Thursday, May 11, 2006

CLA Conference Wrapup (the Webhead perspective)

I only went to one day of the conference... and there are just 2 sessions I'm going to summarize here - one on Google & one on a library website makeover... (there weren't too many web-oriented ones this year.. I'm hoping that there will be more next year):

(1) Google Takes Over the World by Rob Favini, Program Director, Educational Services, NELINET, sponsored by NELA (thank you, New England Library Association!)
Rob covered many of Google's new informational services. Given how they're overtaking the information universe, it's crucial that librarians "keep up" with industry leaders like Google. So for that reason, I was thrilled that he had this session. I was equally thrilled that the session was so well-attended. Maybe "thrilled" is overstating things since there was standing room only and I had to take a rather small and uncomfortable seat in the front row to fit - and I was one of the lucky people who fit into the room... but seriously, for the profession, it's crucial and a little discomfort is all worth it.

Rob's primary point was to show how much more than a search engine Google now is - it's becoming the new Microsoft, he posits. Soon, he says (and I know others have been saying the same thing for at least a year and a half... probably longer, but I've been hearing it for that long) Google will challenge Microsoft's monopoly on OS and software with web-based/delivered applications being the new core of computing and the OS and old-fashioned client software becoming ever less relevant.

Now, having just come back from CA, I have to say, it truly is a Google world. If you've never spent time in the Silicon Valley or East Bay area, you really should. Drink it in - Mountain View, over in Stanford area, not very far (in CA terms) from Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose , is the hometown of Google. We lived about an hour north of San Jose and about 20 minutes east of San Francisco. I remember being in awe of all of the big name computer companies in the area - just about every computer vendor whom I held in high regard, whose software I'd used or certainly that I'd heard of (obviously, excepting that Redmond, WA giant - Microsoft) - from Oracle to Sun to PeopleSoft to Adobe to Cisco to Hewlett Packard, etc., etc., all had offices in that area - it was amazing. And it showed up in people's lifestyles - everyone was not only accepting of - but expecting (and willing to underwrite) high tech services.

When Rob mentioned that Google was underwriting a citywide wi-fi project for San Francisco, someone in the audience asked "why San Francisco" - well, that's why. Anyhow, back to Google. Google is your typical progressive tech company. It hires smart people, just because they're smart and it doesn't start out worrying about whether or not they have a specific position in mind for them. They hire something on the order of 100 workers a week, he explained, and they have well over 5,000 employees. They do things their own way - with the "don't be evil" motto and an idealistic, upstart mindset. Interestingly, their amazing success was built using how much in advertising $? 0... That's a BIG FAT ZERO.

This is one of the most salient points of the presentation to me. So, Google is this amazing success. They haven't spent dime one on advertising. As librarians, we often complain that we don't have the $ to put out for marketing, so that's why no one comes to us anymore. That's why Google's overtaking us, for example... hmm... time to rethink that one, eh?

So why are they successful? Let's give that one some thought, ok... I'll return to it in another post soon. Because I think I know... what do you think? (email me if you think you have an answer - if you're a regular CONNTECH-er, you know how to contact me... forgive me but spam email harvesters are out there so I have to leave my email off this posting)

But here's a list of some of the services that Google offers that you should be aware of - maybe try out, maybe just know that they're there... (obviously, you've probably been aware of the more obviously library-related Google initiatives - Google Scholar and Google Book Search (formerly Google Print), but as Rob points out, their other developments are equally important to keep an eye on). I would encourage anyone who's in libraries to get themselves educated about these services - it's just basic computer literacy in the age of Web2.0:

  • Google Maps (, Google Local (integrated with Google Maps), & Google Earth ( (Google Earth needs to be downloaded onto your machine, but is pretty cool)
  • Google Mail (GMail) - a service I personally can't live without
  • Google Reader (RSS aggregator/online newsreader, for those blogs you love, e.g.)
  • Google Base (like a craigslist - want ads, etc.) - you can post quite a bit of stuff - all free, of course!
  • Google Analytics (free web stats - reporting on website usage - I've GOT to try this!)
  • Google Toolbar (easy way to launch a Google search without having to go to the site) & Google Desktop (indexes your hard drive - a little sidebar feature allows integration of many Google app's, such as news feeds, your gmail, little virtual post-it notes, a slide show of pics on your pc, and so on)
    He didn't mention Google Pages - maybe it's too new.... and don't forget, Google bought out Blogger, so it searches Blogger blogs ( particularly well... But he did mention the Google Calendar, which I didn't know about...

Oh yes, before I forget, he was not only an entertaining speaker, but well-informed, and he quoted one of my new favorite magazines called Business2.0 - -(thanks to Steve Cauffman, of iCONN, for letting me know about that one)... that's another way to start keeping up with the new tech revolution going on - the Web2.0 revolution.. and the whole mindset behind it! For all of your Google goodies/exploration - start at

(2) Extreme Website Makeover by Susan Slaga & Debbie Herman, of CCSU
Have you been to the Elihu Burritt Library (Central Connecticut State University Library) website ( lately? If so, you've been witness to the hard work of a team of CCSU staff members - librarians who sought a redesign to deal with usability issues and to update both the look and structure of the site.

Susan and Debbie discussed their 6-month project - one that began with an examination of their current site's shortcomings. They noted issues, such as a lack of clear language to describe links, for example (too much library-ese, too little thought about the users' comprehension of that esoteric terminology), too much text (AMEN!!!!!!! fellow librarians...I can admit that I write entirely too long... ask me about my emails some day... but I understand that the end user really doesn't have time for this so I struggle to cut down ... it takes longer for me to be concise than to blather on - hence the length of this blog entry, but...), lack of white space, lack of helpful navigational aids, etc.

They did usability testing - both of the former site and their prototyped redesign - user-centered, which is always good. Yes, overall, it was the usual website makeover wisdom. All good, not too much new to me (though the concept is always easy - the devil is in the doing).. a few of the old myths perpetuated (FrontPage only writes kludgy code, even in the latest version, Microsoft's ASP is less secure than all other web development platforms, etc., etc... I'm not saying that there's not grains of truth there, I'm just saying that it can be a kind of intellectual laziness not to question this - when there is evidence to the contrary and - in fact - I would posit that the story is more complex than that... it's not like Linux, Apache, PHP, and MySQL are without security flaws! I guess we're all biased somehow - wanting to imagine that our tools are better than the other guys... sort of like Fords vs. Chevys vs. Mopars) .. but it was great to see how they're doing things- e.g., use of PHP with a database backend (presumably MySQL, though I'm not 100% sure) to present some pages, static html on others, a team approach (some staff did the writing, others did the usability testing, and the two presenters did the technical work that pulled it altogether)... it's always good to hear those types of things... it certainly gets your juices flowing!

So now back to work.

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