WILS' World Conference 95: A travel log
These pages document my experiences at the WILS' World 95 Conference held in Madison, Wisconsin, June 13-14, 1995.
Tuesday, June 12th
Tom Zilner, a major force responsible for bringing WILS' World into existence opened the conference and introduced the keynote speaker, Clifford Lynch.
In a presentation entitled "Developing Technologies in Access and Control for Networked Information" Clifford Lynch, the Director of Library Automation for the University of California, compared and contrasted visions of digital libraries and the practical uses of present day networked information discover and retrieval (NIDR) tools. ("Boy, how's that for a long sentence.")
Present day "digital libraries" are much like traditional libraries but at the same time they are not like traditional libraries. Both digital libraries and traditional library, stated Lynch, are closed systems, systems of information intended for specific audiences guided by collection management policies. Yet digital libraries go beyond traditional libraries in that they hope to inspire more collaboration between library users as well as presenting the possibilities of library users augmenting libraries' collections. Another difference is that digital libraries will (are) looking more like book stores than libraries. By this Lynch means digital libraries try to create a one-stop shopping approach to information needs and consequently make their collections of information seem attractive though advertizing-like means. Services like Lexis/Nexis, Westlaw, and Bloomper (?) where given as examples. This same perspective of digital libraries leads to much duplication of information as exemplified by mailing lists and services like America Online, Compuserve, and Prodigy. How many digital libraries might there be? Depending on your perspective there will be one or many. There will be one library in the sense that these institutions may (or may not) be connected via interoperable standards like z39.50. Or there will be many libraries that you must access individually thus allowing the profit-minded digital libraries to keep their identity, a necessary component of economic models.
NIDR tools have improved and their number is growing. The archie system of locating files on FTP sites was given as an example. It was also described as a poor method for locating content because it is based on current file naming conventions. On the other hand, anything is better than "ground zero" and archie was one of the first NIDR tools to make itself useful. Considering that many NIDR-robot tools like archie and the Harvest System assume remote information is free for the browsing, these tools can work. But some information is not free and these tools will not work in those arenas. Consequently, fee-based information services will have to provide their own summary information if they want there services used. At the same time, these same limitations of the technology will necessitate the skills librarians by adding unbiased evaluations to the information resources. Lynch proceeded to call for more intelligent NIDR tools. He described our present tools an "amnesiac" in that they don't remember people's information needs over time. Improved NIDR tools could begin to keep profiles of people's requests and help improve search outcomes. Furthermore, our NIDR tools will locate information but the information will be associated with a fee. Unfortunately, the methods of devising fees for information are not well developed and require improvement before fee-based systems can happen on a wide scale. Last, people are expecting too much from these NIDR tools in that people are expecting these tools to make judgments about the value of the information and what it can be used for. These aspects of the use of information are difficult, if not impossible, to codify and consequently will not make into the NIDR tools of the near future.
This philosophy professor from the University of Wisconsin Center-Sheboygan whose presentation entitled "Democracy and the Demise of Libraries in the Networked Age" struck me from the get go. It got me all riled up at breakfast even before I had heard what Louzecky had to say.
He began by quoting Fredrick Douglas's autobiograhy and remarked how Fredrick Douglas saw the ability to read and write as fundamental skills necessary for freedom from slavery. Louzecky then quoted a number of "techno-fantasies" and described them as being "obvious or naive about democracy, literacy and the expression of ideas." He went on to state that without libraries and institutions providing free access to print-based materials, people may forget how to think, especially considering things like television that are so very much visual. Along those same lines he stated that both sides of the technology argument ("technology is great" versus "bring back reading") do not base their arguments on evidence but emotional appeals instead. "Argument", paraphrasing Monty Python, "is a string of statements used to construct a position.", and arguments are not what are being used to evaluate the impact of technology on society. Despite the fact that Louzecky said that we are all ignorant about the present and future situation concerning the issue of technology and its impact on society, he did state that he thought libraries will not cease to exist in a networked environment, but they may be much fewer in number and staffed with much fewer people. "Technology does do wonderful things, but technology is no substitute for libraries.
