I’ve wanted a blog for years but never found the time to get started. Now with the time I still don’t seem to have (during my 2nd trip to Phoenix this year), I want to talk about the incredible “Inetbib” and the Inetbib Library Conference in Zurich from April 14-16, 2010.
As a first digression, maybe I should explain the name. The word “library” in German is “Bibliothek”, often abbreviated to variations of “Bib”. The professional association of librarians I belong to actually calls itself “BIB”, the initials being short for “professional association for those involved with information management and libraries” (as an approximate translation of “Berufsverband Information Bibliothek e.V.”, http://www.bib-info.de/). “Bib” of course brings associations for me that non-native speakers of English are never troubled by. In German, “bib” sounds fresh, peppy, go-getting. For me, “bib” makes me think of babies or … well, finding myself at the edge of “geezerdom”, I probably shouldn’t indulge in finger-pointing. “Inetbib” was a combination of “Internet” and “Bibliothek”, indicating that it was originally about support for librarians using the Internet. It’s interesting how the pronunciation has changed throughout the years. Those who are aware of the beginnings of “Inetbib”, tend to divide the syllables into in-et-bib, thereby pronouncing the first “i” as a short vowel – as in Internet, while those who just see the name and don’t recognize any connection to the word “internet”, tend to divide the syllables into i-net-bib, pronouncing the first “i” as a long vowel. This is probably also legitimate, but it always sounds funny to me.
The Inetbib mailing list actually began back in 1994. Michael Schaarwächter, a librarian at the university library of the “Technische Universität Dortmund” (for all practical purposes, the University of Dortmund which has an emphasis on the natural sciences, engineering, and education) and an absolute genius with inexhaustible supplies of patience and staying power, started the Inetbib as a means for librarians to help each other use the Internet effectively. However the list quickly became a platform where librarians could share information and experiences, ask questions, or ask for help in optimal use of the new resources and technology coming from innovations via the growing computer and communications industry. It is now an excellent discussion list for almost all topics having to do with library work, especially those touching on information technology.
I didn’t get an internet connection at home until 1996, and my workplace in the library didn’t get its first (dial-up) internet connection until 1997. The sad saga of my attempts to get computer equipment for my library belongs in a separate blog entry. But by some miracle, while browsing through the “Bibliotheksdienst” (a professional journal for librarians) I read about the first Inetbib conference, which was to take place in Dortmund in the spring of 1996. Seeking communion with like-minded souls (i.e. people who agreed that the Internet was potentially important and useful for library work), I signed up and took off for Dortmund.
The conference was unbelievable. I spent the whole 3 days in a daze, trying to take in all the new and fascinating information about what was now possible in libraries. I also learned about the mailing list and subscribed as soon as I got my internet connection in the library.
As a second digression, I have to talk about mailing lists. The Inetbib is amazing and exceptional, an obvious case of people voting with their keyboards. At the moment there are more than 5000 subscribers, and the numbers keep growing. I continue to belong to numerous mailing lists because I like their ease and immediacy. I also like blogs (especially Edlef Stabenau’s fantastic “Netbib”, at http://log.netbib.de/), but I generally don’t get around to reading them until evening or early morning. But one glance at the in-box in my e-mail program, and I can see what is going on with the Inetbib. I have picked up so much useful information there; I can’t even begin to list all the tips. Even more helpful is the fact that the Inetbib list makes me aware of things I need to know more about. The Inetbib list is a kind of non-stop continuing education.
As on almost all mailing lists, some people on the Inetbib behave like jerks – just as in real life. Many can’t tolerate dissent or tend to shoot the messenger when they don’t like the message. I am often tempted to send off the equivalent of “GET A LIFE – IT’S JUST A MAILING LIST!!!” to the list, but so far I have restrained myself. I am leery of anything that smacks of censorship, and I lean toward the pragmatic view that anyone who tells me something useful on one occasion is allowed to behave like an idiot at all other times if he so chooses. So for the longest time I saw no need for anyone to react to rude or insulting posts. Fortunately Michael Schaarwächter evaluated the situation differently. He is the administrator of the Inetbib mailing list, which is not moderated (No one has the time to moderate the numbers of potential postings from more than 5000 members!) and sends off requests for civility when necessary. He has been willing to throw people off the list when their behavior was such that other members felt intimidated. I never considered this possibility, but the last thing I want is for someone to feel so intimidated by idiots that he would be afraid to post information of interest or use to me. I think it is a good and admirable thing for people to be passionate about their work and their ideals. Still, instead of screaming insults, I would prefer people to take on a more laid-back attitude, something like “You have expressed a genuinely interesting viewpoint; I can tell that you have given it a lot of thought and have done the necessary research. Let me explain why I disagree with your conclusions …”.
