CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited
Linking and Connecting in Philadelphia
A Report on: Information Connections and Community, The 2002 Annual Conference of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, November 18-21, 2002
"Information, connections and community" was the theme of the 2002 annual conference of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST). The conference hotel was near Ben Franklin Parkway, in Philadelphia, close to the Free Library, museums and historic sites. Among the topics were: "The Semantic Web," presented by the ASIST Standards Committee and two speakers from World Wide Web Consortium (W3C); a system for compiling public commentary, by a USDA Forest Service team; and a plenary, moderated by Jose-Marie Griffiths of the University of Pittsburgh, "Openness, privacy and national security post 9/11," a conversation between Lee Strickland, a career attorney and intelligence officer, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency, currently assigned to the University of Maryland as a Visiting Professor, and Thomas S. Blanton, Executive Director of the non-governmental National Security Archive. Several sessions covered information policy and the digital divide, nationally and internationally. Others dealt with trends and innovations in scientific communications. The ASIST special interest groups (SIG) responsible for a number of these very timely sessions were the International Information Issues SIG (SIG III) and the Scientific and Technical Information Systems SIG (SIG STI). In recognition they were both awarded the title "SIG of the year."
Three sessions on virtual reference meant that attendees could devote an entire day to that subject. The panel "Training and coordination for chat reference" addressed content of courses in library and information science degree programs, as well as continuing education workshops and on-the-job training. Eight skills make a good virtual librarian. These include solid reference skills, fast typing, familiarity with online chat, multitasking ability, flexibility, ability to use new software features, "listening" skills, plus an understanding of technical and licensing issues surrounding electronic collections. In general, experienced librarians have the reference skills while students have the technical skills. Training needs are somewhat different. Panelists addressed what it means to institute chat reference. For practitioners, chat entails transfer of reference skills to a new environment that demands multitasking, technology troubleshooting, and juggling of copyright and licensing requirements. Joanne Silverstein of Syracuse University illustrated how she solved staffing stresses when a group of AskERIC specialists moved into chat reference.
The next panel treated the open source software option for chat reference, advantageous because it is low-cost and can be customized in-house. Jody Condit Fagan of Southern Illinois University, Sam Stormont of Temple University, and Rob Casson of Miami University in Ohio each had an open source success story. In-house programming capability is key to using open source. Each of these universities has a librarian, an IT person, or skilled students who can maintain and modify the software as needed.
The third panel, organized and moderated by Ruth Fenske of John Carroll University and Penny O'Connor of Cleveland Public Library in Cleveland, Ohio, explored optimization of the online link between providers and users. Marilyn Domas White, from the University of Maryland, reviewed ongoing research on transaction characteristics, on staffing, and on quality by her own group. She also presented work by Bernie Sloan of the University of Illinois. R. David Lankes, from Syracuse University, gave an update on the project, "Assessing Quality in Digital Reference." His group proposes a unified digital reference framework. Slides from his presentation are at: http://quartz.syr.edu/rdlankes/PArchives/VREval.pdf
Steve Coffman, of LSSI, gave two talks in one. He first detailed the technical side of hardware and software for digital reference. What to look for? First is ease of use. Next is support for many platforms, low bandwidth, and standard configurations. In all settings, patrons have a wide variety of equipment. In most settings this applies to reference staff as well. The CLEVNET consortium in Ohio is an exception, as all of the staff hardware and software configurations are the same. Technology should not get in the way of reference. Coffman gave a hierarchy of software technologies in virtual reference. Page pushing is the most reliable, but allows the least flexibility in sending material to the patron. Proxy server technology is intermediate. The most powerful is remote control, where the librarian would be able to take control of the patron's computer. This allows the greatest capability to share material, but also demands a large patron download. There are stability concerns and security concerns. In the second part of his presentation, Coffman challenged libraries to take a cue from commercial call centers and study costs, time, turnover, and consumer satisfaction, in order to respond to changing user behavior and expectations. Fewer people are going in person to libraries. More people want access to library resources from their own desks. He predicts centralized reference centers, "Land's end at the library." This would be less costly than current modes of service. Other factors to consider: the ways in which commercial call centers are evaluated. These include cost and time for call, annual turnover, caller satisfaction, and the biggest factor in caller satisfaction, "once and done." This last item means that the caller is served by the first staffer contacted. He noted that virtual reference should be put into perspective with other modes of service. For instance, the retailer Land's End still performs 75 percent of transactions by telephone, 17 percent by e-mail and 8 percent by chat. This mirrors statistics gathered by libraries. Another question from the commercial world is whether users would be willing to reveal more information about themselves in order to have more customized service. Coffman believes the answer is "yes."
"The new unwired frontier," a technical panel session, showed how libraries and database producers provide wireless service. Tom Terrell of the University of South Florida spoke about the difficulties special needs users may face with wireless access via handheld devices. Joe Williams described the Texas A&M University experience with wireless access in its libraries using laptop and tablet computers, and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices. The most successful experience was with the laptops. Tablet and PDA stability are expected to improve with newer versions of the server hardware and software. One hurdle to going wireless was the physical challenge of two six-story buildings full of book stacks. The next speaker, Doug Rosenoff, described development of a wireless interface to the Westlaw database. Wireless Westlaw allows only a few of the hundreds of commands available to regular users, but these take care of 92 percent of transactions. After the launch of Wireless Westlaw in September 2000, other users quickly discovered wl-w.com, the URL for Wireless Westlaw. This streamlined version appeals not only to mobile attorneys, but also to the visually impaired, overseas users, novices, and to many others who prefer its "minimum input, maximum result" simplicity. Westlaw responded by developing an entirely text-based version of the service.
A Pre-conference benefit at ASIST meetings is the free Leadership Development Program. This year's session, "Being involved in ASIST and staying sane – advice from the deeply committed," was presented by Ellen Sleeter of MAIN (Morris Automated Information Network), and Julie Hurd of the University of Illinois, Chicago. Julie Hurd presented for Candy Schwartz of Simmons College, as well as sharing her own experience moving through the leadership ranks of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. All three women agreed that they became involved in the organization through mentors and heroes. In each case a much-admired figure in information science took time to welcome them and work with them. They felt valued and stayed involved. The benefits include friends and a professional network, intellectual stimulation, and leadership skills. Candy Schwartz emphasized the ability to organize meetings, to delegate, and to reward good work. What allows them to have a high level of involvement in ASIST while keeping up with work and personal commitments? Support at the office is one factor. On a personal level, they emphasized the importance of getting to know members, staying organized, delegating, following up, and rewarding good work. To learn more about ASIST, visit: www.asis.org
Penny O'Connor (email@example.com) is the Assistant Head, Science and Technology Department, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.