Technology Gets the Human Touch at LITA Forum

Technology Gets the Human Touch at LITA Forum

Science fiction met technology fact at the Library and Information Technology Association National Forum, but it was the human factor—community and collaboration—that reigned supreme.

“Technology and Community: Building the Techno Community Library” was the theme for the forum, held October 17–19 in Cincinnati, and forum sessions were heavy on the human touch. Nicholas Schiller of Washington State University and Carole Svensson of the University of Washington proposed adapting game design principles—including collaborative missions, knowledge bases such as wikis, and an emphasis on “knowledge” over “authority”—into traditional instruction. Weiling Liu of the University of Louisville discussed building collaborative web applications in Drupal. Jason Battles of the University of Alabama and Jody Combs of Vanderbilt University spoke about their experiences building web laboratories for their libraries, where patrons can see projects in progress and provide feedback to help shape their development. Dinah Sanders of Innovative Interfaces and Kelly Vickery of the University of Kentucky presented their project on installing a system that combines community tagging with existing metadata at the UK libraries. (See Sanders’ article in the December issue of American Libraries for more details.)

Even science fiction’s presence had a human focus. At Saturday’s general session, Michael Porter of WebJunction presented “Hi-Fi-Sci-Fi Library: Technology, Convergence, Content, Community, Ubiquity, and Library Futures.” (The title may be familiar from the Hi-Fi-Sci-Fi Library music video (4:27) that Porter and David Lee King of Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Kansas made earlier this year.) Using examples from television and movies, Porter spoke about the relationship of science fiction to the actual future, and particularly the actual future of libraries. The makers “are making entertainment, but they’re thinking about what things might look like in the future,” he noted.

Tim Spalding, creator of LibraryThing, spoke at the Opening General Session on “What is Social Cataloging and Where Is It Going?” He invoked Dr. Horrible, the villain-protagonist of the recent internet musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog video (42:26), as he promised not to define “social cataloging.” However, Spalding did share a number of applications for the nebulous technique. These ranged from collaboratively cataloging Dr. Horrible’s bookshelf (seen in the film, out-of-focus, for only a few seconds) to adding to metadata information such as locations, characters, first and last words, or places the author has lived, to tying together equivalent or near-equivalent things (Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens, for example). Spalding said LibraryThing users make about 1,000 of these combinations each day. “They’re doing it to help other people; they’re doing it because it helps them. It’s really kind of remarkable.”

R. David Lankes of the Syracuse (N.Y.) University School of Information Studies closed the forum with a passionate speech on “The Obligation of Leadership.” Lankes offered Florentine sculpture as a cautionary tale of leadership. Masters considered their work to be the pinnacle of art’s evolution, so the education that a new artist received was geared to replicating what had already been done rather than on innovation. “It killed Florentine art,” Lankes said.

Rather than declaring library service the best it can be, he exhorted the audience to create knowledge through conversation. This is “not waiting for [patrons] to come in and hope that they ask the right questions so we can find them the right book, but proactively going out and saying, ‘this is what the community needs to know.’”

Forum attendance was 321, down slightly from the National Forum’s typical attendance of 350–375, but LITA Executive Director Mary Taylor characterized the turnout as “still healthy.”

For more details in the form of daily wrap-ups, see the AL Inside Scoop blog.

Posted on October 20, 2008. Discuss.