Since it had been two years since I’d been to an Information Today Conference, I was really excited to attend Computers in Libraries and it did not disappoint. It was a fantastic learning and social experience with a much more diverse array of sessions than in previous years. I was really happy to see a greater emphasis on instruction and information fluency, since that’s what my job is about. As with all conferences, some talks were real duds, but I got at least one idea/insight/technology tool out of every single talk I went to.

I did not take my computer with me to sessions and did not use my iPhone to Tweet much. I instead took a notepad and pen and wrote down things that I found particularly interesting. My notes are not a play-by-play, but are the things I got out of the conference or the thoughts I had about a session that really meant something to me. I’m happy I was less connected during the sessions, since I feel like people can get really distracted when they’re tweeting and following tweets. I wanted to get as much out of this conference as I could, especially since I’m not traveling as much as I used to. It’s funny how most people have become more and more connected to social technologies at conferences and I am trying to be less connected. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I think I found a perfect balance for me at conferences.

Like all ITI conferences, Computers in Libraries started with Lee Rainie’s keynote where he shared lots of statistics on how people use the Web today. While I love the work that Lee Rainie and the Pew Internet and American Life Project do, I have become a little cynical about the statistics he offers us in his keynotes, because I think a lot of librarians use statistics like these and from other think-tanks and organizations in place of actual research on their own user population. That’s great that so many people are using social tech, but how many of those people are library users? And how many of them are MY library users? Every library really needs to determine the technology use and behaviors of their own patrons, because your patron population is unique, and assuming that what is the case in one place is the case in your community is a huge mistake.

One thing I really enjoyed in Rainie’s keynote was the story he told about a vodcast created by a teenager and her mother where they discussed reality shows they watched together. It ended up becoming a very successful video series, with thousands of subscribers and even more people watching individual videos. The teenage girl ended up using the video to get accepted to a prestigious media studies program at NYU. I love examples like this, because they illustrate how people can build a brand online (while having fun!) that can help them to further their career. Rainie called it “building reputational capital” and this is truly an important currency these days.

I went to Chad Mairn’s talk on Information Fluency Strategies and Practices and got a lot of little insights and some technology ideas I’d not thought of before. I totally agree with him that students will not learn something well unless you have them do it yourself (rather than just demonstrating it to them). I had not heard before of TRAILS (Tool for Real-Time Assessment of Information Literacy Skills), which is an assessment for 9th grade students, but apparently also works well for college Freshman. I also loved the activity that he did where he had students use Diigo to bookmark articles and then highlight and annotate parts of the article to determine the main ideas of the article. The ability to distill meaning from an article/book/website is a critical information literacy skill that is too often ignored in IL instruction.

Chad also creates course pages in Facebook and uses static FBML to customize them. I really like this idea. He also uses an app called Vivox in Facebook to actually have audio conferencing with his students. I wonder if any other librarians are using Facebook for course-specific (or even program-specific) outreach. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to creating a Facebook page for myself as liaison to the social sciences, so this is something I’m really interested in.

Chad also suggests that instructors can use Yuuguu or LogMeIn Express to have students demo things through screensharing/screen control, or the librarian can take control of a student’s screen to demonstrate something. This would be fantastic when working with distance learners, but it could also be useful in the class to get students to demonstrate something you just showed them how to do from their own computer.

Next, I gave a talk on Achieving Organization 2.0. It had been almost a year since I’d given a talk in person, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed speaking in front of an audience and engaging in discussions. This talk focused on why so many Web 2.0 initiatives at libraries fail and how libraries can be better structured and can operate better to effectively implement 2.0 tools and services. My slides are available below, with slides and links available on my presentation wiki.

I didn’t take great notes on the Developing Specific Fluencies: Case Studies talk I went to, but one of the data librarians there who had spoken about training CRS librarians on GIS said this, which stuck with me, “we don’t teach the tool, we only teach the task.” This is a very simple statement, but one that every teacher and trainer should keep in the forefront of their minds. We get so stuck on teaching specific databases or specific technologies, when that’s not what our users actually want. What they want is to be able to find an article or do some specific task. We need to focus in teaching on giving students/patrons/staff what they need to do the things they want to do, not what we think they should know.

A lot of the stuff discussed in the session on Innovative Applications of Federated Search Technology went over my head, but I really enjoyed Ken Varnum’s discussion of how he “made the wait [in federated search] worthwhile” for students. Ken is the Web Systems Manager at University of Michigan and also won the Deep Web contest that asked applicants to describe the best idea for federated search they could imagine (he even got an oversized check – I’ve always wanted one of those!). Ken described how at University of Michigan they developed a system for customizing the results shown to students when they do a search based on their academic level and major. The University has all sorts of data on what courses a student has taken, and this can be capitalized on by the library’s systems. The subject liaisons selected specific databases or journal sets to be searched based on a user’s major and level (lower-level undergrad, upper-level, etc.). So when a student does a search, the system will figure out what subset of the library’s online collections to search based on the courses the user has taken. I think they also do some personalization based on search history as well, but that was a little less clearly described IMHO. I was totally blown away by this idea, though.

Libraries are really bad at capitalizing on user data – search history, courses taken, borrowing history, etc. – because we’re so obsessed with privacy. But we’re at a point where it would not be so difficult to protect the privacy of our users while still using individual data to make our systems more intelligent.

More to come with Day 2!