Ms. Brady (not pictured), the Senior Legal Council with UW-System shared here perspective concerning the use of email in a presentation entitled "The Law and the Internet". Her basic premise was that "we are in an unsettled state of the law" when we consider the legal aspects of email. In other words, the court is still out concerning the issues surrounding email. The problem is that email is unlike anything our legal system had to rule on before. Is email like a telephone conversation where the data is intended for one person and one person only? Or is email like a business or public record similar to an official institution memo and therefore requiring preservation? At the present time, if I understood what Brady was saying, her office is suggesting that email is more like a business or pubic record and therefore should be maintained in a similar manner as other sorts of records like press releases, public statements, official memos. Brady then alluded to the practical and legal ramifications of such a position.
Eric Lease Morgan
I then gave my presentation, " How to Create Effective and Useful Electronic Information Systems ".
Frisbee golf at Elver Park
In the late afternoon I got a ride from the hotel staff to Elver Park and I played a round of frisbee golf. While I was there I met up with some "frisbee playing dudes" and played along with them. "Thanks, guys." The course is nice and varied with some open areas as well as a few wooded areas. In general, the holes are short. I shot a 2 over par.
Wednesday, June 14th
Paul Evan Peters
It his characteristically enthusiastic way, Paul Evan Peters shared some of his ideas in a talk called "The Life of the Mind on the Information Highway". Like everybody else, Peters acknowledged that times are changing, and compares the current environment to traditional "ages" of society. For example, traditionally we classify recent developments in history as either being in the Agricultural Age, Industrial Age, and Information Age. He delineates the Information Age into three "eras":
- Paleo-electronic Age - populated by the explorers
- Meso-electronic Age - populated by mission oriented people
- Neo-electronic Age - characterized by mass-customization of information resources
The Meso-electronic Age is where he presently sees ourselves.
Changes for 'Life in the Mind' Institutions
Peters sees three fundamental changes in the way "life in the mind" institutions do work. In the area of research he sees there will be changes in the way information is rendered and packaged. He sees information markets becoming more organized and information "behaviors" changing. Teaching will be more continual, more student-centered and relatively open with fewer grades and more certification. Community services will evolve considering aspects of economic development, government accessibility and accountability, community and individual development, and retail/entertainment services.
Peters postulates the existence of an information value chain starting with authors and going through publishers, intermediaries, libraries, and ending with readers. He believes that in this networked environment we should be thinking about better ways to improve this chain for the links at either end and not necessarily for the links in the middle.
We should be thinking more about the people at either end of the pipeline and not the pipeline itself; how can we make life better for the authors and the readers, and not better for publishers, intermediaries, libraries.
If this were the case and if we consider the classic (Western epistemological model) of the information value chain (data, information, knowledge, understanding, wisdom), then libraries would be less in the business of delivering data/information and more in the business of delivering knowledge.
"Speculations about the future, not predictions"
- There will be an "ivory tower" of Cyperspace.
- Self-publishing will be the norm.
- Academic guilds will reign supreme.
- There will be a global information marketplace.
We, as librarians, are in the middle of something big when it comes to the Internet, and we have been to places like this before; we are in a leadership position and he compares us to a canary in a bird cage being pushed in unknown realms to see whether or not we survive. He believes digital libraries are more than digitized collections, and digital research and education are more than digital libraries. Finally, he suggests devising methods for closing the gap between creators and users of intellectual works is our ultimate goal.
Gormon explained the fundamentals of HTML in a presentation entitled "Web Page Design". He described it in terms of it strengths and weakness as well as how it compared to the text files of the gopher technology. One of the most important points he made was that fact that HTML is intended to be a descriptive language of text and not a formatting language.
Eric Lease Morgan
I then tried to demonstrate the Mr. Serials Process to a patient audience amid a number of technical difficulties in a presentation called " Managing Electronic Serials with the Mr. Serials Process ".
In the afternoon
In the afternoon I was inspired by Wisconsin's capital building and its murals, promenaded up and down State Street a number of times, enjoyed reading on on the terrace of the university's student union, collected some water from the lake, and got my year's supply of cholesterol at Smokey's Club.
I believe the conference was a success. It provided insights to some of the issues librarianship is presently facing. Common themes included the Internet/World Wide Web and the role of libraries in a networked environment. The attendees seemed interested and hungry for the knowledge and ideas presented to them. Despite a few technical difficulties, it was well organized and put together. Attendance may have been greater if ALA hadn't been in Chicago the following week.
Creator: Eric Lease Morgan Eric Lease Morgan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Source: This text was never formally published.
Date created: 1995-06-13
Date updated: 2004-11-26
Subject(s): WILS World; Madison, WI; travel log;