However, the majority of the people who post things to the Inetbib are knowledgeable, articulate, tolerant, and extremely helpful. The list gives you pretty much immediate access to the experts in the field of library services. You learn what is going on in other libraries, what developments are of interest to librarians, what legal problems are racing in from the horizon, and of course which internet sites are worth checking out.
Due to the vast popularity of this list, people have also gotten into the habit of sending various off-topic posts, generally job offers and news about individual library projects. I think this is a good thing. New graduates and librarians confronted with the loss of their libraries and employment due to budget cuts (or due to the fact that their organizations suddenly decide they neither want nor need a library – this strikes a little too close to home, however, so I won’t go there) deserve all the help they can get in their job searches. Everyone knows that the Inetbib mailing list gives you maximum exposure of anything you want to make known.
Around 1994 a similar mailing list started in the United States, Web4Lib Electronic Discussion, listed as an electronic discussion for library-based World-Wide Web managers:
The first Inetbib conference in Dortmund was followed by conferences in Potsdam, Cologne, Oldenburg, Dortmund again, Göttingen, Frankfurt am Main, Bonn, Münster, and Würzburg, each conference more fantastic than all the ones before. Generally I am one of the first people to sign up for each new conference (I can’t get rid of the panic I felt about the Potsdam conference where they restricted enrolment due to the capacity of the facilities. Back then there was no online registration, and I had to endure a few weeks of uncertainty, waiting to hear if I would be allowed to attend). At first the conferences were every year, but then they switched to approximately every two years. Considering what these conferences have to offer, they are worth the wait, and do require a certain amount of time to organize. Michael Schaarwächter and a team of librarians from Dortmund help the local committee (generally the librarians whose library is putting on the conference) create each new conference.
I can’t praise the Inetbib conferences enough. To be fair, perhaps I should mention one other conference, the Conference of Special Libraries, which also takes place every two years. This conference is always excellent and absolutely worth attending. But the Inetbib conferences are simply in a class of their own, at a level beyond excellence. As far as numbers go, attendance at an Inetbib conference is about 10% of the numbers of subscribers, whereby anyone can attend, whether a list subscriber or not. Interestingly enough, those list members who indulge in mean and sarcastic comments on the list never seem to come to the conferences. Perhaps they prefer the theoretical anonymity of a mailing list to direct and personal interactions.
The talks at Inetbib conferences are always excellent, the speakers are talented and brilliant, and the topics are pure cutting-edge. Occasionally people wonder if conferences are still necessary, since the talks could be available online, and people could make comments via chat, video conferencing, or social networking sites. However, I believe that there is value in getting away from the day-to-day distractions, from the demands of users, co-workers, bosses, and from other things that occupy the librarian’s mind. At an Inetbib conference you can concentrate on the new concepts people are presenting, talk to other attendees and speakers, ask questions, and soak up facts and impressions for future rumination. Communication is direct, specific, and upfront and personal. There are no unwelcome interruptions; you don’t have to make time for anything because you are already there. The Inetbib conference is famous for introducing innovations, for trying out new methods of information dissemination. You never know what to expect, except that whatever it is, it will be excellent.
Anyway, finally getting to the point of this blog, back in the summer of 2009 Michael Schaarwächter posted information about the next Inetbib conference, which was to take place from April 14-16, 2010, organized by the university library of the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland). As this was the southernmost location for an Inetbib conference so far, there was some unjustified concern that not enough people from Germany would be able to attend. Michael Schaarwächter did everything he could to alleviate these fears. He posted information about cheap places to stay in Zurich, tried unsuccessfully to organize charter bus trips from more northern locations, and posted information about cheap flights to Zurich. I didn’t need a charter bus, since this was the closest Inetbib conference for me so far, but I immediately reserved a room at the “Easy Hotel” (not what one might think; it’s owned by the Easy Jet airline, a low-budget airline famous for cheap flights within Europe). I hoped to keep my employer from complaining about my attending a conference in a foreign country by keeping expenses under the costs of other conferences in Germany, and I was successful in this endeavor. The location looked good (Zwinglistr. 14), just a 10-15 minute walk from the train station. Somehow I missed the comment about the hotel being especially appropriate for younger guests, but that wasn’t important. From August on I started looking forward to the conference. I registered as soon as humanly possible, i.e. Christmas Eve, 2009, and ordered my relatively cheap train ticket in February of 2010. From then on I felt the anticipation grow (cue in Carole King).
