Saturday, June 18, 2011

German Library Conference in Berlin

The German Library Conference (Bibliothekartag auf Deutsch) took place last week in Berlin at the Estrel Conference Center in the (far) south east corner of Berlin. The theme of the conference was “Libraries for the Future; the Future for Libraries” and as the theme implies German libraries are aware that the information world is changing in ways that they cannot simply ignore. A friend describes the conference as a purely incestuous association meeting. The Bibliothekartag is certainly more like the American Library Association meeting than purely scholarly conferences like JCDL or TPDL (formerly ECDL). Nonetheless such meetings are important both to measure the readiness of ordinary libraries to make changes and as an opportunity to educate the profession about topics that they approach with considerable reserve.

I attended only a few sessions because of concurrent meetings at my University. One was by Lynn Connaway from OCLC Research. Lynn was one of relatively few speakers who spoke in English – which the German audience understood without any apparent problems. She spoke about a JISC funded project in which her task was to find common results among a number of user-studies. A point that she passed over quickly in the talk (but which we spoke about in greater detail privately) was the difficulty in finding exactly how some of the studies were done: how the subjects were chosen, how exactly the data were gathered, or how they were analyzed. Among the common conclusions that she reported were:

  • Virtual Help. Users sometimes prefer online help even in the library because they do not want to get out of their chairs.
  • Squirreling instead of reading. Many users squirrel away information and spend relatively little time working actively with contents.
  • Libraries = books. Many people think of libraries primarily as collections of physical books and often do not realize the library's role in providing electronic resources. They also criticize the physical library and its traditional collections.

I also attended a session that was entitled “Networked Libraries: Service providers for networked data.” Many of the talks discussed linked data or linked open data. Jakob Voss gave the initial lecture and used a visual metaphor of bridges to make the point both about the need for connections and their fragility (one of his slides showed a bridge that had collapsed). The final presentations in this session focused on digital archiving. The first looked at research data with the idea that “data is the new oil”. One major step forward is that DFG and NSF both now require data management plans for data from supported projects. A serious issue is the long term costs for archiving research data, which both nestor and MIT are beginning to examine. The second archiving talk was mine on the LuKII Project (LOCKSS und KOPAL: Infrastruktur und Interoperabilit√§t). In my overview I mentioned the need to understand cultural as well as technical migration -- that is, our cultural understanding of information changes over time, just as do the formats. This evoked some interest during the discussion.

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