Well Information Online is over and I thought would do a brief blog post collecting together some of my thoughts based on the keynotes. For me the strength in attending a conference and the keynotes is the collective thought process they create, not the individual facts and figures they may give. As such, what follows is a combination of my thoughts and interpretations of what was said, as well as their actual points in some places.
For me the conference started slowly and I was not overly taken with the first keynote. Yet, there was some interesting things in there on reflection. I had not given much thought before hand to the effect on content consumption from the traditional media world, the introduction of smart devices had had. That smart phones have created a morning and lunchtime peak in the consumption of news seems obvious in retrospect. That tablets have created a massive peak in the consumption of content in the evening and at bed time makes perfect sense. I myself, am living proof of this. To wake in the morning, check all my social media streams and the news app, is all part of my daily routine. Currently I use a laptop rather than an iPad but of course the behaviour is the same. Viewing stuff in the evening and at bed seems natural to me, where once it would never have even been a possibility.
Day two started much more strongly for me, Sue Gardner from Wikimedia was a great keynote on many levels. Her dress sense created a lot of conversation in a very positive way. She was very hip and brought a sense of confidence and communication to the stage. What she had to say resounded very strongly with me and was a good reminder of what libraries need to be thinking about as we seek to ensure continued access to free content. That Wikipedia is one of the top 5 websites in the world based on traffic, means it has a lot of value as a "product" and brand. This creates a lot of media interest, which also puts them in a position of some power. That all this has been achieved by a not for profit with only 125 actual employees is nothing short of amazing. Wikipedia of course has done this because while it might only have a small number of employees, they have a 100,000 volunteers creating, and editing content. They have 100,000 people who are adding to the value of the content and working as a whole to ensure the content is as reliable as it possibly can be.
This of course is at the heart of one of the challenges around Wikipedia. The nature of this encyclopaedia means that content can be wrong and it relies on the group to edit this content and keep it accurate. This has created many challenges to Wikipedia along the way and libraries have not always been a friendly welcoming group to the Wikipedia concept. Yet, as Sue pointed out, you can't guarantee that the information is always correct but neither should you take that for granted with any source of information. That an encyclopaedia should always just be the start of any research and all facts should be checked. This point, a key point in information research is one that we as libraries should be encouraging not discouraging. We all know that these skills, are the ones that are under threat in a consumption society.
It struck me during the course of Sue's presentation how much more closely aligned libraries need to be with Wikipedia and not adversaries. Libraries as a group and Wikipedia are probably the two largest groups that can, should and must defend the right to free and open access to information. In a society where information is becoming increasingly monetarised, the threat to true democracy and citizen participation is enormous and if we wish to lessen the digital divide, we must be active in this area.
I attended the keynote session "Practical Linked Data for Libraries, Museums and Archives" with an interest but not necessarily knowing what I would get out of it. What I got out of it was a lot. Jon Voss was the first speaker and as the Strategic Partnerships Director for Historypin, he offered a great insight into possibilities with data. This is an area of interest for me as I think about the content my library has and what other content is available around the country and world and how we can create rich, interesting and engaging experiences for our users with this content. We have for far too long been good at digitising content and throwing it up on the web. We have been less than adequate in exposing this data in meaningful ways. The combination of the other two speakers, Roy Tennant and Ingrid Mason, created an interesting and inspiring exploration of the possibilities we have as libraries to make great achievements out of these things and provide rich experiences for our people.
I will admit, that for me, a keynote is as much about the energy the person brings to the stage, as the content. A keynote needs to engage, entertain, amuse occasionally and cause you to think. This is a bit of a challenge with a Skype keynote and it is not an approach that I would generally recommend, however Charles Leadbeater did manage to challenge us to think about the type of service and interaction we provide and how we need to change that for the future. The core message of Charles' talk was that we need to move to a High System/High Empathy service. That this is where the future lies as it draws on libraries natural highly structured environment and weaves this with a highly connected, engaged and responsive service which is what people expect and need. That this is the optimal future state for libraries. This is a great challenge for a profession which while making great strides, still relies very frequently and heavily on its structure as king.
Dick Rijken was the final keynote of the conference and he brought an interesting difference to the types of presentation content. He started strongly by putting forward the idea that in the Digital Society we do not need more creativity we need more culture. His rather amusing, but true example of the fact that the financial sector had been high on creativity and low on culture and this had led at least in part to the collapse we all know, was a very good thinking point. He went on to talk about the concept of teaching and learning needing to have values, ethos and personality. That knowledge acquisition was not just about knowing stuff, but having the skills and ability to participate and be a part of society. To be part of the culture.
Dick then talked about the media society that we now inhabit. That people as citizens participate in this society and both consume, create and participate. This immediately set off my Amanda Palmer bells. Her statement "We are the Media" has stayed with me for a few years now and I repeat it often. Here in this presentation it all came full circle. Dick gave the example of hospitals being confounded because people are turning up now with their own summation of their ailment and possible treatment based on their own knowledge search. This is a fundamental shift from arriving with a problem only. Dick also played some wonderful Funk which was a great ending to the conference.
So, what does all this mean? When I read through the above, the connections between the keynotes are strong and interesting. Interesting at a time when libraries do need to understand why they are and what they are. That consumers have changed and therefore library users have changed should be no surprise to anyone and I think we have all known that for a while. However, I am not confident that we as librarians have done much to really alter the model and think about how we offer service. How we change our ideas and constructs to meet a society which is consuming content in different ways, at different times and with a zeal and energy never seen before. Layer this with need to ensure that future generations can access information freely and that all information does not become a commodity which by its monetization creates an increasing divide in society, and we have an enormous opportunity. Consider how then we can create new and engaging experiences for our users by the use of linked data combining the strengths of our collections and others and with the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and we stand on the brink of something powerful. That our mission is to create a highly engaged service or experience which acknowledges that our users are approaching us with more information at their fingertips than ever before. That we need to and can encourage them. That we can facilitate their participation in and contribution to a media society and I see a blue print for a world I can subscribe to. What is clear to me, is that libraries more than ever before are needed. We are needed because we live in a world where people need to be both engaged and enabled to be citizens on an equal basis. We have the ability to be the beacon of change to ensure that the future is both rich in experience and culturally sound. The future will be good not because we have invented new things, but because we are a society which is engaged, empathetic, rich with ideas and focused on everyone having access to the power of knowledge and the ability to use it in ways which meet their needs and contribute to the greater whole.