ERM

ALA 2007: Top Tech Trends

At the ALA Top Tech Trends Panel, panelists including Marshall Breeding, Roy Tennant, Karen Coombs, and John Blyberg discussed RFID, open source adoption in libraries, and the importance of privacy.

Marshall Breeding, director for innovative technologies and research at Vanderbilt University Libraries (TN), started the Top Tech Trends panel by referencing his LJ Automation Marketplace article, “An Industry Redefined,” which predicted “unprecedented disruption” in the ILS market. Breeding said 60 percent of the libraries in one state are facing a migration due to the Sirsi/Dynix product roadmap being changed, but he said “not all ILS companies are the same.”

Breeding said open source is new to the ILS world as a product, even though it’s been used as infrastructure in libraries for many years. Interest has now expanded to the decision makers. The Evergreen PINES project in Georgia, with 55 of 58 counties participating, was “mostly successful.” With the recent decision to adopt Evergreen in British Columbia, there is movement to open source solutions, though Breeding cautioned it is “still miniscule compared to most libraries.”

Questioning the switch being compared to an avalanche, Breeding said several commercial support companies have sprung up to serve the open source ILS market, including Liblime, Equinox, and CARe Affiliates. Breeding predicted an era of “new decoupled interfaces.”

John Blyberg, head of technology and digital initiatives at Darien Public Library (CT), said the “back end [in the ILS] needs to be shored up because it has a ripple effect” on other services. Blyberg said RFID is coming, and it makes sense for use in sorting and book storage, echoing Lori Ayre’s point that libraries “need to support the distribution demands of the Long Tail.” Feeling that “privacy concerns are non-starters, because RFID is essentially a barcode,” he said the RFID information is stored in a database, which should be the focus of security concerns.

Finally, Blyberg said that vendor interoperability and a democratic approach to development is needed in the age of Innovative’s Encore and Ex Libris’ Primo, both which can be used with different ILS systems and can decouple the public catalog from the ILS. With the xTensible catalog (xC) and Evergreen coming along, Blyberg said there was a need for funding and partners to further enhance their development.

Walt Crawford of OCLC/RLG said the problem with RFID is the potential of having patron barcodes chipped, which could “lead to the erosion of patron privacy.” Intruders could datamine who’s reading what, which Crawford said is a serious issue.

Joan Frye Williams countered that both Blyberg and Crawford were “insisting on using logic on what is essentially a political problem.” Breeding agreed, saying that airport security could scan chips, and “my concern is that third generation RFID chips may not be readable in 30 years, much less the hundreds of years that we expect barcodes to be around for.”

Karen Coombs, head of web services at the University of Houston (TX), listed three trends:
• The end user as content contributor, which she cautioned was an issue. “What happens if YouTube goes under and people lose their memories?” Coombs pointed to the project with the National Library of Australia and its partnership with Flickr as a positive development.
• Digital as format of choice for users, pointing out iTunes for music and Joost for video. Coombs said there is currently “no way for libraries to provide this to users, especially in public libraries.” Though companies like Overdrive and Recorded Books exist to serve this need, perhaps her point was that the consumer adoption has superseded current library demand.
• A blurred line between desktop and web applications, which Coombs demonstrated with YouTube remixer and Google Gears, “which lets you read your feeds when you’re offline.”

John Blyberg responded to these trends, saying that he sees academic libraries pursuing semantic web technologies, including developing ontologies. Coombs disagreed with this assessment, saying that “libraries have lots of badly-tagged HTML pages.” Roy Tennant agreed, “If the semantic web arrives, buy yourself some ice skates, because hell will have frozen over.”

Breeding said that he longs for “SOA [services-oriented architecture] but I’m not holding my breath.” And Walt Crawford said, “Roy is right—most content providers don’t provide enough detail, and they make easy things complicated and don’t tackle the hard things.” Coombs pointed out, “People are too concerned with what things look like,” but Crawford interjected, “not too concerned.”

Roy Tennant, OCLC senior program manager, listed his trends:
• Demise of the catalog, which should push the OPAC into the back room where it belongs and elevate discovery tools like Primo and Encore, as well as OCLC WorldCat Local.
• Software as a Service (SaaS), formerly known as ASP and hosted services, which means librarians “don’t have to babysit machines, and is a great thing for lots of librarians.”
• Intense marketplace uncertainty due to the private equity buyouts of ExLibris and SirsiDynix and the rise of Evergreen and Koha looming options. Tennant also said he sees “WorldCat Local as a disruptive influence.” Aside from the ILS, the abstract and indexing (A&I) services are being disintermediated as Google and OCLC are going direct to publishers to license content.
Someone asked if libraries should get rid of local catalogs, and Tennant said “only when it fits local needs.”