Finally the big day arrived. I took my usual train from Neustadt at 5:31, got to Freiburg, left my suitcase in a storage locker, dashed to work, trying to get various things done from 6:30 to 8:15, when I hiked back to the train station and caught my train to Zurich. The train seemed unusually crowded, but the crowds thinned out after the Basel Swiss train station. I got to Zurich and began my search for the Easy Hotel. I had all the useful information Google could provide, but left the train station at a side exit instead of the main one. I have no sense of direction, but I can read maps. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out where I was on the map. Eventually I just took off and discovered that I was on the right path and had by accident left the train station at the most convenient exit. The Easy Hotel is indeed perfect for a younger crowd. There is no elevator, something I regretted while dragging my suitcase up 3 flights of stairs, and the rooms have no chairs or desks, just a double bed and a container-like bathroom. There is a flat screen TV on the wall, but you have to rent a remote for 24 hours if you want to use it. However, the hotel did have a very reasonable Internet cafe in the basement. Not wanting to miss one minute of the conference, I left my suitcase at the hotel and dashed back to the train station. If you picture the train station being in the middle of the map, my hotel was off in one direction and the ETH Zurich off in the exact opposite direction. Google maps told me I would need 13 minutes to hike to the university from the train station, which on the average turned out to be true. The university buildings are up on a very steep hill, as viewed from the train station. I needed 7 minutes to run down from the university to the train station but almost 20 minutes to dash up the hill, making for 13 minutes on the average. I dutifully followed the map to the official entrance to the huge building in the Ramistr. Had I taken the “back” entrance from the Leonhardstr. (which had a beautiful view over Zurich), I could have cut a few minutes off my trek. However, the entrance at the Leonhardstr. was where the smokers gathered (how so many intelligent librarians can still smoke is a mystery to me; they have to be in a particularly stubborn state of denial), and so I wouldn’t have wanted have to hold my breath and make a mad dash there anyway.
All Inetbib conferences are meticulously organized, and this was no exception. On the contrary, here we had the additional element of Swiss precision and perfection at work. I loved the main building of the ETH Zurich (http://www.ethz.ch/about/index_EN). Many of these 19th century European university buildings are built like castles with wide halls, magnificent staircases, domes, huge lawns. Today of course they are impossible to heat and for various other reasons somewhat impractical as university buildings, yet still inspirational in their own way, uplifting in every sense of the word, making you feel like you should continue to strive to learn more, as if the amount of things you can learn continues to expand and rise up to the ceilings so far away.
The ground floor of the conference building, the “E” floor had the conference tables and the huge exposition hall for the sponsors and various companies exhibiting their library products. One flight up was the “F” floor where the main lecture hall was. This lecture hall may have been located in a building from the 19th century, but the facilities and equipment were pure 21st century with state-of-the -art media and communication possibilities, including a live Twitter screen behind the speakers’ podium showcasing the participants’ comments. The university library was on the top floor, the “H” floor, giving the circular, two-story “reading” (with all electronic possibilities and facilities) room a magnificent view of Zurich. The Inetbib conferences always provide excellent Internet cafes for the participants, and the Inetbib 2010 was no exception. The ETH library had 4 computers that we could use any time the library was open.
Most of the talks at the conference took place in the main lecture hall. Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Wolfram Neubauer, the director of the ETH university library, welcomed the Inetbib to the ETH Zurich. Of course we already all felt very welcome, due to the knowledgeable and friendly staff at the registration tables on the “E” floor.
Then Prof. Dr. Roman Boutellier began his brilliant talk (you can view his slides at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27133) about innovation management in the world of industry. It was truly fascinating. No one would argue that there is something wrong with innovation; on the contrary, innovation has resulted in healthier, more pleasant, and more productive lives for the world population. But anyone my age or older is familiar with the concept of TANSTAAFL (There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). Professor Boutellier explained that innovation had a lot of benefits, but providing you with more time wasn’t one of them. On the contrary, technological innovations meant that you would accomplish much more but would spend more time at work. The prehistoric hunters and gatherers only “worked” at their jobs for about 3-4 hours a day, giving them a total of 15,000 hours spent at work during a lifetime. They did of course have shorter lifetimes. Today people generally racked up 150,000 hours at work during their lifetimes. Innovation would seem to have given people more hours to spend working, not more hours of leisure time.
Prof. Dr. Boutellier explained that innovations made for efficiency, but much innovation in industry was a matter of trial and error, and most innovations didn’t have much staying power. A creative idea led to a hypothesis which could be tested through experiments and simulations, but various regulations and restrictions would stop the innovative process, his example being athletic equipment. The speed of downhill skiers hadn’t improved all that much because there were very strict regulations as to what kinds of innovations in the equipment were allowed. At competitions they measured each ski. Pole vaulters however continued to jump higher and higher because there were no restrictions with respect to the poles. If they wanted to, pole vaulters could use a cement pole in official competitions. No one stopped pole vaulters from switching from wooden to metal to fiberglass poles, which encouraged innovation in the creation of such poles. You can draw your conclusions about parallels to library work, since there is no dearth of regulations in that area (again this hits a little too close to home …)
However, innovation didn’t only occur in the invention/production phase. Innovation in marketing was also possible, as Professor Boutellier showed with his example of the “Blacksocks” distributor in Switzerland who imported only black socks from foreign sites and then sold them online. Needing fairly few employees, this turned out to be quite a profitable arrangement. Other sock sales companies who had produced and sold socks in all colors couldn’t compete with cheaper foreign industries and went out of business. The Coca Cola company tested all kinds of flavors in many different locations before they came up with the rather limited number of products which then were successful world-wide.
