Web developers should prioritize mobile websites over desktop websites, librarians need to design more relevant instructional materials for their users, and the field of experience-based transformational development could have a major impact on the future of educational tools. These were just a few of the topics discussed during the “Top Technology Trends and LITA Awards Presentation,” session last Sunday during the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim.
Moderator Jason Vaughan, director of library technologies for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas was joined by panelists Lorcan Dempsey, vice president and chief strategist for OCLC; Meredith Farkas, head of instructional services for Portland State University Library; Nina McHale, assistant systems administrator for Arapahoe Library District; Stephen Abram, vice president for strategic partnerships and markets for Gale Cengage Learning; and Clifford Lynch, executive director, Center for Networked Information. In two rounds of discussion, each presenter was asked to highlight a major technology trend that will impact the library profession.
The Semantic Web has been a hot topic in recent years, although most of the talk has been conceptual. But, as Dempsey pointed out, structured data is now becoming integral to several major new projects on the web.
“All of the sudden, we’re in a situation where things are beginning to happen quite suddenly,” he said.
For example, The Wikimedia Foundation recently announced the launch of the Wikidata project, which aims “to create a free knowledge base about the world that can be read and edited by humans and machines alike,” according to the site’s technical proposal.
Similarly, Google’s Knowledge Graph project uses linked data to create a search model that “understands real-world entities and their relationships to one another: things, not strings,” according to a post on Google’s official blog.
And, schema.org is now offering web developers a selection of community-developed schema vocabularies that enable webmasters to design sites tailored for the use of structured data.
“We’re beginning to see a lot of attention toward structured data about things, about entities,” Dempsey said. “Not just searching through lots of webpages, but actually trying to find entities and create structured data about them.”
This could present a big opportunity for libraries and librarians, he added, since the profession has always relied on structured data.
“We know about things. We know about authors, we know about works, we know about subjects, we don’t just rely on text searching or strings. But, what’s happening in the broader web environment is that structure is becoming much more important.”
During the second round of discussion, Dempsey noted that the Anglo American Cataloging Rules will soon be a thing of the past, since the Library of Congress has decided to move toward a Resource Description and Access (RDA) framework for bibliographic data. He also delved further into why librarians will benefit from the web’s migration toward a structured data environment.
“We’re beginning to look, now, at an environment on the web where we have a lot of structured data on the web about people, and we have a lot of structured data about people in libraries. We’re going to have a lot of structured data on the web about works. We have a lot of structured data about works in libraries. We’re going to have a lot of structured data about concepts and places. We have a lot of that data in libraries.”
Technological bells and whistles may be great for grabbing a student’s attention, but instructional services librarians may need to take a step back and see what tools actually help make information stick.
“I think this is going to be the year that libraries finally get a clue about instructional design,” Farkas said. “We need to stop designing stuff for ourselves, and start designing for the users that we have, and their very specific needs, which are different from ours.”
In one example, Farkas said that she had “jumped on the screencasting bandwagon really early and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.”
But, she began worrying that students watching a video walkthrough of a database search, for example, weren’t going to be able to replicate what they had seen in that screencast when they actually needed to perform a search themselves.
Mestre “discovered that students who actually used a boring, static HTML tutorial were more capable of searching the database [afterward] than those who watched an engaging, fancy video,” she said.
Farkas also praised tools like Guide on the Side from the University of Arizona, which allows instructional content to be overlaid on an actual website that a student is navigating, and criticized all-in-one research tutorials.
“We really need to think about breaking instruction down into small, discrete, modular chunks and then combining it, and allowing users to combine it for their own specific needs.”
For her second trend, Farkas discussed the importance of assessment tools for instructors and students at academic libraries.
Academic libraries “are no longer in a position to say, ‘well, we’re the heart of the campus. We’re so valuable, we’re so important. No one is ever going to think that we might not need to exist.’ In this world of stretched budgets and calls for accountability, we really need to show people why we’re valuable. And, I think that’s why it’s so important that libraries get on board with assessment management systems.”
For 25 percent of the U.S. population, a mobile phone is the primary access point to the Internet, and 85 percent of the mobile handsets manufactured and sold during the past year were web ready. Yet, too often, web designers think first of their desktop site, and develop their mobile site as an afterthought.
This is backward, argued McHale.
Citing web designer Luke Wroblewski’s Mobile First concept, McHale explained that “We should not be developing mobile sites as an afterthought or an addendum to our full, or desktop, sites. We should actually consider the needs of mobile users first, and then add on beyond that. We should design primarily for the mobile experience.”
Again citing Wroblewski, McHale said that focusing on mobile devices first helps designers prepare for the continued growth of mobile. Smaller screens also impose constraints that force developers to focus and prioritize their design choices, and really think about the needs of their users, and why visitors are coming to their site. And, mobile devices have such a wide variety of capabilities that remain untapped by many sites.
