Jill Fenton Internet Librarian International: Impressions from a First-Time Attendee
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By Jill Fenton

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Jill FentonAttending the Internet Librarian International 2006 conference this year was a new experience for me. Not only was I a first-time attendee to ILI, held in London from 16-17 October, but I was also rather sceptical about its audience and relevance. What exactly was an 'internet librarian'? What did the conference's themes 'Discovering New Resources' and 'Demystifying Web Technologies' actually mean?

Wide audience

As I listened to speakers and talked with delegates, I quickly realised that 'internet librarian', like many information job titles, described a variety of roles. Delegates from a large variety of countries were from public, academic and government libraries as well as more specialist research or sector libraries. All were there to further understand how their roles and libraries could and would evolve as collaboration, communication and community technology tools develop, for example Web 2.0, Library 2.0, RSS, blogs and wikis. As one delegate put it, you need to be as up-to-date as your younger staff.

Internet librarians are navigators who employ their traditional librarian skills and new social networking tools to guide users through the myriad of information available in today's open-access society. They are instigators of change and development. As Brian Kelly, a presenter from UK Web Focus who advises education communities, museums, libraries and the archives sector on best practices in use of the web, noted, the age of the internet librarian is a good time to be an information professional. Embracing and implementing Web 2.0 and social-networking tools within your organisation or community will highlight you as a leader of change. Libraries need to attract new users, not only retain current ones. Information professionals need to get the data to the users, not the users to the data.

If you're wondering about what the future holds for information professionals but missed the Internet Librarian International conference, you can pick up insight at Online Information 2006 in London. This 3-day international exhibition and conference from 28 to 30 November covers business and STM information, e-publishing and library management solutions.

The FreePint team will be present for all three days, so stop by stand 122 to visit.

Relevance of internet librarians

As well as discussing the principles of implementing Web 2.0, Library 2.0, wikis, blogs, podcasts, internet searching, digital libraries, folksonomies and training, the sessions also presented international case studies and project examples. One of these was The Copenhagen City Library's use of tagging and instant messaging, and another from The (NSW) College of Nursing's implementation of a clinical information system in Australia.

Several sessions were particularly inspiring, including a presentation from Marieke Guy, Interoperability Focus Officer at UKOLN at the University of Bath, on how to establish a public-sector wiki. Andrew Lewis, from the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, demonstrated his inventive use of computer gaming technology to attract new users and encourage information literacy within the borough's libraries. Stephen Arnold, president of US-based Arnold IT, gave a highly enjoyable and insightful look at 'What's new with search'.

These talks demonstrated how we're moving away from a culture of e-learning to one of c-learning: communication, collaboration and community. Driving every session was the underlying message of change: experiment, share, take a risk and lead the way.

(Unofficial) Themes

With change comes challenges, which were frequently voiced at the event, in particular IT, management, communication and marketing. The vague aroma of Enthusiastic Pragmatism 2.0 followed most sessions:

  • 'I'd love to introduce a wiki to my library but management can't see past the security risks'

  • 'This social networking stuff is great but how do I ensure they're sharing the recommended documents and sources?'

  • 'When is there time to learn, develop and train on all these tools?'

  • 'You'd need several people to effectively monitor a wiki'

  • 'We've only just implemented the last system'

  • 'It's not the technology that's the problem; it's the communication and marketing'.

Although the attendees' concerns regarding these common issues were apparent, the same people clearly welcomed the opportunity to share ideas and hear examples of how others had overcome these problems. Some ideas on how to address change included tagging a 'social networking tool' onto your current system to experiment without reinventing the wheel (again), using instant messaging software between your team and a user group, running a live wiki during a class or training session, or developing a blog and just watching what happens. These ideas echoed the conferences mantra of experiment, collaborate and share.

Conclusions

ILI Delegates<B></B>Considering my initial doubts regarding the relevance of the conference, I found it to be a thought-provoking and surprisingly enjoyable event. The variety of speakers, currency of topics, enthusiastic and practical implementation ideas and general sense of drive was quite inspiring. Some delegates suggested that more non-US examples and speakers would have been welcome, but I appreciated the organisers' international effort. One delegate even commented that ILI was likely to take over as the key event for European librarians as it's so up-to-date and focused. Notably, perhaps due to the relatively small number of delegates compared to other conferences, the efforts to encourage networking within the group were also commendable.

Web 2.0, Library 2.0 and social-networking tools are clearly here to stay and, luckily, do not appear to require a great technical mind for implementation. Clearly we just need the courage to take the first risky step. I look forward to embracing this new technology for my own personal and professional development, and look forward to hearing how my fellow delegates of ILI 2006 have embraced and implemented their own ideas in 2007.


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