Prof. Dr. Boutellier showed how individual creativity required competence, i.e. practice, his example being the Beatles. When the Beatles got started in England, they were one band of many and not obviously better than any of the others. They played the same songs that all the other bands played, no better and no worse. Then in 1960 their manager sent them to Hamburg where they played together for some 500 hours in 106 nights. This practice made perfect, and when they returned to England, they were significantly better than the others and it was only then that they began to create their unique music. After so much intensive practice they had the skills necessary to produce something innovative and special.
Dr. Boutellier said that there was general agreement that you needed 5000-10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. This is consistent with what Dean Wesley Smith writes about how to become a successful writer (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com). So, the idea I ended up with is that creativity, which requires a certain expertise, can only come after having spent 10,000 hours getting good in some area. Yet, innovation is dependent on creativity. My conclusion and understanding then is that innovations are the results of huge investments of time. The results of innovations however are that you will then have even less free time, because innovations result in your spending more time at work. Innovations steal your time, and with the time you no longer have, you need to spend some 10,000 hours to get good at what you do. Unfortunately, this is consistent with my experience: With every new innovation, I end up having less time for the things I have to/want to do. Am I the only one who finds this state of affairs somewhat depressing (even though I wouldn’t be willing to give up one innovation from the realm of computers or cyberspace)?
Prof. Dr. Ursula Georgy then continued with a fascinating report (her slides are available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27134) about the reality of innovation management in German libraries. She conducted a survey asking library directors about the state of innovation management in their libraries. Interestingly enough, all institutions placed a high value on innovation and innovation management in theory, but in practice they varied considerably. Personnel didn’t always have the resources available that they needed; effective communication didn’t always take place. Librarians knew what they wanted to do, but the structures weren’t always conducive to success.
Dr. Matthias Schulze from the University of Stuttgart library talked about research data and virtual research environments (his slides can be seen at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27135). His conclusions were that research in the future would involve networking, collaboration, communicative elements of communication and multimedia, as well as virtual research environments. Libraries had a role to play here, and the University of Stuttgart was participating in exciting projects (which I am still trying to comprehend in all their details). Again, this is but another reason to attend the Inetbib Conference, to learn about what is going on outside of my library.
Lambert Heller is an excellent speaker, and I always make an effort to hear his talks. His Inetbib talk about new tasks and opportunities for librarians was awe-inspiring. He described librarians as public networked librarians, community technology stewards, data curators, website designers, communicators, and partners with users, both in the real and the virtual realm. He pleaded for more experimentation and less preoccupation with trying to achieve perfection.
I need to praise the sponsors of this conference; after every session they provided us with a huge selection of quite delicious potables and munchables. Everyone had the chance to dash out of the lecture hall, grab something to eat and drink and then converse with sponsors or attendees or look at the various exhibits. Excellent as the talks were, it was always good to have a short break, clear your head, and then go back, refreshed and invigorated, to hear the next great talks.
Regina Pfeifenberger talked about making library services available on mobile devices (her slides can be seen at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27205). Her statistics were mind-boggling. She pointed out that almost two out of every three people in the world had a cell phone contract; worldwide there were more cell phones with internet capacity than there were personal computers; and there were more cell phones in Germany than residents. And cell phones weren’t just phones any more. They were cameras, internet computers, and music players. Already more than 35% of the population in Germany used a mobile device to surf the Internet, and this percentage was rising. Most people in Germany admitted that they could no longer imagine a life without the World Wide Web. At the time of the Inetbib conference Ms. Pfeifenberger couldn’t evaluate the new Apple iPads, but her statistics about the iPhone were convincing. It sounds like smart phones are the future. I have to admit that I still have an ancient cell phone that I only turn on when I want to call someone, so I haven’t given enough thought to the new smart phones that have large displays, touch screens, capacity for running videos or playing games, GPS, browsers, apps, etc. Ms. Pfeifenberger explained that cell phones now being used as hand-held online catalogs have consequences for libraries, which at one time only thought of cell phone as something to forbid in the sacred library halls. Now, however, more and more of library users would be browsing through catalogs with their cell phones, assuming the catalogs were accessible. Libraries had to take advantage of cell phones as communications devices where they could send notices of overdue books, changes in opening hours, upcoming events, or recommended literature and search results. Yet, perhaps the greatest advantages would be in dynamic chats rather than one-way dispersal of information. Cell phones were already being used by all age groups and all levels of education. One after another, libraries were reacting to these new conditions and making their information available for mobile interfaces.
