While tradition and continuity are important, conferences need to evolve over time if they are to remain relevant. Beginning with this year's event, the conference once known as IOLS (Integrated Online Library Systems) has become E-Libraries. IOLS had previously been a component of the larger National Online Meeting—a conference within a conference. Now E-Libraries—along with the National Online and KnowledgeNets meetings—operates under the umbrella of InfoToday.
True to its name, the IOLS conference was established in 1985 to help keep the library profession up-to-date on integrated online library systems. Issues related to developing, implementing, and maintaining an IOLS were the key concerns in library automation throughout the '80s and most of the '90s. Providing access to materials held by the library through an integrated online library system was a important issue, and the IOLS conference was a major venue for learning about new trends and sharing practical experiences.
For better or worse, in recent years the IOLS has become less of a central interest for librarians. Libraries tend to treat them as more of a commodity. Very few libraries are involved in their development and rely on vendors to supply them with fully functional systems that need minimal local intervention. Regardless of the reality of those expectations, the focus of the library automation field has broadened from just the IOLS to the larger issues of providing electronic access to many varieties of content.
For the past few years, I've been involved in reviewing program proposals for the IOLS conference. It was a challenge to identify papers and presentations focused on library automation systems—it was clear that most folks were interested in talking about issues related to the Web and electronic libraries. When I learned that Information Today, Inc. was changing the name of this conference from IOLS to E-Libraries, it seemed to me as if the new title was now better aligned with the change of interest.
Pamela Cibbarelli served as the program chair for E-Libraries 2001, just as she had ably done with for IOLS for many years. Cibbarelli is to be commended for organizing a very good slate of presentations. In addition to the sessions specifically scheduled for E-Libraries, this subconference shared the daily keynote sessions with InfoToday 2001's KnowledgeNets and National Online conferences.
My own speaking schedule was a busy one. In the presentation "Creating Resources for Decisions: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Library Technology Guides," I gave an overview of a Web site I maintain that's related to the field of library automation and digital libraries, and the technologies that make it work (http://staffweb.library.vanderbilt.edu/breeding/lgt.html). Not unlike this conference, the content of Library Technology Guides has evolved from being narrowly focused on library automation systems and vendors to covering more general issues related to the Web and digital library technologies. For those interested in developing similar discipline-specific portals, I described how the site uses database-driven content to create dynamically generated Web pages.
The session "Developments in the Library Automation Industry in 2000–2001 and Expectations for the Future" was an opportunity to present both an overview of developments in the field and my opinions of what to expect in the next few years. The theme that tied these developments together was "connecting library customers to content." The changes that transpired in the business relationships of the companies involved and the development of the systems themselves reflect the pervasive trend to expand library services to include more content and to facilitate easy access to an ever-more-complex set of information resources.
Practically all systems vendors have blended new forms of content into their online catalogs and have crafted additional products related to digital libraries, resource-sharing, or reference linking. In the predictive part of my talk, I stressed that we can certainly expect to see an even stronger marriage between library automation systems and external information content. We'll see the IOLS evolve into a multipurpose information-delivery vehicle.
As for business developments, I suggested that we should expect continued consolidation. Among others, I noted that Data Research Associates (DRA) is a company to watch. It's in a critical period now that its new Taos product is finally complete. The company has a large customer base ripe for conversion, although market acceptance for Taos has been sluggish. I reminded the audience that DRA had retained Crescendo Capital Partners last August to assist with strategic acquisitions. The very next day, May 17, the announcement came that SIRSI Corp. had purchased DRA. [For more on this acquisition, see the NewsBreak on page 17.]
A panel discussion with the top executives of the largest library automation companies followed. The participants included Carl Grant, president of Ex Libris USA; Patrick C. Sommers, president of SIRSI Corp.; Vinod Chachra, president of VTLS, Inc.; Lana Porter, president of epixtech, Inc.; and Jane Burke, president of Endeavor Information Systems, Inc. Not only is each the highest executive in his or her respective company, but they are all major innovators in the fields of library automation and information technology. The members of the panel were given the opportunity to comment on the previous presentation, and to react to questions posed by the moderator. The questions involved the scope and focus of the library OPAC, how well the current suite of library standards has served the industry, how the panel's companies regard the Bath Z39.50 profile, what activities each company has related to OpenURL and reference linking, and what new technologies we might expect to make a difference in our field. The discussion was lively and informative. It was a rare and special opportunity to hear the perspectives of a group of high-level executives in the same venue.
