Monday at the American Library Association Conference began with an overflow crowd to an obviously inadequate room for the hot topic presentation The Future of Information Retrieval. Four panelists (not listed in the conference book) discussed the trends that they foresee in professional and amateur research.
Marydee Ojala of Online magazine and the blog Online Insider issued a warning. She said that the Internet 2.0 movement reduces the effectiveness of tools for the professional researcher, as free Internet resources muscle out the more precise fee-based databases that have been the backbone of the research industry. The databases that survive modify themselves to be more like amateur search engines. She compared an intricate search strategy from a database with a one-word search engine query, saying the former will obviously get a more precise result. Users of search engines accept top ranked answers while information professional want right answers.
Ojala said that the free search engines are obviously attractive, but corporations with interests tamper with their results. The integrity of research is challenged.
Jay Datema, technology editor for Library Journal, sees five trends in information retrieval:
1. Older resources are becoming available on the web.
2. More authentication is being demanded.
3. There are more ways to distribute and receive data.
4. Privacy is challenged.
5. Use of mobile devices for retrieval is increasing.
Datema cautioned that Internet searches have become commodities. They may be free of charge to the end users but at the price of privacy as all their transactions are monitored.
On a brighter note, he spoke about back runs of newspapers and periodicals breaking the "nothing before 1980" rule in database contents.
He recommended watching a new search engine called Powerset, which is in beta testing.
Datema said that there is an amazing lack of control in the digitizing of books. In the interest of speed, many mistakes are being made and the quality of some images is poor. He said the digitizers are making all the same mistakes made in the rush to microfilm documents in the mid-20th century. Regardless of the quality issue, he said that digitized books will allow for (1) faster interlibrary loan, (2) more print on demand, and (3) a boom in historical research.
Mike Buschman, a technical editor for Microsoft Live Search, was less critical of the book digitization effort. He said that Microsoft is working with the University of California, University of Toronto, Cornell, New York Public, and the British Library. He said that there are currently 40 million items from 30,000 journal in addition to books on Live Search Books.
Buschman sad the digitization of print is important because the web has only about five percent of the world's knowledge. Many forgotten resources are now getting new life in digital form because they are being found through online searching.
He posed four benefits of digital research:
1. increased efficiency
2. new research connection (data found in unexpected resources)
3. enhanced texts (with comments and hypertext links)
4. liberated forms (not rely on loan of physical items)
He also said we will stop thinking of the resources as books as we mine their sentences and paragraphs.
R. David Lankes of Syracuse University described a trend in librarianship. He first spoke about a failure - an attempt by his university library to create prepackaged generic search aids. They were never of much use to any library users. He said his clients had specific, not generic needs. As a reference librarian, his strength is helping people with their specific research needs. Every request has a context. Advice without a context is weak.
Lankes indicated that reference librarians have job security because they can not be replaced with digital documents. Every client needs the reference interview, which he called "the conversation."
He said that there are other conversations, some of which are digital. An academic course syllabus can be a conversation if it is loaded onto the Internet and loaded with hypertext links. A librarian should still monitor and update it. Also, librarians can start collaborative bookmarks, which become conversations among the participants. The knowledge value in these efforts is in the conversations, which gives context to the information being exchanged.
The role of the librarian is to be a conversation facilitator and community advocate.
Lankes thinks that the profession has gone as far as it can go with metadata. The future of librarianship is in service.