Dr. Hugo Bertschy’s talk about the future challenges for company libraries was especially fascinating, because his company is Hoffmann-La Roche, the famous pharmaceutical company in Basel, Switzerland. You can see his slides at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27206
His information about the inner workings of a major pharmaceutical company was even more fascinating than the information of how his library adapted to the changes in the company’s changing information needs (replacing much of its physical media with an e-library, digitalizing print media, managing information requests with speedy electronic resources, etc.). The fate of the library was of course influenced or even determined by the challenges that the company had faced in the past few years. For the new building in Basel, back in 1998 they originally planned 5 floors just for the library. By 2003 the library only used 3 floors; by 2007 the physical library space was almost invisible, reduced to workplaces for library staff, since the demand for electronic documents far exceeded that for print materials. I’m guessing that this isn’t necessarily the future of all libraries and library buildings, but it is also a trend that shouldn’t be ignored.
Dr. Bertschy said that the library was forced to deal with reality. In the area of pharmacology, as in the natural sciences, e-Journals along with commercial databases had become the predominant sources of information. Researchers no longer had the time to make leisurely strolls to the library; they had to have the information they needed at their fingertips where they worked. Dr. Bertschy explained that Hoffmann-La Roche was located in 150 countries on all the continents, employing 81.5000 people. Gross earnings in 2009 were over 49 billion Swiss francs (at the moment approximately $48.4 billion).
But this success had its price and had been dependent on the expensive research and development model Hoffmann-La Roche implemented. Research began with selection of a goal, proceeded through determining feasibility and proof of concept, and then arrived at calculating cost/benefits. At this point they produced the medication, and extensive clinical tests followed. Only after the product showed its efficacy and side-effects had been documented, could Hoffmann-La Roche enter the marketing phase, determining where the product could be sold and at which price. The whole process depended on timely availability of information. The library had to provide this needed information and had to be flexible enough to change its means of information search and delivery as technology offered new possibilities. For Hoffmann-La Roche that meant switching to electronic delivery and submission of information, providing access to databases and e-journals, and dealing with all the respective questions of licensing, patents, certification, permission, and copyright. These library services removed hurdles and freed up researchers to concentrate on the research and development process. The library managed the interface between the researchers in Hoffmann-La Roche and the information to be found outside the company. The librarian became the company specialist for efficient information acquisition. The library no longer consisted of rooms and rooms of print volumes, but it had to provide immediate access to information to be found anywhere on the planet.
Impressive as this vision of library work is, I found the accompanying details about the inner workings of a huge pharmaceutical concern fascinating. I wonder why these companies don’t do a better job of explaining just how expensive and complicated it is to develop new medicine. I can appreciate the desire to keep their research secret so that competitors don’t steal from them, but I think the pharmaceutical companies lose in the long run when people don’t have any idea of what is involved in developing new medications and think that prices of medicine are arbitrary and not the result of legitimate research and development costs. I certainly had no idea how expensive it is to come up with one new medicine that is safe for people to take. Keeping information about the process of developing new medicine under wraps makes the pharmaceutical companies look like the bad guys who are just out to gouge poor sick people for all they can steal from them. The truth is much more complex. This lack of transparency on the part of the pharmaceutical companies has unfortunate results. In the United States people give up and don’t take medicines that could help them because they just can’t come up with the money to pay for them. In Germany otherwise intelligent, sensible people decide that they will rely on untested, useless homeopathic placebos instead of medicine with proven track records, professing a lack of trust in any multinational company that uses supposedly evil chemicals (Aarg! Everything consists of chemicals, and they are all morally neutral; all that matters is documented efficacy or lack thereof. But that diatribe is a topic for a different blog.) I don’t understand any of this. The uncomfortable facts are that it costs huge amounts of money to create effective pharmaceutical products and that homeopathy is nothing more than wishful thinking that keeps people from getting effective treatment. But the pharmaceutical companies are at fault for not educating the public more effectively about exactly what they do and why it costs so much.
Christof Niemann’s talk (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27150) investigating the effectiveness of collaborative tagging as a new form of subject indexing, was fascinating. He showed how the sheer amount of information available continued to grow exponentially, and old methods of organizing this information (careful analysis by educated experts who then assigned subject headings from a predetermined thesaurus) couldn’t keep up. Purely mechanical “quick and dirty” indexing was efficient but not effective. Letting enthusiastic users assign imaginative tags to all available media provided creative but chaotic results. The amount of information continued to grow, and the needed information often couldn’t be found. I wonder if encouraging users to tag pieces of information will turn out to be an inefficient but effective solution to the flood of information we are all confronted with. I doubt that any top-down solution will work anymore, and no one can tame the chaos that is the Internet. I myself prefer having too much information to too little anyway.
