InfoTech: LITA National Forum: Practically MindedNov 1, 2011
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The roiling tech landscape for both public and academic libraries—from the rise of the ebook to the uses of cloud-based computing and beyond—was atop attendees’ minds at the 14th Annual LITA (Library & Information Technology Association) National Forum in St. Louis, September 29–October 2. But for all the tech talk, the most stimulating sessions dealt with people, not programming, and the everyday, practical experience of getting things done with technology in libraries today.
John Blyberg, a 2006 LJ Mover & Shaker and assistant director for innovation and user experience at Darien Library, CT, kicked off the conference with something of a pep talk—addressing tech worries but focusing less on specifics and more on library attitudes and direction. Blyberg looks at the storm of new technologies, including ebooks, as opportunities, not obstacles. Today, giant media and technology companies like Google are investing in expensive projects, including library content–heavy Google Books, because that’s the future—and a potential moneymaker. “If you look where the [Google] money’s going, that’s where we’re going,” he said.
However, he indicated, it’s not enough simply to follow trends. In response to an attendee question, Blyberg pointed out that libraries need to be more proactive about technology and strive to be the first to come up with new ideas using library content and infrastructure, instead of having other companies “taking advantage of us.”
Library consultant and blogger Karen Coyle, too, in her keynote, saw a drastically changing technological world. “Some people are very apocalyptic about where we are right now,” she said. She approaches this not with trepidation but with an eye toward practical solutions. As information becomes more and more digitized, she said, the more necessary it is for libraries to engage not with the library catalog but with the web, using linked data.
Despite the keynoters’ calls to arms, however, several sessions focused less on fostering up-to-the-minute innovation and more on making use of existing technologies—for example, using QR codes or Google Apps effectively in a library context.
In many cases, the message was less about the technology itself than about using existing ideas in new ways. A prime example of this was a popular session by Margaret Heller, web services librarian at Dominican University, River Forest, IL, about the Read/Write Library (formerly known as the Chicago Underground Library), an experimental archive of Chicago’s independent and small-press media. The library allows anyone, librarian or not, to help catalog and create metadata, encouraging commenting and tagging. The session later won the voter-selected “Risky Business” prize at the close of the conference.
Cloud-based services were tackled in a session by Edward Corrado, the director of library technology at Binghamton University, NY, and Heather Lea Moulaison, assistant professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Information Science & Learning Technologies. Corrado spelled out brass tacks considerations in his presentation—hard questions that a library tech person should ask. For example, when a library stores data with a cloud-based service, what rights does the library vendor have to that data? If a contract with a provider ends, how, and in what format, can a library get its data back? What happens if a provider goes out of business?
One late session crystallized the overall trend toward pragmatism at the conference. In it, Erin White, web applications developer at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Richmond, discussed her experience dealing with administration when she wanted to implement a new discovery system at the VCU library. When White invited attendees to share their own tips, she illustrated the true benefit of a library-tech conference: real-world information that attendees can bring back to their own institutions. One audience member said not to be a “slave to the urgent” and institute a ticketing system for IT issues to allocate staff members’ time better; another stressed the need to “publicize your wins” when a project goes live—something that’s not instinctual for many tech workers, as projects are often ongoing, and those in the trenches often know how much more work lies ahead.
SirsiDynix’s Bill Davison Named CEO
Library automation company SirsiDynix announced on October 3 that its COO, Bill Davison, had been promoted to CEO. He replaced Matthew Hawkins, who became CEO in December 2010. Hawkins will stay on the company’s board, however.
Davison returned to the company as COO in December 2010, after having previously served as COO and chief marketing officer for the company from 2002 to 2007. (He held positions at Dynix before the merger of Sirsi and Dynix in 2005.) He has also previously worked as COO of software company Alpha Bay and as CEO of the online-education company American Academy.
Hawkins said that Davison’s transition to CEO was “part of the plan” when he was first rehired in December. Hawkins will move over to investment firm Vista Equity Partners, which acquired SirsiDynix in December 2006. He told LJ that he will continue to work in an advisory capacity for SirsiDynix during the transition. Before becoming CEO, Hawkins had been SirsiDynix COO since 2007.
