Has Dave Abandoned Virtual Reference?

I was asked several times at ALA this past week if I had abandoned virtual reference? Was virtual reference passe? Is it dying? Do I think “been there, done that?” In a word — no. I remain an advocate for virtual reference and there are still a few virtual reference related publication in the pipeline. I take some pride in seeing virtual reference deployed widely and seeing the whole field of reference coming out of the 50% rule doldrums and into some really innovative research and development. However, I am certainly not devoting as much of my research time to the topic.

This is for lots of reasons, not least of which is there is now an active community doing brilliant research in the area so I can focus on new implications and practices in librarianship. When I started writing about digital reference, it was a pretty lonely field. Now with folks like Marie Radford, Jeff Pomerantz, Lynn Connaway, and Lynn Westbrook (among many others) it is an active field. I feel like I can learn from them while I seek new implications of how expertise and human interactions fit into information systems. Couple this with real deployment and development from folks like Caleb Tucker-Raymond, Dynex/Sirsi, Tutor.com and there exists a real marketplace of ideas.

The reality is also that my current work in participatory librarianship is just the current place my overarching research has taken me. Starting with AskERIC on how you build a digital library that begot the Gateway to Educational Materials to deepen the investigation into how you organize digital library resources (and metadata and the like). It also begot (love that word) the Virtual Reference Desk into how people provide expertise online. All of this work lead up to the power of conversations… that is the primacy of context in sharing information and the necessity of discourse. This of course lead to my current work in participatory librarianship. In many ways, this is taking what I learned in virtual reference (including on digital reference knowledge bases) and projects it out to the library as a whole.

For those who remember the last VRD conference in San Francisco we rolled out Story Starters and OpenQA that used blogging as a social means of providing reference service. This work itself came from Reference Extract, a search engine based on reference citations. These projects came out of my work in credibility, that was an examination of how users can believe the information they get from reference or in general. Even my more theoretical focus in the participatory world comes from an attempt to better conceptually integrate reference and other functions of the library.

So have I abandoned reference? No. I want to take what we all learned in virtual reference and play it throughout the rest of the library world. Remember, at heart I’m a systems guy, meaning I always want to see how all of these pieces (reference, metadata, archives, etc.) fit together, and what can we get out of novel combinations.

So keep up the good work in virtual reference. Call me when you need me, I still consider myself one of you. I also invite you to be active in the new participatory library world.

Lankes on Sabbatical

I just received official word that I have been granted a sabbatical for the 2007-2008 academic year. The purpose of the sabbatical is to further develop the concept of participatory librarianship and the recommendations that came out of the Participatory Networks technology brief. I’ll have some more details on my planned activities for the year soon (waiting to nail a few details down).

In the meantime if you are looking to host a wandering academic for a while (anyone read this in Scotland) let me know.

Great Minds

Isn’t it amazing how you can run across kindred spirits separated by time. I just ran across an article by Joan Bechtel called “Conversation, a New Paradigm for Librarianship?” written in 1986 (full citation below). It is a great read. I see a lot of crossover ideas here with our paper on Participatory Librarianship. She didn’t necessarily have the theory piece, or the tools, but she laid a very strong foundation. I wish I could find it online to point to but here’s a link to its ERIC entry.

Some great quotes:

“”Libraries, if they are true to their original and intrinsic being, seek primarily to collect people and ideas rather than books and to facilitate conversation among people rather than merely to organize, store and deliver information. TO be sure, libraries have traditionally collected the documents of human imagination and action. In doing so they have preserved the ideas and events of history and have become centers for ongoing conversations in which people speak their opinions, criticize others’, and enlarge or restrict the scope of discussion.”

“Conversation, essential to the quality of life of Homo sapiens, provides the occasion and m ode for intimate, significant, and ongoing engagement of human beings with each other in society.”

“Focusing on the enlargement of conversation in the educational environment demands that librarians ask questions about the needs of faculty and students…THe answer to such questions concerning collection development and services will necessarily come out of continuing conversations with faculty and students, both individually and in the governance structure of the college. Surely the whole range of possibilities – reference service, database searching, term paper consultations, bibliographic instruction, and, one hopes, new possibilities for services not yet envisioned – will be explored in order to bring about the widest participation in the intellectual inquiry.”

Did I mention this was written in 1986!!!!

Here is the citation:

Bechtel, Joan M. 1986. Conversation, A New Paradigm for Librarianship? College & Research Libraries 47: 219-224.

Test Plugoo

I’ve tried Meebo, but wasn’t impressed. Great to IM through a web interface, but you have to be logged onto Meebo. I saw folks talking about Plugoo on Dig_Ref and thought I’d take a look. Seems very cool. It connects a web based IM to my IM client (adium) on my desktop through AIM (or ICQ or Yahoo! or..). If I’m online give it a try and say hi.

