Measuring My First CIL

By Tom Peters |

Lee Rainie from the Pew Internet and American Life Project gave Friday's keynote address. He's a very lively speaker—mentally I started referring to him as Peppie le Pew—and he has lots of data and facts about how Millenials (those born between 1982 and 2000) think, use the Internet, search for information, communicate and form communities, and believe in themselves and the technologically and media rich lives they lead. If Stephen Abram wants facts, Peppie has 'em.

Rainie organized his talk around eight key realities of the Millennial generation:

  1. They are a truly distinct cohort that eventually (i.e., when immigrants are factored in) will become larger than the Baby Boom generation (hey, he's talkin' 'bout my generation). They are special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, and high achieving. They live with and believe in rules, feel pressured, are very conventional, are risk averse, and embrace technology. They are digital natives in the land of digital immigrants. They have new and different expectations about how to gather and use information.
  2. They are saturated with media options. Nearly half of the Millennials now have broadband connections in their homes. The “home media ecology” has become much more complex in the past 30 years. If Millennials cannot be with the device they love, they love the device they're with.
  3. Their technology is mobile. About half of them have cell phones, and about half have MP3 players. (Where's a good old Venn diagram when you need one?) They are into time-shifting in a big way. Appointment media (e.g., the 10 p.m. local news) have little attraction to them.
  4. The Internet plays a special role in their world. They are not necessarily more intense users. They are much more inclined that their parents to seek info about movies and TV, play online games, use IM, download music and videos, read blogs, and share their own creations.
  5. They were born to multi-task. They expect this. They like to begin a research process by going online and browsing around. They think of librarians as info support, akin to what we think of as tech support. They live in a state of continuous partial attention.
  6. Millennials often are unaware of or indifferent to the consequences of their use of technology. Copyright violations are a case in point. Over half the Millennials do not care much if the content they are downloading is protected by copyright.
  7. Their (our) technology world will change radically in the next decade. We are in the midst of several accelerating J-curves. Computing power, communications power, spectrum power, and storage power are all accelerating. Smart environments—real-world environments—are coming, with chips embedded in door knobs, farm fields, and our clothing. They're techno-trousers, Gromit.
  8. The way they approach learning and research tasks will be shaped by their evolving techno-world. It will be more self-directed, more tied to group outreach and group knowledge, and more reliant on group tagging. Peppie's eighth point got me wondering: Are tribal taxonomies emerging? Will the online communities that create informal group taxonomies develop some sense of techno-tribalism?

There was a huge crowd for Roy Tennant's and Andrew Pace's session on the future of library catalogs. Although plenty of complaints and dirt have been tossed at current library catalogs, neither Roy nor Andrew were ready to start shoveling dirt on the concept of a library catalog. They both agreed that the acronym OPAC needs to be quietly, collectively moth-balled.

Tennant noted that the catalog is a great inventory control system, and it is good for known-item searching. Things catalogs don't do well: any type of search beyond a known-item search; anything beyond books and journal titles in a particular collection; displaying results by logical groupings (e.g., Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records, or FRBR); faceted browsing; relevance ranking; and recommending similar titles.

For Tennant, our current troubles began when we conflated the disparate processes of managing our content and creating a discovery tool. We created, or allowed to be created, stovepipe info systems. We have abdicated all catalog responsibilities to the vendors. We have been slow to exploit new opportunities. We have been reluctant to collaborate deeply on the profession-wide level. We are good at resource sharing, but not deeper collaboration on developing info systems.

Pace said that ILS vendors squander our money doing exactly what we ask them to do. As North Carolina State University Libraries began working with Endeca to revamp its catalog, those at NCSU wanted speed, relevance ranking, faceted browsing, true browsing, spell-checking, automatic stemming, and a “Did you mean...?” feature.

Now that the third and final day of CIL 2006 has come and gone, my impulse to summarize asserts itself. Overall, it was a very good conference. I didn't hear any earth-shattering bombshells dropped, but the ratio of substantial, thoughtful programs to duds was very high.

The key themes of this conference, from my perspective, are:

  1. Library 2.0 (I propose we pronounce it "duce dot naught");
  2. Google and search engines in general;
  3. The shaky future of the OPAC and libraries in general; and
  4. Pervasive, mobile, highly social information seeking, information use, information creation, communication, and community building in general.

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