Davison told LJ that the company will continue to focus on improving customer service and the user experience (UX). The firm is also in the process of hiring ten to 15 additional software engineers with information architecture and UX expertise, who will work on merging traditional holdings with digital ones, “making it seamless to the user,” he said. “[This is] an area of development for us.” In particular, the company will be working on new “elegant” ways for the user to borrow ebooks.
Innovative Unveils 50 More Early Adopters of Sierra ILS
Innovative Interfaces (III) on September 30 announced that it has reached agreements with a total of 75 library organizations—representing over 300 libraries—to become partners in or early implementers of the Sierra Services Platform, III’s in-development integrated library system (ILS) due to be beta launched by the end of 2011. The first 25 early adopters were announced in July. Early adopters include academic, public, and special libraries, among them several California-based institutions. (III is headquartered in Emeryville, CA.)
University of San Francisco (USF), for example, has used III’s Millennium ILS for the past decade. “We signed on because it seemed like an inevitable thing that the platform is going to change, and I think we are ready to see a change,” said Karen Johnson, USF head of library systems. USF has also beta tested other III products in the past, she said.
Sierra was first announced in April. According to the latest announcement, III is now developing Sierra’s staff application interface and third-party reporting functionality, among other features.
Other new libraries announced include Bangor University, Wales, UK; Long Beach Public Library, CA; Princeton Public Library, NJ; Sacramento Public Library, CA; Scottsdale Public Library, AZ; Teachers College, Columbia University, New York; University of California–Berkeley, School of Law; and University of Western Ontario, London.
EnvisionWare Announces New CEO, COO
Duluth, GA–based library equipment and software company EnvisionWare announced in late September that it had named its VP and cofounder Michael Monk as its new CEO and chairman. Executive director Scott Fothergill has been named COO.
Former EnvisionWare president Rob Walsh has left the company and is now CEO of independent tech consultancy Excalibur Solutions, which will continue to work under a long-term agreement with EnvisionWare on software development.
Monk told LJ that EnvisionWare’s primary focus in the wake of the changes is accelerating development, particularly on its existing PC reservation system and on future radio-frequency identification–oriented equipment.
The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science (SILS) recently unveiled a new perk for its incoming students: the LifeTime Library, in which its SILS students will receive free web-based data storage space, hosted by the school, for life. According to SILS dean Gary Marchionini, about 90 students out of the SILS incoming class of 150 have decided to use the free space offered—currently about 250 gigabytes for each student, or a quarter-terabyte.
Students will be using an application on their laptops called iDrop, under development for the past year, to drag-and-drop files into their storage space; researchers are currently working on enabling accessibility via mobile devices.
The project, if successful, could change the way students deal with personal information—urging them toward preservation. "More and more traces of our lives are captured in these cyberenvironments," Marchionini said. "As a leading school, I think it's our obligation to not only help our own students but everybody grapple with what that might mean."
Marchionini said that the LifeTime Library is still a pilot project; the first research and testing began in fall 2010. It's being developed in conjunction with researchers at UNC's Data Intensive Cyber Environment (DICE) Center, using open source Integrated Rule-Oriented Data System (iRODS) software. It's even being incorporated into a few SILS classes, including a digital library class led by DICE Center director Reagan Moore, in which students are urged to create applications to help their peers use the storage better.
Library automation company Polaris Library Systems announced in October that 45 new libraries had signed contracts for the Polaris integrated library system in the third quarter of 2011, including Champaign Public Library, IL, and Seton Hill University, Greensburg, PA. The company has signed 251 new contracts this year.
Springer Science+Business Media announced in October that it will be digitizing its entire book archive, which includes about 65,000 books published since the 1840s. The project, called Springer Book Archive, will include the digitization of works by Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, among others, and will become available on the SpringerLink platform by the end of next year.
A collection of 1500 digitized government posters, issued from before World War II to the 1990s, has been made available online via a partnership between the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) and the University of Iowa Libraries, which is part of the GPO’s Federal Depository Library Program. The posters are viewable at ow.ly/6SZPa.