On a more practical level, Shelly Warwick, of the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College, described the process of instructing library school students about methods for evaluating library automation systems. Warwick teaches a process based on an analytical review of the features described in vendor-supplied documentation, hands-on reviews, and vendor demonstrations in the evaluation of automation systems. The school has several systems available in its lab for hands-on review. She noted that many of her students go on to positions in libraries where they have to select a system, often before gaining significant working experience. Many students, she observed, end up giving more weight in the selection process to the vendor with the best in-person demonstration, both in the classroom and in real practice.
It's the rare conference that doesn't have at least one speaker who at the last minute is unable to present. Such a circumstance gave Cibbarelli the opportunity to give a very interesting extemporaneous talk on selecting library automation systems. Cibbarelli related a number of practical pointers and insights on the topic based on her many years of experience as a library automation consultant.
Peter Noerr, chief technology officer for a new company called MuseGlobal, Inc., spoke about "Post Processing: Connecting Systems, Content, Services." One of the fundamental challenges that comes with the Web as an immense collection of diverse resources is finding ways to identify, search, and present information in intelligent ways that provide meaningful results. Noerr has done extensive research about this issue, and has developed applications for sophisticated cross-resource search and retrieval. The results of this research are seen in the Muse (multiuser protocol-independent universal searching environment) product now being offered by MuseGlobal.
Kate Noerr, CEO of MuseGlobal, led a session on "Revolution and Evolution—The Future for Library Automation." Joinedby Peter Noerr and a representative from The Library Corporation, she covered the ways that library automation systems have grown to include new areas of content and new ways of searching. The Library Corporation, for example, has recently licensed the Muse technology to incorporate cross-resource searching in its YouSeeMore product.
These were but a few of the presentations given during the E-Libraries 2001 conference. Those interested in more detailed information about the program content can visit the Information Today, Inc. Web site (www.infotoday.com/it2001/presentations/default.htm), where many of the presentations' slides and handouts are available online. The proceedings, titled E-Libraries 2001: Managing Technology in Today's Libraries and Information Centers, are also available from Information Today, Inc. (800/300-9868)
The Exhibit Hall
Although the InfoToday conference consists of three separate programs, the exhibit hall is integrated. A diverse group of companies came to display their products and services, including those that market information products, search engines, news services, e-books, and library automation systems. The exhibit hall spanned two levels, with most of the library automation vendors clustered together on the second level.
In the library automation category, the companies present included DRA; epixtech; EOS International; Inmagic, which was represented by its local distributor, James Lafferty Associates; Innovative Interfaces, Inc.; Sagebrush Corp., represented by John S. Boyd Associates; SIRS Mandarin, Inc.; SIRSI; SydneyPLUS International; The Library Corporation; and VTLS. Those represented generally have a significant presence in corporate, special, and law libraries. In my estimation it appeared that the conference attendees hail from these types of libraries more than from large academic or public libraries.
InfoToday's exhibit hall offers a more intimate opportunity to learn about companies and their products and services than at larger shows such as the ALA (American Library Association) Annual Conference. While some of the companies in the information services market purchased big booth spaces, the library automation vendors kept to smaller quarters.
One of the measures of success I look for in a conference's exhibit hall is whether or not a sufficient number of companies are present so that attendees can get a fairly comprehensive view of the products available. That standard was met for at least the corporate, special, and other smaller libraries. From the vendors' perspective, a successful exhibit hall is one that affords them a thick list of prospective customers. Several vendor representatives commented that the conference was good in this respect. The exhibits were well-attended, though not unpleasantly crowded.
One new feature of the event was a set of presentations and mini-workshops offered in a special Presentation Theater inside the exhibit hall. Two morning and three afternoon seminars were scheduled for all three days of the conference. These seminars were available without cost, even to those with exhibit-only registration. The presenters included Nancy Nelson, Stephen Abram, Bonnie Burwell, Gary Price, Stephen Arnold, Steve Coffman, Rita Vine, and me.
The Vermeer exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art was also delightful. Oops, wrong exhibit hall. The New York venue of this conference not only brings in a large number of local attendees, but also provides great opportunities for extracurricular activities. I'm looking forward to next year's conference already.
[Editor's Note: For more on the other conferences, see Paula J. Hane's "InfoToday 2001" and Denise Bruno's "KnowledgeNets 2001".]
Marshall Breeding is the technology analyst at Vanderbilt University's Heard Library and a writer and speaker on library technology issues. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.