LITA Forum Speakers Make the Case for Mobile

October 26, 2009

After the opening session at ALA’s Library and Information Technology Association National Forum, held in Salt Lake City October 1–4, American Libraries caught up with LITA Past President Andrew Pace, who said there’s a lot of work involved in diversifying the keynote topics. Each is chosen to strike a balance between “fact, fun, and fancy,” he said.

Opening keynoter Joan Lippincott, associate director of the Coalition for Networked Information, delivered a speech full of convincing fact to support libraries’ need to go mobile. “Eighty-and-a-half percent of college students today own a laptop,” she began; five years ago that number was less than 50%. “Sixty-six percent of them own internet-capable cell phones,” she continued.

For at least a short time after Dan Brown’s new novel The Lost Symbol came out, e-book sales topped print sales on Amazon, she also noted, although she admitted that the statistic was problematic.

Devices, apps, strategy

Lippincott’s talk set the tone for the weekend’s in-depth look at mobile technology in libraries. The conference theme, “Open and Mobile,” brought about 250 techie librarians together (an intimate gathering that was multiplied many times over through streaming video, mobile apps, and ad hoc tweeting) to explore libraries’ need to develop a mobile strategy at presentations on cloud computing, the future of IT, open source software, cool new gadgets, and keynote speaker David Weinberger’s engaging talk on “Knowledge in the Age of Abundance.”

Whether they like it or not, librarians will soon have to go mobile with their library’s data, the presenters continually showed. And as the functions of mobile devices continue to converge, the need to mobilize will only increase. Nonetheless, patrons will still need librarians, Lippincott said, paraphrasing Cokie Roberts in her AL interview: “The library might be ‘in the cell phone,’ but we need the people in the building to put the library there.”

Abundant knowledge

Weinberger—Saturday morning keynote speaker, author, and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society—echoed Lippincott and Roberts, saying, “Knowing the world means understanding the chaos and seeing the meaning.” We’ve entered the Age of Abundance, as Weinberger calls it, where the old ways of reducing knowledge to a few data points and paring content down to a few basic bullet points have given way to an age where there is simply too much information to handle.

The Age of Abundance has blown apart simplicity, settledness, and scarcity of knowledge, giving way to more transparency through hyperlinking. While Weinberger said this is mainly good, he was quick to point out four ways in which abundance of information makes us stupid-which also provide four areas of opportunity for librarians to intercede: We can’t find information; the digital divide is getting worse as the skill set needed to function in a digital environment grows; we stay within our comfort zones and therefore don’t expand our ideas beyond what we already know or believe; and we’re lazy by nature, often forgoing the rich discourse possible with features of the web like Wikipedia’s “Talk” pages.

Designing for the cloud

One of the more lively discussions at the LITA Forum this year was also a good preview for next year’s conference. Ken Fujiuchi from Buffalo (N.Y.) State College and Kathryn Frederick from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, offered a preview of next year’s topics in their talk “Designing Library Services for the Cloud.”

“We don’t want to trust the cloud, but we’re sucked in anyway,” said Fujiuchi, who gave plenty of evidence for how libraries are using the cloud and how collaborating there would only rise as patrons expect more efficient, portable, and flexible services.