Final Participatory Network is Released

The final version of the ALA-OITP/IIS technology brief “Participatory Networks: The Library as Conversation” has now been posted online at:

The site includes an executive summary, a PDF version of the final paper, and an experimental participatory interface to the document. Comments always welcome. From the document:

Knowledge is created through conversation. Conversations can take place between friends and colleagues in the â??here and now.â?? But, they can also take place over centuries, with the participants changing but the theme remaining the same, and the conversation being recorded in thousands of artifacts, like books, pictures, and digital files. In many conversations users need sophisticated processes to facilitate the conversation. Facilitation not only enriches conversations with diverse and deep information, it also serves as a memory keeper, documenting agreements and outcomes to facilitate future conversations. The library serves this vital role for many communities.

The implication of this rather abstract concept is that libraries are in the conversation business. This theoretical argument can be seen in traditional brick-and-mortar libraries as library speaker series, book groups, and even the collection development processes. Yet online, the library has fallen far short of this ideal of conversation facilitator. Key library systems, such as the catalog for example, are at best one-way conversations. Libraries have a great opportunity to provide invaluable conversational, participatory infrastructure to their communities online. By adopting concepts and technologies from Web 2.0 and tightly integrating them into their services, libraries can advance not just their communities but also their positions within them.

The opportunities inherent in participatory networks have not emerged because of current Internet developments such as Web 2.0, but, rather, these technologies make it easier to meet an identified and long-standing role of libraries. Wikis, blogs, and recommender systems replace dial-up bulletin boards and local databases as a means to empower our communities. Whatâ??s more, these technologies can bring the ideal of the participatory model to our most fundamental library systems. Libraries should adopt participatory network concepts and software not because they are new or sexy, but because they match our most fundamental mission: knowledge creation and dissemination.

This document describes the participatory model of libraries and provides an overview of current Web 2.0 technologies and a brief discussion of how current Library 2.0 efforts point the way to an even greater change in library as a facilitator of conversations. Specific challenges and opportunities of participatory networking are reviewed. Finally, the authors recommend the creation of a shared participatory test bed for libraries. This network would not only experiment with new collaborative Web technologies, but also work with library organizations and vendors to speed innovation in traditional library systems. Finally, the network test bed would create a shared infrastructure to provide participatory technologies â?? such as Wikis, blogs, and RSS feeds â?? to libraries for inclusion in their day-to-day services.

Participatory Networks at Midwinter

The final version of the Participatory Network Technology Brief (http://iis.syr.edu/projects/PNOpen/) developed for the ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy will be releassed at ALA Midwinter. The full brief will be available via the web. Many, many thanks to those who took the time to comment on the first public draft.

There was an active period of comments on the public draft of the Participatory Networks paper from mid-October to the first part of December. The comments came in three forms: e-mail to the authors, postings to a web based bulletin board systems, and comments and edits to the paper posted as a collaboratively edited WIKI. Commenters ranged from noted members of the library community, such as Karen Schneider, Walt Crawford and John Buschman to library science students. The most active mode of comments was the bulletin board and e-mail. Few actual edits were made to the WIKI site, with most participants choosing, instead, to leave comments via the WIKI.

The table below summaries the nature of the comments, and the anticipated effect in the final document:

Comment Thread Discussion Anticipated Effect
Library 2.0 Commenters felt the work of the Library 2.0 community was not well represented here, and that a lot of good work done was missed. The Library 2.0 section of the document will be reworked to acknowledge the work of Library 2.0, and discuss a participatory librarianship model as a means of advancing the work of the Library 2.0 community. Many of the commercial Web 2.0 examples have been supplemented or replaced with Library 2.0 examples.
Use of the term â??Conversationâ?? Several commenters felt the use of the word â??conversationâ?? was incorrect, or at best, straining the meaning of the word. Conversation was presented as an informal exchange of ideas between people. The authors clarified the use of conversation and highlighted the use of â??Conversation Theory.â?? A separate theoretical piece is anticipated.
Commercialization of Libraries The use of Web 2.0 technologies and the text seems to promote the use of commercial ideas in the library, and therefore seems to advocate for making the library online more commercial in nature. More library examples were used to highlight how commercially developed technologies does not require commercialization. It was also noted tht there are some libraries in commercial settings.

There will be two presentations on the brief at ALA Midwinter. The first Friday January 19, 2007 to the advisory board of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and the second, an open meeting, on Saturday January 20, 2007. The Saturday briefing will be part of the “Washington Office Update Session” 8:00 A.M.â??10:00 A.M., Washington Convention Center, Rooms 611-614.

MacArthur Investing $50 Million in Digital Learning

Today the MacArthur Foundation is rolling out a big push into digital media and youth. They are working hard to create a field in the area with researchers and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines. I’ve been a part of this effort as an author for their MacArthur book series devoted to the topic (mine is a chapter on technology and credibility in the credibility volume).