“This little machine has a GPS, it has an accelerometer, it has a camera, it has speakers,” she said. “There are all of these great new kinds of input.”
Mobile users tend to access the web for four different types of activities, according to Wroblewski—look up and find; explore and play; check in and status update; and edit and create. Designing with an eye toward those activities, a library mobile site might include a branch finder or catalog site search, a readers advisory app, a way for patrons to review checkouts and see if they have any fines, and a way to comment on a library’s webpage or write and submit reviews, McHale suggested.
“If Mobile First is the question, then responsive web design is the answer,” McHale said during the second round of discussion.
“Basically, a responsive website is a single website that is able to resize and reshape its content appropriately depending upon the device used to access it,” using CSS3, mobile device detection and other tools.
Information retrieval is often envisioned as a transactional process, but the next generation of educational tools may use concepts such as experience-based transformational development to enhance learning by taking emotion into account, explained Abram.
“When we develop something, do we prioritize speed of retrieval of a PDF, or do we prioritize that we increase the confidence of a user [and] change the dynamics of how they’re transformed as human beings?” he said.
Magnetic resonance imaging can be used to study activity in users’ brains, and their blood pressure, heart rate, and eye movement can all be monitored while they work with an interface, for example. Site designers then have tangible information about which parts of an interface lead to boredom, excitement, confusion, and most importantly, learning.
“The major trend is moving toward psychographic experiences that fundamentally change human beings for the better,” Abram said.
Experience-based transformational development is also useful for creating tools that will be used in specific contexts, he added.
“Do I build a different experience for a medical researcher at a university who has four years to study the human genome, and is that medical person getting a different psychological experience, and what are they feeling, compared with [a doctor] in surgery, and they’re cutting someone open, and they discover a vein out of place?”
In the second round, Abram argued that libraries should “focus on real learning. We say we’re about learning, but most of the evidence is, we’re about reading.”
He asked the audience whether their libraries offered patrons a route to obtain a high school diploma, or a medical technician certificate. Few hands were raised.
“Why not?” he asked, noting that Gale Cengage will soon offer complete, self-directed GEDs and high school courses.
“If we look at the aspects of where learning happens, and how learning happens, and learning at the point of need, and we look at re-architecting our understanding of the learning styles and putting the content we have—integrated where shelving no longer matters, format no longer matters, size no longer matters—so it’s accessible. Then, we can take grocery stores like OCLC or large metadata sets, and start to create [content] ‘meals’ from them, rather than try to make our users good shoppers in the grocery store.”
As academic works proliferate on the Internet, author ambiguity is becoming a growing problem, noted Lynch.
“A number of databases are available that try and look at people’s published output in journal literature—these include commercial products like Web of Science and Scopus, freely available things like Google Scholar—and there’s a lot of author ambiguity in there, because we didn’t control authors the way we have traditionally, in monographic literature. Yet, those databases are now starting to come into heavy play as feeders to people’s professional biographies, and indeed, their professional evaluations.”
Authenticating people and ensuring the correctness of professional biographies poses an “enormous challenge,” Lynch said.
“In part driven by some of these ideas around linked data, in part by microformats and schemas, we are suddenly moving into a period that is really going to change the rules about the availability of structured and computable biography and bibliography as part of the overall cultural record.”
At the conclusion of the panel, Lynch discussed several major concerns on the computer security front as his second topic.
“It’s really clear to me that the security problems we’re dealing with, broadly, [both library, consumer, and corporate], the whole threat level seems to have really racheted up,” he said.
This includes not only highly sophisticated, government-developed cyberwar weapons like the Stuxnet worm, he explained, but “even at the more prosaic end, I think it’s fairly clear, for example, that for protecting anything of any significant value, passwords are rapidly approaching the end of their useful life as a technology.”
Libraries are fortunate that they have never been targeted as a group, but he argued that now is a good time to assess security practices within their organizations and talk to vendors about their security capabilities.
Prior to the panel discussion, LITA presented its annual awards, several of which had been announced earlier. The recipients were:
- LITA/Ex LIbris Student Writing Award
- Cynthia Cohen, San José State University School of Library and Information Science
- LITA/LSSI Minority Scholarship
- Brenda Bridgett Carrillo, San José State University School of Library and Information Science
- Frederick G. Kilgour Award for Research in Library and Information Technology
- G. Sayeed Choudhury, associate dean for research data management and Hodson Director of the Digital Research and Curation Center at the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University
Separately, OCLC presented the following awards in conjunction with ALA:
- Margaret Mann Citation
- Jane Greenberg, professor and director, SILS Metadata Research Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- John Ames Humphry/OCLC Forest Press Award for International Librarianship
- Jane Kinney Meyers, founder and president, Lubuto Library Project
- American Library Association’s Melvil Dewey Medal
- Beverly P. Lynch, professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles