Sunday, March 26, 2006

Gettin' my Geek On

Okay, it's no secret I'm a giant geek. If you doubt it, read that profile over there on left, or, well, just read any of my blog entries. I'm comfortable with my geekiness, I embrace it. Let this serve as a warning. It's getting a little geeky in here.

So I spent the last week at the Computers in Libraries conference. Basically it's librarians getting together and looking at the technology we have, and the technology coming down the pike and wondering how we're going to leverage it for use in libraries. Some interesting and worthy topics discussed were things like the mobile web and how to make a library's system accessebile via mobile devices. Of course, five years ago, everyone was about PDAs, and now it seems that phones are the most common way to access the web wirelessly. There were numerous conversations about the best way to organize a library catalog (and the underlying assumption that OPACs suck and they are "putting lipstick on a pig"), how to "surface" taxonomies (more on that in a minute), and how this here interweb is going to evolve over time.

Okay, this is my new leas favorite buzz word in the library world: "We needed to decide the best way to surface the controlled vocabulary." Whaaaa? It's like everyone decided that the word "display" is not longer, um, technical? enough. I can imagine them sitting around in meetings, concerned that they're bosses aren't taking them seriously, because they're librarians, and they need to make what their doing sound very difficult and complicated so they come up with some word that makes what their doing sound really hard. And then everyone drinks the Kool-Aid and suddenly these words start popping up, and in two years everyone is going to be using it and it's going to be common parlance. It's something I hate about my profession. It's like we have the lowest self esteem of all the professionals, no one really understands what we do and don't really understand the value we add, and since it seems like it's impossible to explain it to anyone, we just wrap ourselves in the "mysteries" of the profession. I sometimes feel like I'm in the Masons or something.

The other interesting, though I'm not sure of the best way to apply it, technology I saw was a demonstration of the Croquet Project. It's a three dimensional workspace that lets you create avatars and then interact with one another, sharing documents across the space, creating new spaces in which to work, all in a peer-to-peer network eliminating servers. It was crude, but sort of cool. Of course, as I said, I'm not sure how we're going to use this kind of technology in the library. It doesn't really let you represent information in a three dimensional way, which would be a true leap in how we interact with information on the web, it simply creates a virtual three dimensional space in which to view traditional flat documents. So, a lot of flash, but it didn't truly seem to be a huge step forward for the web.

Finally, the real innovation that we talked about was the Web 2.0 concept, which is the idea of programs that you can use over the internet no matter what your operating system is, kind of like, well, this system I'm using right now. Blogger is a classic Web 2.0 function, along with things like Google Maps. I think that this development in the web is more interesting and exciting than the croquet stuff above, maybe because I see and understand the utility of things like blogs, wikis, and community tagging. I think that these really bring back the community to the web, allowing people to share information in an aggregate form.

How libraries use all this stuff, of course, is the real challenge. I mean, wikis? Cool. How libraries use wikis? Eh, not sure. Community tagging like flickr and Totally uncontrolled and very neat. Utility in a highly structured library system? Again, not sure. Is there a place to allow the community to tag records to allow them to search the catalog in a different way? Is that a good idea, especially applied to physical objects? Not sure.

But that's what I like about going to conferences like this, because they get me thinking about other stuff that's out there, how these leaps in technology can affect us and how we can use them. And then, of course, I get frustrated because in my current job I'll never use any of this stuff.


Anonymous zeus' headache said...

if we (i say we since i graduate summer 07) were masons, that would be fun! i'm all about cloak and dagger!
seriously, i found the geek level of your post not-so-geeky; i spent this weekend at a luncheon discussion pretty much the same thing, only how it relate to houston pub-libs. i felt exactly the same way re tagging with physical objects. many many more dots need some connectin'!
'free-masons run the country!' -the little microbes on the skin of a simpson character
hope i see you this summer!

2:06 PM  
Blogger stalebREAD said...

i have to respectfully disagree with you madam goddess. that thar entry was weeeeaaaaayyyy geeky.

but i think you should run with this masons concept. hell, if you guys become masons i might even try and join the club!

3:00 PM  
Blogger CultureMaven said...

I think that the post is geek-lite to other librarians, and geek central to non-libraians. I also see many spelling errors in my post, which I will fix tonight. For some reason I have a mental block about "they're" and "their" and am constantly switching them.

3:09 PM  

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