21 Years Ago, Who Would Have Thought!

The 21st CIL conference is now concluded. When I think back 21 years to 1985, I’m amazed at all the changes that have occurred, not only in the information business but in the world at large. Back then, computers were just getting established in libraries and were used for fairly routine tasks. One of the main uses of computers then was for online searching, and it was primarily done by trained intermediaries. The database producers and aggregators were trying to figure out how to reach end users, but success eluded them except for some isolated instances. Now, of course, computers are found in a multiplicity of uses in libraries, so today we are concerned not only with the hardware, but also with applications and services. This is well exemplified in the subjects of the three keynote addresses at CIL 2006. They discussed searching and search engines, the mobile future, and the role of the Internet on the up and coming Millennial generation.

Searching is now part of the mainstream and is largely taken for granted. The conference organizers recognized this by devoting the first keynote to a report on advances in search engines by noted authority Chris Sherman. He told us that he had just returned from a search engine conference in China, where there are some unique search problems and issues. Although search engines are commonplace, they continue to change, develop, and add features. Indeed, some of them have added so much to basic searching that one wonders what business they really are in. For example, Sherman suggested that Google could be regarded as an advertising company, ISP, eBay clone, TV network, banker, mapping company, or perhaps a healthcare provider. Google has even branched out of this world and now provides maps of the moon and Mars!

Megan Fox told us that the mobile society is here, and it is critical to recognize that developing services for it is a necessity. She reviewed the devices and some services that we can expect to see coming in the near future. Libraries are beginning to cater to the mobile generation, and they must continue this trend.

Finally, Lee Rainie provided eight characteristics of the Millennial generation, which is the largest and most diverse generation in US history. So they will have a huge influence on libraries and the services they offer. Concepts of “smart mobs”, “continuous partial attention”, “soft surveillance”, and “information support” are entering the lexicon as a result of the lifestyles of this generation. Rainie’s keynote address was a clear call to action for librarians who must address the information habits and needs of Millennials.

If you were to ask me to nominate the presentation that made the biggest impression on me, I would have to vote for Mark Peterbaugh’s description of the use of gaming technology to develop a virtual interface to an academic library. The interface is innovative and forward-looking and is a fascinating use of a technology that is pervasive in today’s society. I expect to hear more about these virtual interfaces to libraries in the future.

So CIL is really no longer just about Computers in libraries—it has morphed into a technology conference on new applications in today’s Internet-dominated world. We were told at the outset that CIL 2006 had a record-breaking attendance of over 2,300 – and the final count was over 2,600. That fact alone shows that CIL is well tuned to the library arena and bodes well for its continuance and future success,

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

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