Andreas Neumann’s description of the new mobile catalog of the Bavarian State Library – BSB – (his slides are available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27156) showed how the BSB is responding to the new realities of communication. The BSB noticed that more and more users wanted to access library catalogs via cell phones. The beautiful online catalog that worked so well when accessed by a PC was often a source of frustration when accessed by a cell phone. Users didn’t want to spend all their time scrolling down one entry when they would rather be searching the entire catalog. So the BSB developed apps changing the appearance of their online catalog and making it easily accessible and utilizable on cell phones, making allowances for the limitations cell phones have as opposed to PC’s. The BSB quickly became a true forerunner in delivering information to its users. I think libraries will have to follow this good example. More and more people access the Internet via cell phones, a trend unlikely to change in the near future. Libraries, if they want to remain relevant, have to keep finding new ways to communicate with their users. This talk illustrates just one of the reasons to attend an Inetbib conference. You get to see the exciting things real libraries are doing (and what you wish you could do …) Real libraries are constantly finding new ways to reach their users, trying every new technology that shows any promise.
This ended the first exhilarating and exhausting day at the Inetbib 2010. We were inundated with information that we tried to process and save, having seen the future of library work but realizing that the future is already here. At 6:30 p.m. the nice Citavi people (http://www.citavi.com/) sponsored a reception for us in the huge exhibit area. This is always a welcome opportunity to reconnect with people you only see at Inetbib conferences, to talk to some of the speakers, and to just soak up the enthusiasm and exuberance surrounding you. I only stayed about an hour though, because I am a morning person, and it had been a long day.
Thursday began with Prof. Dr. Hans-Christoph Hobohm’s talk on “technology radar” (slides available at http://prezi.com/18u-xj2aw-fp/technologie-radar-inetbib-15042010/) where he described a project that investigated innovative use of technology in libraries. If Prof. Hobohm is speaking anywhere, it’s worth your time to hear what he has to say. I’ve been a fan of his ever since the 2nd Inetbib Conference his Department of Information Science at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam put on back in 1997. His excellent talk reflecting on technological trends that have relevance for libraries was followed by a lively panel discussion about the topic of navigating the “information jungle”.
After these events, I took advantage of some of the tours offered. For the rest of the morning I went on a tour of the exceptional and impressive ETH library (http://www.ethbib.ethz.ch/en). As one of the leading libraries in the fields of natural sciences and technology, it focuses on speed and accuracy of information searches. More and more of the library’s resources are electronic, and the library is digitalizing its collection as fast as possible. It looks like the future of library work is already here in the magnificent ETH library.
I no doubt missed out on some excellent talks, but did manage to catch Tobias Viegener’s talk about the Swissbib, the “metacatalog” for Swiss libraries (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27262). He explained that the Swissbib was a project encouraging cooperation among the university libraries in Switzerland and the Swiss National Library. I agree that cooperation is obviously the only way to go (if only for financial reasons), and it is always fascinating to see what solutions to the challenges different regions come up with. The Swissbib offers quick, simple and comprehensive access to information in the cooperating libraries. I’m impressed. They should be very proud of this catalog.
Thursday the generous sponsors provided a delicious and bountiful lunch. Again this was a pleasant opportunity to shoot the breeze with new and old friends and acquaintances and otherwise eavesdrop on conversations various experts conducted with the speakers.
After the noon break I went on a tour of the Max Frisch archives (Max Frisch was a highly respected and renown Swiss author – for a quick reference, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Frisch), in the special collections section of the ETH library. I’m happy to have had this opportunity but of course missed out on no doubt excellent talks by several of the sponsoring companies. However, I made a point of visiting their stands in the exhibition area.
After the break Dr. Peter Kostädt talked about his study of user behavior on the web gateway of the library of the University of Cologne (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27153). They wanted to know just how many of the users accessed the online catalog, how they accessed it, how they performed their searches, how often they searched for electronic documents, and whether scanned tables of contents available online were used or whether a link to Google Books was sufficient. This insight into the inner workings of the gateway and to the user statistics generated was fascinating as was the screenshot of the actual user interface. Again, it’s impossible not to get jealous when you see what great things other libraries are doing. This is a very worthwhile project and the users of this library should be very grateful.
Then Dr. Wolfram Neubauer introduced the web gateway – knowledge portal- of the ETH university library which offers retrieval of vast information via a single point of access. (http://www.library.ethz.ch/en/). This knowledge portal is yet another highly impressive accomplishment for the ETH library, and Dr. Neubauer’s talk was superbly entertaining! Now all I need is time to check out this website, keeping in mind that the knowledge portal is willing to search through 28,875,812 documents (at last count).
Johann Brandauer and Viktor Babitchev showed how the network of libraries in Austria used a commercial search engine for information searches within the more than 70 partner libraries in the network.
Every Inetbib conference introduces at least one new kind of presentation. This year they tried the idea of 5-minute talks, complete with a loud and very visible timer that made a truly unpleasant and intrusive loud noise once the 5 minutes were up. Most of the speakers however finished with seconds left to spare, disappointing those who hoped to hear the noise. I assumed this 5-minute talk thing was a kind of gimmick, but I was wrong. This was a highly entertaining, informative, and successful method of information dissemination, due naturally to the talents and hard work of the expert speakers.
