Mary Pratt was one of the keynote speakers at CLA. She is an artist, as is her husband, Christopher Pratt, who designed the current Newfoundland and Labrador provincial flag.
Mary Pratt spoke of her childhood involvement with books and libraries. Her memories of childhood revolve around the books and librarians that had an influence on her. At one point in her life she wanted to take her daughter to see a librarian she had admired. When they were greeted at the door they were a little disappointed that the librarian, now retired, couldn’t spend time with them. “I’m studying the Russian Revolution today!” she had said. Somehow that remark still seemed a good lesson for her daughter since libraries are one of main ways the world is opened up to young people, and to spend one’s time exploring history and absorbing whatever one can learn about this world is ultimately all about filling up a life that is worth living.
The CLA trade show in the arena next to the Delta Hotel where the main conference events took place. I was particularly interested in the tools and techniques used in providing access to online catalogue information so I spoke to representatives of OCLC and Syndetics (which supplies the book covers and reviews for our HIP catalogue).
I have been involved in discussions on mailing lists about the next generation catalogue. The issue is pressing in some ways, since many users find current OPACs out of step with all the other developments on the web. But there are new ways to slice and dice and present bibliographic information appearing on the horizon (unfortunate pun I suppose). SirsiDynix was there, showing off Unicorn, which is their other library system, and now the only one, given that Horizon development has ended. I also attended a lunch hosted by Stephen Abram of SirsiDynix where he presented what he saw as the great challenges and opportunities with which all library system vendors have to cope. The successor to Unicorn is codenamed Rome (as in “all roads lead to Rome”), and it is intended to carry the torch for SirsiDynix going forward. Only time will tell how all of this will work out.
I also attended a session about how public and academic libraries cope with information technology (IT) departments of their hosting bodies. University libraries have to cope with campus IT departments, and public libraries often have to cope with municipal government IT departments. All the speakers spoke of the loss of autonomy if the larger body took on all technology responsibilities since the priorities and values for technology would not be set by the library. The differences in approach were laid out by Paul Takala of the Hamilton Public Library.
LIBRARY <vs> IT DEPT.
open access first <vs> security first
people-oriented <vs> technology-oriented
solution-oriented <vs> task-oriented
mainstream, part of the action <vs> solitary, isolated
in your face <vs> faceless
consult and inform users <vs> disruptive change, little notice
In the case of Hamilton Public Library, the library has responsibility for some areas of technology and the City of Hamilton has responsibility for other areas. While sharing infrastructure costs has some benefits, there is a need for constant upkeep of the partnership to avoid confusion. As time goes on there might be more areas of conflict, especially as the library incorporates new web 2.0 technologies.
This presentation was particularly intriguing for me since the task of constructing a network from scratch which yet contained some connection to the city’s networked services fell on my shoulders back in 1999. The question of making the networking accessible to the public inside the library was a source for confusion and conflict. Inside the library we also had to support both public and staff functions, and keep the two separate while still allowing for the sharing of key resources such as the integrated library system. Fortunately I had covered network design in my MLIS program ten years prior, and I had taken several computer courses and workshops since. While the library was attempting to work out an arrangement with the city’s Information Services Department in the initial setup of our network, I had plunged into the intricacies of TCP/IP and NT domain administration, and had seen how we could accomplish the task of building our own network with our own wiring, router and connections to the library branches, Internet service provider, domain controllers, and email and file/print servers. I had an extra skill to apply which was derived from my dabbling in a computer hardware/software reseller business. I had not done much actual selling, but I had certainly learned a great deal about computer hardware and software vendors. When setting up hardware contracts with Dell and software licensing purchases with Microsoft and other vendors, I found that I had already cleared the biggest hurdles. In this way the Guelph Public Library network was launched in 1999 with a high degree of autonomy. The timing in 1999 was also beneficial because the library took advantage of Guelph Hydro’s fibre optic network to connect our branches, resulting in a network with a lot of resiliency, high bandwidth, and efficiency.