Walt Crawford said:
• Privacy still matters. Crawford questioned if patrons really wanted libraries to turn into Amazon in an era of government data mining and inferences which could track a ten year patron borrowing pattern.
• The slow library movement, which argues that locality is vital to libraries, mindfulness matters, and open source software should be used “where it works”
• The role of the public library as publisher. Crawford pointed out libraries in Charlotte-Mecklenberg County, libraries in Vermont that Jessamyn West works with, and Wyoming as farther along this path, and said the “tools are good enough that it’s becoming practical.”

Blyberg said that systems “need to be more open to the data that we put in there.” Williams said that content must be “disaggregatable and remixable, and Coombs pointed out the current difficulty of swapping out ILS modules, and said ERM was a huge issue. Tennant referenced the Talis platform, and said one of Evergreen’s innovations is its use of the XMPP (Jabber) protocol, which is “easier than SOAP web services, which are too heavyweight.”

Marshall Breeding responded to a question asking if MARC was dead, saying “I’m married to a cataloger, but we do need things in addition to MARC, which is good for books, like Dublin Core and ONIX.” Coombs pointed out that MARCXML is a mess because it’s retrofitted and doesn’t leverage the power of XML. Crawford said, “I like to give Roy [Tennant] a hard time about his phrase ‘MARC is dead,” and for a dying format, the Moen panel was full at 8 a.m.

Questioners asked what happens when “the one server” goes down, and Blyberg responded, “What if your T-1 line goes down?” Joan Frye Williams exhorted the audience to “examine your consciences when you ask vendors how to spend their time.” Coombs agreed, saying that her experience on user groups had exposed her to “crazy competing needs that vendors are faced with—[they] are spread way too thin.” Williams said there are natural transition points and she spoke darkly of a “pyramid scheme” and that you “get the vendors you deserve.” Coombs agreed, saying, “Feature creep and managing expectations is a fiercely difficult job, and open source developers and support staff are different people.”

Joan Frye Williams, information technology consultant, listed:
• New menu of end-user focused technologies. Williams said she worked in libraries when the typewriter was replaced by an OCLC machine, and libraries are still not using technology strategically. “Technology is not a checklist,” Williams chided, saying that the 23 Things movement of teaching new skills to library staff was insufficient.
• Ability for libraries to assume development responsibility in concert with end-users
• Have to make things more convenient, adopting (AI) artificial intelligence principles of self-organizing systems. Williams said, “If computers can learn from their mistakes, why can’t we?”

Someone asked why libraries are still using the ILS. Coombs said it’s a financial issue, and Breeding responded sharply, saying, “How can we not automate our libraries?” Walt Crawford agreed, saying, “Are we going to return to index cards?”
When the panel was asked if library home pages would disappear, Crawford and Blyberg both said they would be surprised. Williams said “the product of the [library] website is the user experience.” She said Yorba Linda Public Library (CA) is enhancing their site with a live book feed that updates “as books are checked in, a feed scrolls on the site.”

And another audience member asked why the panel didn’t cover toys and protocols. Crawford said “outcomes matter,” and Coombs agreed, saying “I’m a toy geek but it’s the user that matters.” Many participants talked about their use of Twitter, and Coombs said portable applications on a USB drive have the potential to change public computing in libraries. Tennant recommended viewing the Photosynth demo, first shown at the TED conference.
Finally, when asked how to keep up with trends, especially for new systems librarians, Coombs said, “It depends what kind of library you’re working in. Find a network—ask questions on the code4lib [IRC] channel.”

Blyberg recommended constructing a “well-rounded blogroll” that includes sites from the humanities, sciences, and library and information science will help you be a well-rounded feed reader.” Tennant recommended a “gasp—dead tree magazine, Business 2.0,” Coombs said the Gartner website has good information about technology adoptions, and Williams recommended trendwatch.com.

Links to other trends:
Karen Coombs’ Top Technology Trends
Meredith Farkas’ Top Technology Trends
3 Trends and a Baby (Jeremy Frumkin)
Some Trends from the LiB (Sarah Hougton-Jan)
“Sum” Top Tech Trends for the Summer of 2007 (Eric Lease Morgan)

And other writeups and podcast:
Rob Styles
Ellen Ward
Chad Haefele