ALA TechSource's "TechTrends:MidWinter 2010" Webinar

Thursday of last week I was disappointed when I realized that I had missed  the Tuesday/Wednesday Technology Essentials online conference organized by WebJunction (fortunately, recordings are available), so my good friend and colleague Brenda Hough gave me her invitation to the ALA TechSource’s TechTrends: MidWinter 2010 webinar featuring short presentations by Jason Griffey, Sean Fitzpatrick, Greg Landgraf and Kate Sheehan. Each of these well-informed and observant speakers gave their unique perspective on the technology trends they saw emerging at the ALA MidWinter Conference in Boston. Jason Griffey, lucky dog, attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas shortly before going to Boston, so he Photo by Somewhat Frank and shared under a Creative Commons Share-Alike license.compared the two conferences. He pointed out that U.S. libraries have a combined annual buying power in the $8 to $10 billion range; but, unlike CES, our national conferences don’t attract any of the big computer manufacturers (i.e. Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Intel, etc.). Jason feels that the hardware and software giants would do themselves and libraries a big favor by designing products specifically for libraries and marketing them more aggressively. In particular, he spent some time with the Intel Reader and says it’s a natural fit with the mission and values of libraries. Intel is marketing the Intel Reader as an assistive device for visually-impaired individuals and others who have trouble reading. It combines a camera, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, and a text-to-speech engine, so users can snap a picture of some text and hear it read aloud to them in the standard robotic monotone. Finally, Jason wondered why e-readers and their manufacturers didn’t have more of a presence at MidWinter. Although many of the major players in this market (e.g. Amazon, Sony, and Apple) are refusing to cooperate with libraries, our patrons are expressing a preference for reading books on mobile devices, so we as librarians need to follow developments in this market. Jason was especially intrigued by two newly developed e-readers, Copia and Blio. The former emphasizes social aspects of reading while the latter offers flexibility, powerful synchronization features, read-aloud capabilities, and a partnership with Baker & Taylor, a well-known book wholesaler with strong ties to libraries. Sean Fitzpatrick spoke second, and he spent much of his conference in the exhibit hall talking to ILS vendors and other library technology companies. He said that library vendors are spending more of their marketing and development resources appealing directly to patrons. In this vein, Sean noticed that mobile discovery was a persistent theme at this year’s conference. He showed us screen captures from five mobile applications that facilitate access to online catalogs, holdings information and patron accounts. Some are web interfaces optimized for mobile browsers, and others are applications built for mobile platforms (e.g. the iPhone OS, Android, Windows Mobile, etc.). Furthermore, Sean feels as though the line between open source projects and proprietary software has been blurring over the past few years with the development of open architectures and open APIs from technology vendors that were once completely proprietary and closed.  For example, OCLC’s open architecture is allowing it to partner with the RedLaser iPhone app. With this application installed, when you take a picture of a book’s barcode with your iPhone, the app will pull up information about nearby libraries that circulate the item. Sean also discussed new mobile apps from Gale, SirsiDynix and LibraryThing. Next up, Greg Landgraf discussed augmented reality as it relates to libraries. Greg defined augmented reality as a digital layer of data laid on top of physical reality. By way of example, he discussed the Abbey Road iPhone app from Layar, which gives users a guided tour of London with iconic images of the Beatles appearing at key locations throughout the city. Greg pointed out that libraries could provide similar applications for visitors to their communities. Furthermore, navigating our buildings and browsing the stacks may be easier someday if context-aware directional hints and book ratings appear on our mobile phones as we wander the building. Furthermore, some museums are already developing immersive games that incorporate location-based clues delivered to patrons’ mobile devices.  Libraries could follow their lead in this regard. Finally, Kate Sheehan of Bibliomation wrapped up the webinar by discussing a few key words that summed up the direction technology is currently taking in her view:  flexibility, openness and serendipity.  Open spaces and mobile discovery will lead to more and more ad hoc meetings and unplanned learning opportunities. Kate was impressed that the MidWinter conference organizers included an unconference space where attendees could organize on-the-fly sessions that matched their spontaneous collective interests. Also, a MidWinter mobile app allowed attendees to see what sessions were in progress at any particular moment, giving them options during aimless unplanned moments. Listening to this webinar was both exciting and intimidating. I’ve been working in the IT field for over ten years, but in prosperous times and global recessions, it never stops changing. Technology never waits for us to catch up, so look alive out there!