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LITA Forum Conference Report
Colby Riggs, Collette Ford and Locke Morrisey
The Library and Information Technology Association (LITA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA) held its fifth National Forum in Houston, Texas on October 10-13, 2002. The LITA National Forum is a three-day educational and has become a highly regarded annual event for those whose work involves new and leading edge technologies in the library and information technology field. The theme of this enlightening Forum was "Making connections". The Forum included three preconferences, three plenary sessions, and more than 30 concurrent sessions.
The following are descriptions of the highlights from this year's LITA National Forum. A full listing of the programs including the papers and presentations are available on the LITA Web site at: http://www.lita.org/forum02/index.htm
Preconference: Building Digital Libraries
An informative one-day preconference at the Forum was presented jointly by Howard Besser, NYU Archiving and Preservation Program and Library Senior Scientist, and Bernie Hurley, Chief Scientist in the University of California Berkeley Libraries, titled, "Building digital libraries". Some of the very relevant issues covered were:
a discussion of models for digital repositories;
a presentation on the importance of metadata standards and philosophies including an introduction, discussion of discovery metadata (Dublin Core), digital object standards (METS) and content format standards; and
an illustration of a conceptual digital library model for the new information environment containing an introduction, a discussion of content management strategies, longevity and preservation repositories and access systems.
The following are a few of the significant topics of this informative presentation.
Besser began by discussing how digital repositories are moving in form from being merely digital collections to digital libraries, museums and archives. He stated that as we move in this direction, we face the challenges of access (discovery), sustainability (longevity) and interoperability. A few of the longevity problems he described included the problem of images being separated for their metadata, the inaccessibility of software needed to view the repositories and the inability to decode the file format of an image. He proposed the "ideal" digital repository model would be characterized as using a single search syntax to access multiple repositories simultaneously with one presentation software.
Besser next discussed the importance of metadata standards and philosophies. He described the various types of metadata necessary for the "ideal" digital repository including descriptive metadata for consistent description, discovery metadata for finding, administrative metadata for viewing and maintaining, and structural metadata for navigation. He described how standards and metadata consensus are important. He said they aid the management of digital files over time, insure longevity, interoperability and veracity, and insure that the object is recorded in a consistent manner.
Hurley next presented a new digital object standard called metadata encoding and transfer syntax (METS). He defined METS as an XML schema that is used to encode all the content and metadata for a digital object. He clarified that a METS digital object is often called a METS document. He characterized a METS document as a single file with all the content and metadata, a "hub document" that points to content and metadata files or a combination of the two. He stated that METS is important in terms of providing interoperability to share objects between digital library systems and allows a digital library to work with objects from other digital repositories. It provides scalability so the same software can be used to index, navigate and display different content types and allows preservation strategies by aiding in migration of the objects over time. Hurley also provided an informative overview of the history of METS, a description of how METS works, and the breakdown of the anatomy of METS.
Hurley continued with a discussion of a conceptual digital library model for the new information environment. Hurley illustrated the new information environment as the convergence of electronic information systems and the emerging international communications network, the fundamental change information-seeking behavior created by the Internet and the Web and the fact that information is becoming "ultimately portable". He described some characteristics of the new information environment such as: an increased quantity of information and varying quality, new classes of information, decentralized of information and proprietary formats of information. Hurley defined the digital library in the new information age as being a series of collaborating services and systems that allow for the discovery, display and maintenance and preservation of complex digital objects.
Preconference: technology disasters
"Hope for the best but expect the worst" was a phrase used frequently during the half-day preconference, "Technology disasters: planning for them and recovering from them", presented by David J. Ives, the Chief Information Officer of NELINET, Inc. This preconference covered many practical aspects of technology disaster preparedness including many common sense solutions for the recovery from a disaster. Ives spoke about the importance of having a technology disaster recovery plan. He provided some disaster plan absolutes: it must be done beforehand, be thorough, realistic, up-to-date, and tested. He stated the recovery plan should define the minimum level of recovery and operational level and the maximum level of recovery. The plan should identify all potential threats, all library operations and services affected by the threat, the critical operations that need to be recovered and their priority, all hardware and software that needs to be recovered and its priority to name a few.
Ives described methods for minimizing the impact of disasters on library technology such as performing regular backups of your servers and critical desktop computers, retaining a recent copy of your backup off-site, storing your important documents in a fireproof safe, and maintaining hardware and software standardization. Ives provided an extensive list of data recovery companies and bibliography.
The Forum this year had three excellent plenary session speakers. The opening session featured Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, DC. Rotenberg spoke about current privacy issues including the changing freedom of information environment and the relevant legislation. He discussed the intersection between protecting privacy and access and the right to distribute information. He spoke about PETS, which enables transitions for individuals without disclosure of their identity. He stated that we are at a critical point in time in the development of new network technologies architectures for privacy and access.
Carrie Russell, the Copyright Specialist for the American Library Association's Office for Information Technology Policy, spoke about digital rights management and the relevant legislative activities. She described some recent developments in stronger copyright law enforced by technology, and explained that without accompanying user allowance tips the copyright balance tips in favor of the copyright holders creating significant access issues for information users. She observed that:
hard and fast decisions made today will have unintended consequences for tomorrow;
the government is in no position to develop technology standards;
the multi-functional digital devices will turn into passive playback machines;
the fortuitous discovery and research will be hampered by threats of litigation and uncertainty; and
there is a growing public misunderstanding of what copyright is all about.
Russell encouraged librarians to devote substantial time to digital rights management technical development, to find out what is going on at your institution regarding digital rights management and participate in the political debate.
Clifford Lynch, Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, was the closing speaker. His presentation opened with a brief description of the past 20 years of information technology. He spoke about various trends that are eroding the foundations of the library community and offered future solutions to remedy the factors.
