My Avatar Wears Tight Jeans and 4 Other Things I Learned from Internet Librarian 2006

By Michael Stephens | It has been a whirlwind two weeks. In the space of 14 days, I spoke at 4 library meetings, flew on 12 planes, traveled to Stonehenge, met some incredible information professionals from all over the world, caught a nasty cold, sat on the runway for 8 hours in Nebraska while George W. flew in and out of O'Hare and, yes, learned some wonderful things.

Track for Public Libraries at Internet Librarian 2006My time on the road culminated in a day spent at the Internet Librarian Conference in Monterey, California. Tom and Michelle have already provided wonderful coverage, but I thought I'd chime in as well.

At Internet Librarian, I spent my time moderating the Public Libraries' Futures track on Monday with Jenny Levine. A scheduling snafu prevented Michael Casey from joining Jenny and I for the opening session on Public Library 2.0, but luckily Helene Blowers stepped in and spoke about the PLCMC Learning 2.0 initiative. This was very important to me and its timeliness was perfect. Helene's enthusiasm for the topic and her staff shines through—and again, I urge any library or library system curious about the 2.0 world to check out her program. Many libraries already have!

I'll say it again—steal that idea!

The rest of the day featured compelling, useful sessions for the crowd. One of our goals for the track was to provide practical steps and tips that public librarians and others could take back and implement in their libraries.

A special thanks must go out to Jenny Levine, who co-organized the track and who took the wonderful conference notes this post is based on while I moderated and timed the speakers. Her note-taking skills blow me away. Her IL2006 reflections are here.

So what did I learn? Here are 5 things I took away:

Part of Crowd at Public Libraries Futures Track at IL20061. It's Time to Put Experience First
Both Helene—in discussing the experiential benefits of Learning 2.0— and David King (a dynamic speaker, who discussed creating experience-based Web sites) hit on an important theme: Folks want to have experiences. They want to have fun, create memories, and be engaged. King pointed out some good and bad Web experiences, and he urged the crowd to think about how users experience library Web sites. He also called for a quick turn-around timeline for Web redesigns. We can't take 1-2 years to implement these changes. It was one of the first of many times I said, "Amen!" from our moderators' corner in the front of the room.

2. Go Where the Users Are
This is a given, but oh! was it good to hear Sarah Houghton-Jan discuss where the users are in her session "Reaching Patrons: Online Outreach for Public Libraries." Sarah, using a numbered list, presented 20 tips to go where the users are. One thing in particular in her presentation struck me—Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 are not one size fits all. "Where your users are online might not be where the library-down-the-street's users are online," she astutely noted.

Glenn Peterson, from Hennepin County PL and, speaking in the "OPAC Tips & Tricks" session, offered this take-away as well: "Mobilize" your catalog via RSS/e-mail, Google gadgets, and MySpace..." Find ways to put the library in front of users in whatever spaces they are "living" in.

3. And Know Who Those Users Are Anyway
Another engaging moment came during Stephen Abram's talk on the Personas project from SirsiDynix (where he has the coolest title ever: VP of Innovation). By analyzing data and building "characters" based on typical library users, we can better plan our services and programs. "Discovery Dan, Haley High School, Mommy Marcie, Rick Researcher, Senior Sally, and Tasha Learner" are all personas that probably find their way into your buildings. Are we meeting their needs? I appreciate this most of all because it goes way beyond the "We had 1000 people pass through the door" statistics to give us qualitative "stories" of our users: the busy mom, the browsing-the-shelves explorer, and many others.

Kathryn Deiss and Matt Gullett told us about Library and IT cultures as well as our tribe of customers. They are:
  • boundary leaping;
  • authority appropriating;
  • learning oriented; and
  • inventors of their environments.
Are we meeting the needs of these folks in all we do?

OPAC Tips and Tricks for Improving User Experiences at Internet Librarian 2006 4. It's Time to Build Catalog 2.0
Nanette Donohue, Technical Services Manager at the Champaign Public Library in Champaign, Illinois, charged the crowd to do some things in order to move toward better catalogs. Libraries need to hire programmers "if we're going to embrace Library 2.0," she propounded. Or we need to "grow our own" through training, support, and encouragement. She urged us to support vendors who release the APIs of their software products and support third-party development of enhancements or even "go open source!" She also said we should insist on features that our "power users" (our Superpatrons?) want, "because these are the features that the average user will want two years from now."

Things really picked up when Nanette talked about the vendors. They need to:
  • anticipate users' needs and develop innovative products;
  • look at what libraries are doing with products and implement some of their innovations as standard in the next versions; and
  • understand that no company can do it all and do it well (releasing your API and opening your software is a good thing).
Too Tight Trousers aka Michael Stephens in Second Life 5. My Avatar Wears Tight Jeans (or It's about Play & Games)
I had to get back to Dominican, so I was sad to miss Liz Lawley's closing keynote. Thank the stars for the Bibliobloggers and Flickr-ers who brought the conference to me via my aggregator and browser. I was glad to see the coverage of two days of social software tracks, insights about new tools, and a definite 2.0 attitude. At this conference, as Jenny pointed out in her opening remarks Monday, we were immersed in discussions about Web 2.0, Library 2.0, RSS, wikis, and more—"It's great that we've gone from Michael Casey coining the term "Library 2.0" a little over a year ago to such practical examples in just one year."

Liz noted a bit I do when I'm talking to librarians about experience and play. I've built an avatar and visited the Second Life Library, and I definitely want to spend more time there, especially with my classes at Dominican. My avatar, a youthful, better-built version of me, does seem to wear his denim trousers just a bit on the tight side! But I'm glad I have the experience and understanding of how Second Life works, and I urge all of you to give it a try.

And I was glad to see how Lawley summed up the conference. Play... games... learning... "This is going to change the way people use your tools and think about what they want in an information environment," she said. It's something we need to take to heart and consider as we build systems, Web experiences, and put ourselves out there in places like Second Life.

I want to extend a special thanks to all the speakers in the PL track and to all the folks who joined us in the room for the sessions. It was a great conference!
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