Oliver Thiele began with a presentation of how Library Thing is used at the Central Library of Zurich (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27151). Arlette Piguet talked about using E-Citations for the publication pool at the ETH library (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27233). Angela Gastl talked about the Swiss Digital Object Identifier registration project encouraging the use of persistent identifiers at the ETH Zurich for all Swiss university libraries (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27232). Sabine Wolf talked about the E-PICS projects at the ETH library for archiving graphics (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27237). Dr. Franziska Geisser talked about the Swiss e-rara project for creating digital copies of scanned Swiss print works of the 16th centuries (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27236). Miguel Moreira talked about the Multivio project. Prof. Dr. René Schneider talked about the RODIN project for information gateways offering the possibility to choose types of searches and desired results of the search, i.e. books, pictures, maps, online resources (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27165). Rahel Birri Blezon talked about the Accept project evaluating use and usefulness of digital services in Swiss libraries (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27234)
These 5-minute presentations were uniformly excellent, lively, and entertaining, and I hope that the format will be repeated at future Inetbib conferences. But I have to admit that I was grateful to be able to look at the slides at my leisure after the conference was over. It was a little strenuous trying to remember all the information that came at such a fast and almost explosive pace.
Thursday ended with the wildly popular evening event of the Inetbib conference. I don’t always go to them (for a variety of reasons: I’m a morning person who falls asleep by 10 p.m., and these events often last until the wee hours of the morning; I don’t drink alcohol, so wine tasting events aren’t my can of cola; I’m getting to the age when I think that life is too short to spend any amount of time in uncomfortable clothes), but I knew I didn’t want to miss out on this one. The evening meal with entertainment took place at the focusTerra, the Earth Science Research and Information Center of the ETH Zurich http://www.focusterra.ethz.ch/index_EN). This is an incredible hands-on museum of earth sciences with several extensions into the realm of astronomy, considering the Earth in its place in the current and past universe. I could have spent many more hours wandering around the place (fortunately I got there early), looking at the stones and the geological history exhibits, but I was hungry, and the food was as excellent as it was plentiful. This was yet another opportunity to get to know new colleagues and soak up useful information (how people do things in their libraries). I stayed until my eyes literally started closing on me.
Thursday evening we started hearing news about some volcano or other with an unpronounceable name that had erupted in Iceland. By Friday it was obvious that this eruption would have consequences for flights and airports in Europe. I noticed that many more colleagues were using the Internet Cafe in the ETH library on Friday morning than ever before. They all talked about checking flight connections. It didn’t look likely that anyone would be able to fly out of Zurich on Friday afternoon. Many colleagues from northern Germany had indeed found cheap flights to Zurich and had been hoping and planning to fly home, but as the hours went by, this seemed less and less likely. This uncertainty created an atmosphere of growing tension.
Friday began with an analysis of posts to the Inetbib mailing list from April 2008 to February 2010 by Irene Barbers, Heike Gennermann and Sabine Hack (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27157). Most of the posts turned out to be theoretically “off topic” for the purpose of the Inetbib (often job openings), which didn’t surprise me. If you want the greatest possible audience for a message to libraries and librarians, the Inetbib is your best bet with over 5000 subscribers, many of whom forward posts to others who might be interested in them. The analysis showed that many topics appearing in the Inetbib mailing list were first introduced in library blogs but reached vastly greater distribution in the Inetbib. Many librarians couldn’t always make the time to read all available blogs but could keep an eye on their inboxes for interesting messages from the Inetbib. The Inetbib offered an easy and efficient way to participate in discussions. The Inetbib conferences generally tended to showcase topics from the mailing list.
Patrick Danowski, a brilliant young librarian I have been admiring for a few years now, offered a few thoughtful predictions for the near future, briefly but succinctly discussing the iPad, iPhone, augmented reality, Google Wave, Google Buzz, search engine technology, linked data, and open access and their relevance for library work.
Then there was another round of 5-minute talks. Dr. Rudolf Mementhaler talked about mobile devices, 12 years of e-readers from the Rocketbook to the iPad, and visions for the future, reflecting on business models for distribution of publications on e-readers, and finishing with speculations about how libraries have to react, since they dare not wait (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27238). Christian Hauschke talked about the semantic web, linked data, and open data (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27158). Andreas Kahl discussed Google Wave with respect to university libraries and collaborative research (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27155). Till Kinstler talked about sorting search results effectively (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27154). Gerald Steilen talked about informative architecture in displaying search results (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27152).