Colby Riggs (email@example.com) is a Systems Librarian at the University of California, Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California, USA, and co-editor of LHTN.
Two papers on wireless computing presented during the Concurrent Sessions at the Conference were in keeping with the conference theme of "Making connections". Barton Spencer, Head of Electronic Resources at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), described the notebook computer checkout program at Cook Library. Jean Caswell, Systems Librarian, and Laverne Simoneaux, User Education Librarian, at the Sims Memorial Library at Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU) described their wireless classroom program.
Barton Spencer mapped out the notebook computer program at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) which takes advantage of the wireless network within the Library and provides all of the software popular on the Library's wired computers. Spencer stated the program was developed because the computer lab was often full and that patrons often wanted to use a computer near various resources throughout the Library or where it was quieter or had more privacy. The Dell Latitude (600Mhz Celeron processor and 14.1 inch screen) was the notebook chosen for the program. Deep Freeze security software was used since it restored the PC to pristine condition with each reboot. Initially, the notebooks were loaned without power cords, cases and for use only in the Library. Based on survey results and user feedback, the following changes were made to the program: notebooks are checked out with power cords and cases; zip drives and earphones are available; and the notebooks can be checked out overnight. Spencer provided participants with a useful list of hints about configuring and maintaining notebook computers for public use. He also recommended the "complete care" warranty offered by the notebook manufacturer because of the amount of wear and tear to the notebooks. Information related to his presentation is at: http://librarian.org/lita2/index.html
Jean Caswell and Laverne Simoneaux described three common library problems which motivated the development of the wireless classroom program at Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU). The problems were the lack of adequate computer classroom space, a lack of funding for the development of additional wired classrooms and the limited network and technical support available. They were able to overcome these problems with the development of the wireless classroom program, which optimized the use of a multipurpose room and by obtaining funding for wireless laptops which could be managed with existing technical support. Caswell and Simoneaux described what they termed the "technologic considerations" in the development of their program. These included a feasibility study; wireless LAN standards; selection of wireless vendors; turnkey systems for the wireless hub, notebooks and cart; network configuration and security; and software installation and PC security. They also described the "education considerations" of the program, including room scheduling, PC setup and shutdown, students' lack of familiarity with wireless computers, change from passive to active learning and an assessment of student learning.
Collette Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Head of the Multimedia Resource Center at the University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California, USA.
Electronic Books and Digital Reference
Usability issues of electronic books and electronic library interfacesBrian Clark, Renee Englund, Ralph Gabbard and Judy Tribble, Indiana State University
Research was conducted at Indiana State University on the usability of electronic books (eBooks from netLibrary) from both a content and an interface perspective. The first part of the presentation was an overview of current research on the acquisition, use and evaluation of eBooks. In general, three large public libraries reported low use of eBooks during different periods of 2001, and one academic library survey indicated that the eBook environment in the academic library is uncertain due to issues revolving around pricing, technologies, standardization and lack of an evaluation mechanism. The lengthiest part of the presentation was an overview of the survey and evaluation methods these researchers had used for their study. They employed the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), the Verbal Protocol Model and the Focus Group method. Their conclusions indicated that students liked the eBook concept but had problems with the limited functionality of the interface. It should be noted that netLibrary was the only eBook product that was evaluated. What students may have been reacting to may not have been eBooks in general but more the netLibrary interface they were exposed to. It should also be noted that Indiana State University had yet to add their netLibrary holdings to their OPAC while several studies have shown that adding eBook holdings to one's OPAC increases use dramatically.
What is digital reference?Jody Condit Fagan, Southern Illinois University (SIU)-Carbondale
The first part of the presentation was to define all the possible phrases and configurations digital reference takes on, i.e. analyzing what the phrase "digital reference" means to librarians. Fagan looked at archived posts to the DIG_REF discussion list over a one-year period of time that mentioned some form of digital reference. She found over 300 different terms that librarians were using. She then postulated about what librarians and students want in digital or virtual reference. She and colleague Margie Ruppel studied why SIU students chose to use chat/IM service at SIU over the traditional reference desk transaction. Her results indicated that the students chose "digital reference" transactions mostly because librarians are/look too busy, they did not want to leave their computer, they did not want to feel stupid for not knowing the answer to their question and they did not want to physically go over to the library. But students also reported that they did not see chat/IM reference as replacing traditional reference, just supplementing it. They liked the convenience of chat/IM reference with the capability of having a "human, personal touch" at a traditional reference desk.
An electronic journal impact study: the factors that change when an academic library migrates from printCarol Hansen Montgomery, Drexel University
What was presented was a case study of the experiences Drexel University went through when the decision was made to migrate expeditiously to an all-electronic journal collection from a mixed print/electronic journal collection. From 1998 to 2002, Drexel University has seen its print collection dwindle from 1,700 to fewer than 400 titles while its electronic holdings have exploded from 200 up to 8,600 in the same time period. Montgomery emphasized the point that the university was highly computer literate, preferred electronic/remote access to collections and had a relatively poor current print journal collection. She went through the methodology that was involved in the planning and management of the e-journal collection and what money was saved from switching from print to electronic (in subscription, processing, staffing, binding and shelving costs). Her conclusions were that operational and storage costs for print journals were much higher than for electronic journals (shelving and space costs) while electronic journals require more reference support (additional librarian positions and staff position upgrades). Next steps for Drexel include adding a pay-per-view option for certain journal titles, outsourcing electronic journal updating and cataloging to commercial sources and further study on the topic with improved data collection techniques.
Locke Morrisey (email@example.com) is Head of Collections, Reference & Research Services at the University of San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA.
The next LITA National Forum will be held at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, Norfolk Virginia, October 1-3, 2003. The theme is "Putting technology into practice". For more information see: www.lita.org.