Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sitting in Buffalo and rambling

I'm in Buffalo to work on a project and to attend (and present) at the New York Library Association annual conference. I'm sitting in my downtown Buffalo hotel room accessing a free (but occasionally slow) wireless network and listening to music on my iPod Shuffle, since there is nothing good to watch on TV. What was good tonight was attending the Syracuse University School of Information Studies alumni reception, which was open to alumni, faculty (like me) and friends of the School. Since I'm infrequently on campus and teach only online, it was good to see other faculty members and students (past and present) that I know. Of course, the conversations were about digitization and/or information access.

What did we talk about? Well as information professionals, we tend to assume that other people will look for information in the same way we do, but that is not true. Similarly, institutions (schools, businesses, etc.) tend to organize there web sites in ways that make sense to them, but not in ways that make sense to everyone else. Institutions are also guilty of not placing the information online that the information seekers really want. As much as we talk about building systems for those that will use them, we don't do it.

For example, an academic library web site may have different pages for the databases it subscribes to AND for the electronic journals its receives, yet to the user looking for an article, the difference in the two web pages may not be apparent. Both give access to journals and articles, so why are some here and others there?

Sticking to academia, college web sites are used by parents, students, faculty/staff, visitors, and prospective students. College web sites, however, tend not to provide information for all of those people or place it where they can find it. For example, can a parent find the academic calendar as well as a calendar of the campus events? Are the two calendars connected to each other, entwined, or must the parent piece together what it really means? Is there information on those things that parents care about like when tuition payments are due?

And are we using the tools that we should to build these online systems? Actually that part of the conversation was really connected to the use of WebCT for teaching online courses. I good product, but it is not software that students will use in their work. I talked with one faculty member about my hope of incorporating other technologies, like blogs, in teaching my digitization class in the spring (2006). Although I may get "dinged" for moving part of the class conversation to a blog (and outside of WebCT), it will give the students experience in doing something that may be new and will definitely be useful to them in the professional lives. And isn't that what we strive to do?

But thinking of the question in terms of web sites, digitization projects, etc., are we building these sites/systems using current -- forward thinking -- software or are we stuck in the past? Are we using inflexible proprietary systems or systems that promote interoperability and flexibility?

Funny how at events like this that you have an opportunity to talk about what could be, but the bureaucracies around us -- and those people that fear change -- stop us for making the changes that really should happen to make information easier to find and easier to share.

Tomorrow will be a long day, but undoubtedly full of good information and good networking. I'll post notes about it when I get back home.

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