I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to stay on Friday morning, as I had to catch a train to get me back to Freiburg by 3 p.m. (I had made a few foolish promises about returning to work and supplying people with materials on Friday afternoon). Gradually it occurred to me that if people couldn’t leave Zurich by plane, the trains might get a little crowded. During the break between the 5-minute talks and the next longer talks I had the great fortune to be able to talk to Edlef Stabenau, one of the library experts (and founder of the outstanding library blog Netbib) I have long worshiped from afar. Since I am willing to take some risks, I have asked many librarians to be my Facebook friend, none of whom have disappointed me. Edlef Stabenau was nice enough to take the time to talk to me, since we were “friends”, even though he was thinking about the talk he was scheduled to give a half an hour later.
After the break Jessica Euler talked about using microblogs like Twitter as an instrument for library public relations (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27164). I’ve used Twitter for a year now, so she didn’t have to convince me. Unfortunately there are other factors that keep me from creating an account for our library (but that’s a topic for another blog, preferably after I retire).
Then Christian Hauschke and Edlef Stabenau gave their talk about competence in Web 2.0, i.e. social networking and library services (slides available at http://hdl.handle.net/2003/27239). They analyzed current use of Web 2.0 tools in libraries, encouraged more extensive use, and mentioned the hurdles that keep libraries from making effective use of social networking tools. Then they showed good and “interesting” examples of how libraries have used the Web to inform users about library services (referring to the memorable t-shirts exhorting users to “F*** Google, ask me!”, i.e. the librarian). Their point, well documented and persuasive, was that libraries simply had to do more to stay in communication with their users and to meet the users where the users needed them. They feel it’s time to jump into the deep end and teach yourself to swim instead of continuing long philosophical discussions about swimming while standing at the edge of the pool (my comparison, not theirs). Libraries had nothing to lose except some time (unfortunately a factor considering insufficient staffing at all libraries) and everything to gain with respect to more effective library services. Keeping in mind the usual risk of making comparisons, I still have to say that this brilliant presentation is the best talk I have ever attended. This talk alone was worth coming to the Inetbib in Zurich. The amazing thing is that all the other talks were almost just as wonderful.
It was getting late, and I was calculating the minutes I needed to run down to the train station and catch my train, but fortunately I decided that I could stay for the description of the “workshop for the future” (“Zukunftswerkstatt”, http://www.zukunftswerkstatt.org/). I was familiar with the “Zukunftswerkstatt” from other library conferences, and I found the idea intriguing. Its members want to encourage organization and institutions to make use of new platforms and technologies, sooner rather than later, especially in the areas of knowledge or cultural transfer. They encourage people to simply try things out (and not wait until there is time …). They feel that especially libraries should plunge into new technologies, even if these technologies have a short shelf life, because everything has a short shelf life today, but you have to meet the users where they are and with the technology they use. You can’t wait for the perfect, permanent technology for information dissemination, because it will never come. This entertaining talk (slides available at http://www.slideshare.net/zw09/zukunftswerkstatt-inetbib-2010) was thoroughly persuasive. The presentation Julia Bergmann, Christoph Deeg, and Jin Tan created was highly imaginative, and their enthusiasm was immediately contagious. One of the points they made was encouraging libraries to use all technological possibilities for improving services and user access, especially those that perhaps no one had considered with respect to libraries and librarians. I’m not much of a gamer, even though naturally computer and online games play a growing role in the science fiction and fantasy worlds, but these kids (from my perspective – anyone at least 30 years younger than I am is a kid) convinced me that libraries have to get into more hands-on services and need to consider tech gaming possibilities for library services.
I thought it was great that these kids were so justifiably passionate about their “Zukunftswerkstatt”. Their presentation truly made you want to go home and immediately implement all kinds of social networking tools and new technology in your library. I couldn’t stay for most of the discussion that continued after this presentation, but I do have to express my disagreement with the criticisms that Han Wätjen expressed. Don’t get me wrong; I think the world of Han Wätjen and still have fond memories of the fantastic Inetbib conference he organized for us in Oldenburg. He is also a brilliant speaker in his own right, just a little more low-key than these kids. He is entitled to his opinion and even to comparing Christoph Deeg’s speaking style to that of a TV evangelist, but I think this is wrongheaded. Why indeed should these nice kids hide the fact that they think something is good, worth considering, and even fun? I don’t see anything wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve. There is a place for passion in library work and certainly at Inetbib conferences. Encountering the enthusiasm of youth and its willingness to try new things, is but one of the many benefits of Inetbib conferences.
The train back to Basel was very crowded, because indeed no planes were leaving from Zurich. I hope everyone got home somehow. Back in my office, I was immediately inundated with the familiar minutiae of my job, feeling like Dorothy having returned not entirely willingly to Kansas. Fortunately the inner glow from the Inetbib never disappears, and I can hope that there will be another Inetbib conference soon (Michael Schaarwächter is significantly younger than I am, so there is reason to hope that he will continue to organize conferences until I retire – in 6 years and 3 months).
What’s left to say? I had 3 magical days in the merry, old land of Inetbib (returning to the Oz comparison). Thank you to everyone involved!
September 7, 2010