true because it is not forgiving like HTML. A good example is OAI; it can really provide the same sort of services Z39.50 was suppose to address and more. I think the Scholar's Portal application should be developed as open source software. I'm still amazed about the interest in MyLibrary@NCState. At the same time I realize that many people simply have not heard about it and consequently are unable to have opinions one way or another. Finally, I learned that if I am going to play with my digital camera I have to make sure it does not run out of batteries before it has finsished downloading its data. If I run out of batteries, then I loose data. I ran out of batteries.


Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <eric_morgan@infomotions.com>
Source: This text was never formally published.
Date created: 2002-07-05
Date updated: 2004-12-01
Subject(s): Atlanta, GA; ALA (American Library Association); travel log;
URL: http://infomotions.com/musings/ala-in-atlanta-2002/