Feeling the Curb in Monterey

By Tom Peters |

Last Sunday I traveled out to California to attend the Internet Librarian Conference—ITI's tenth, my first. I managed to fly to San Jose with nary a directional question, then took a shuttle bus past fields of artichokes and garlic, and dry brown hills mad in the October sun, down to Monterey on the coast.

Sea Lions Monterey certainly has continued its upward drift in the twenty-five years since I last visited. The weekly farmers' market is a sight to behold. In addition to most fruits and vegetables, the long rows of booths sell almonds, herbs, art, handcrafts, fragrances, and much more. Monterey would hardly be recognized by the early 20th-century denizens who Steinbeck immortalized in his novel Cannery Row. Only the roguish sea lions lolling in the waters of Monterey Bay sustain the supine flophouse worldview.

IL 2006 Peeps
Monday morning J.A. Jance gave the opening keynote address. Having a prolific writer of mysteries open a library and information-technology conference is a bit unusual, but Jance regaled us with Horatio Algerish stories of her transformation, through pluck and determination, from being trapped in a bad marriage to her current life of red sports cars and private jets. She also sang "a cappella" a couple of songs. You had to be there.

Michael Stephens gave a one-year update on the Library 2.0 movement. He encouraged us to grab the long tail and use the wisdom of crowds to improve library services.

Helene Blowers from the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC), North Carolina, described her library's Learning 2.0 initiative, which began in August and concludes at the end of this month. At PLCMC, they encouraged all 540 librarians and staff members to take responsibility for their individual learning about Library 2.0 tools and techniques by completing 23 self-paced tutorials, covering such topics as blogging, digital photos, RSS, tagging, wikis, podcasts, videos, and downloadable audio. Each staff member who completed all 23 segments received an MP3 player. Approximately 65 percent of the staff enrolled in the program. Blowers expects approximately 40 percent of the staff to complete the self-learning program.

Lynne Webb and Nadean Meyer provided an update on what's happening with e-books and digital audiobooks in K-12 education, especially for struggling and reluctant readers. They reported these students tend to respond more positively to digital audiobooks than to e-books.

Matt Gullett and Kathryn Deiss Kathryn Deiss and Matt Gullett spoke about the two target cultures of the conference—librarianship and information technology—that often are at loggerheads. They reminded us of the third stakeholder group in this equation—users. Deiss noted although both cultures perceive that uniformity of service is a good and definite need, we may want to scrutinize that assumption.

Deiss also described a recent study that surveyed the differences between two "tribes" of coffee customers (the "Starbucks Tribe" and the "Dunkin Donuts Tribe") when relating her point that the external world is thriving on the emergence of niche markets that don't try to be the same for all people.

Lori Bell gave a very entertaining and informative talk about Info Island in the Second Life 3D virtual-reality environment. Evidently avatar demand for information services is gaining on the high-demand areas of sex and gambling. We're number three and trying harder.

curb feelersTuesday was a curb feeler day for me—one of those days that require considerable attention and effort to speak in complete, cogent sentences and to avoid stumbling while walking. The cause of my curb feelerness was not the result, as the 17th-century English diarist Samuel Pepys would have written, of having been scandalously overserved the previous evening with spiritous liquors, but of weeks—nay months—of disrupted sleep patterns wrought by three lovable toddlers and one lovable dog.

Cliff Lynch from the Coalition for Networked Information gave the keynote address on Tuesday morning. He spoke about e-science, which has emerged as a result of huge data sets, professional-amateur collaboration, and federal and institutional funding. Lynch noted that e-humanities and e-social sciences are beginning to emerge as well, which is going to create some fundamental policy and mission decisions for libraries. It will begin with large research libraries but eventually will involve all libraries. The basic issue is what roles and activities libraries will undertake regarding data curation. Lynch predicted, at least in the U.S., a patchwork will develop of disciplinary and institutional data repositories.

I spent Tuesday morning listening to a succession of panel discussions about podcasting and videocasting. David King focused on the possibilities for video casting, showing some of his own videos as well as a humorous short video about a guy trying to open a newly designed can of Progresso Soup (chicken noodle, I think). By the end of the video the poor guy had me thinking that "Regresso" would be a more accurate brand name for that product.

Tuesday afternoon John Blyberg gave a good overview of mashup possibilities involving library data sources, and there was a very good panel discussion about online social networking juggernauts, such as MySpace and Facebook, and why libraries should reach out to patrons in those social networking spaces.

All of the sessions I attended were very good—not a stinker in the bunch. My vote for the most strikingly enlightening session was a panel presentation made by some librarians from the University of Rochester. They reported on the results of a three-year ethnographic study of the information-seeking and -using habits of undergraduate students. When the research team visited the students in their residence halls late at night, they got a real lesson in multi-tasking. When the students were asked to draw and describe their ideal physical library environment, most of them drew comfortable, homey environments with lots of windows and natural light. 

Samuel Pepys Tuesday evening Teresa Koltzenburg, Michelle Boule, Jenny Levine, Kathryn Deiss, and I dined at Passionfish in Pacific Grove, which is just a short drive from Monterey—unless Teresa is driving and Tom and Michelle are reading the map. Great conversation and food lured me away from the curb a bit.

Through Jenny's Treo we learned that Sablefish is also called black cod, blue cod, and butterfish, and through Jenny's Nintendo DS I learned that my current mental age is in the 80s, leading me to the conclusion that I must have the mind of an octogenarian trapped in the body of a middle-aged man.

At this point, Pepys typically wrote in his diary, "And so home and to bed." Say goodnight, Pepys.

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