Here’s a snip from the press release:

New York, NY, October 19, 2006 â?? The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced plans to build the emerging field of digital media and learning, committing $50 million over five years to the effort. The Foundation will fund research and innovative projects focused on understanding the impact of the widespread use of digital media on our youth and how they learn.

â??This is the first generation to grow up digital â?? coming of age in a world where computers, the internet, videogames, and cell phones are common, and where expressing themselves through these tools is the norm,â?? said MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton, who announced the new initiative today. â??Given how present these technologies are in their lives, do young people act, think and learn differently today? And what are the implications for education and for society? MacArthur will encourage this discussion, fund research, support innovation, and engage those who can make judgments about these difficult but critical questions.â??

More information is available here.

Public Comments Welcome on ALA Participatory Network Draft

HomeGraph.jpgThe public is invited to provide input and feedback on the latest draft of “Participatory Networks: The Library as Conversation,” a technology brief being written for the ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy. Read the draft, join the online discussion, or even WIKI the draft at:


You will also find more information at the site on the project as a whole. To give you an idea of what’s in the draft here is the table of contents:

Executive Overview
1. The Goal
2. Library as a Facilitator of Conversation
3. Participatory Networking, Social Network and Web 2.0
3.1. Web 2.0
3.1.1. Web 2.0 Characteristic: Social Networks
3.1.2. Web 2.0 Characteristic: Wisdom of Crowds
3.1.3. Web 2.0 Characteristic: Loosely Coupled API’s
3.1.4. Web 2.0 Characteristic: Mash Ups
3.1.5. Web 2.0 Characteristic: Permanent Betas
3.1.6. Web 2.0 Characteristic: Software Gets Better the More People Use It
3.1.7. Web 2.0 Characteristic: Folksonomies
3.2. Core New Technologies: AJAX and Web Services
3.2.1. AJAX
3.2.2. Web Services
3.3. Library 2.0
3.4. Participatory Networks
4. Libraries as Participatory Conversations
4.1. Challenges and Opportunities
4.1.1. Technical
4.1.2. Operational
4.1.3. Policy
4.1.4. Ethical
5. Recommendations

Institute to Write Technology Brief for ALA

The rise of new web applications that both facilitate and depend upon user contributions has exposed a number of serious issues that today’s libraries must face. These web services allow users to easily:

* build digital collections (YouTube, FLIKR);
* join and create social networks (or digital collections of people such as MySPACE, Facebook); and
* self publish (Blogger, LiveJournal).

The advance of these tools have had impacts in multiple areas. One clear example is on software developers (and consumers). Software developers now release early betas of software to a community for testing and refinement…sometimes creating permanent betas that never get officially “finished.” Software developers also often look to a loosely coupled cadre of programmers to create and/or maintain software and standards through open source. These shifts in the Internet software community have already begun to impact libraries. User expectations for the online catalog and the services of a library they can access online have changed, and libraries must keep up.

The American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy has contracted the Information Institute of Syracuse to research and write a detailed technology brief on the topic of participatory networks. The brief will put an emphasis on interactive and social web applications such as blogs, social networks, and include a survey of the general “Web 2.0” and “Library 2.0” development world. The idea is to present a comprehensive document library decision makers can use to understand the new wave of social Internet applications, and devise strategies to respond to potential opportunities and threats. The draft of the document will be shared with ALA as well as experts in the field for initial comments in September and October. A public forum will be incorporated into a final drat document at the 2006 LITA Forum in Nashville.

The lead authors of the brief are R. David Lankes and Joanne Silverstein.

The public draft and web tools for commenting will be available soon.

Lankes Nominated to 3rd National Academy of Science Panel

Lankes has been nominated to the National Academies’ National Research Council policy study â??Transportation Information Manage-
ment: A Strategy for the Future.â?? From the National Cooperative Highway Research Program’s 2007 outlook:

The scope of the current National Research Council study is to â??â?¦provide strategic advice to the federal government and the states regarding a sustainable administrative structure and funding mechanism for meeting the information services needs of the transportation sector. The committee will define the core services that need to be provided, identify how they should be provided, and suggest options for funding.â??

It is clear that a concerted effort will be needed to begin implementing this study. A NCHRP project will serve as an appropriate first step in what will be a long-term effort to capitalize on the benefits to be gainedâ??in terms of increased efficiencies, cost savings and qualityâ??through better management of transportation information.

The objective of the research is to begin immediate implementation of recommendations from the policy study. Likely required tasks might include: (1) Develop a detailed business plan for implementing the administrative structure recommended by the Committee. (2) Establish perform- ance measures for evaluating delivery of the core services recommended by the Committee. (3) Engage key U.S. DOT, state DOT, and University Transportation Center personnel in supporting and facilitating implementation of the Committeeâ??s recommendations. (4) Develop a prototype website to demonstrate integrated information access and retrieval for a key transportation business need.