The Wolanski Foundation Project


Paper no 38









List of papers








by Paul Bentley


Article originally published in Online Currents March 2005 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd. 



Outsell’s annual analysis of the information industry, published before Christmas, ventured predictions for 2005. We will see increasing democratisation of information and information access. Content will be liberated from its containers. Information managers will take on new roles with greater access to the power centres in their organisations. Technology will continue to dominate. And there will be power shifts “as the traditional publishing model evolves into a content supply chain model.”

The 12th Information Online Conference, presented by ALIA’s Information Online Group in February, came as a welcome retreat to gnaw on these trends, check responses by librarians, and explore the latest tools of the trade at exhibitor stands.

The lack of printed proceedings in the conference satchel (a justifiable cost saving in today’s online world), the delay in the availability of many of the papers on the website, the prevalence of PowerPoint files as the only format, and the absence of a summary in the final session of the conference means this personal synthesis, constrained by a deadline, is a first cut on sessions attended (about a third of the conference) and a prompt for wider and deeper exploration of the program.


As the effort of tooling up society moves into a phase of making better use of the tools that have been created, searching has taken centre stage.

The dominance of the search engine business was reflected in two keynote addresses. Yahoo’s Peter Crowe predicted that future search engine strategies will respond to a need to deliver answers rather than websites. There will be continued development of content acquisition programs, desktop search tools, clustered hits, and search verticals facilitating access to images, news, video and scholarly material. Knowledge search and Eurekster-style searching will capitalise on the growth of blogs and the networking dynamics of the Web. In the second address, Leisl Capper focused on MooterSearch’s use of predictive profiling technology, which analyses user personalities, cognitive styles and motivations rather than demographics in reading and responding to search behaviours.

Federated search technology is something in which librarians will have more direct involvement. Mac Horn, in his talk on Web service applications, said federated searching will probably replace the Z39.50 protocol. Library systems today are capable of handling normal library operations. But as they look to leverage this investment, most benefits will flow from interactions between library systems and myriad services available outside the library. Developments in Web service applications are likely to outpace attempts at standardisation.

The conference technology smorgasbord also offered practical tips on selecting and implementing content management systems, developing university portals to accommodate individual course requirements, and using visualisation tools, usability testing, and transaction log analysis.


David Hawking presented the results of a recent study of the role and limitations of metadata in achieving effective search functionality within enterprises. Ineffective search functionality costs many organisations dearly in lost productivity – as much as US$15 million annually in some enterprises according to Jakob Nielson - and in lost opportunities to convert website visitors into customers. Achieving effective search functionality requires an understanding of search engine technologies, information needs and information seeking patterns. “Money for improving search facilities is, in general, not well spent on applying metadata to existing online resources.”

Hawking continued the metadata theme, particularly in relation to the major search engines, in a subsequent panel session with Matthew Leske from YourAmigo and Warwick Cathro from the National Library of Australia. Among their conclusions: metadata cannot solve the problems of invisibility without excellent systems design; even with good metadata, dynamic content is usually invisible for many reasons; metadata is often useful in enterprise systems but is mostly ignored by the major search engines; enterprise technologies from firms such as YourAmigo can reveal pages hidden to the Internet search engines; human indexing is prone to error and is becoming increasingly costly; and automatic harvesting of metadata is becoming increasingly attractive as costs decline.

I did not attend this discussion and have therefore drawn on Elizabeth Swan’s summary on the conference blog page, a useful addition to the event’s modus operandi. In the face of challenges for publishing, distributing and synthesising conference papers, use of the blog in future conferences may benefit from increased use of rapporteurs and provocateurs to compensate for the reluctance of librarians to indulge in electronic discourse.

A handy overview of data quality standards and issues was provided by Cathie Jilovsky. Scott Nicholls drew attention to responses by vendors to address inadequacies of existing library systems for handling new types of metadata. Andrew Cunningham championed the need for a common multilingual content infrastructure in Australia. And Steve O'Connor drew attention to the pervasiveness of plagiarism and the steps being taken to remedy it.


There seemed to be less uncertainty about the status of librarians than in previous years, but their role within the knowledge management spectrum, the value of their work, and their relationship with IT people were under-currents in several papers.

Knowledge management has not yet taken a firm hold in Australia. Discussions on the topic often run into definitional problems and a tendency to equate it with information management. Putting a claim on the territory sometimes involves simplistic re-badging of services as knowledge centres. Stuart Ferguson, amplifying his ALIA 2004 conference paper on the subject, attributed the situation partly to faulty analysis of problems and inflated expectations about associated technology. Most KM software, he said, are actually information management tools that were never designed to address the needs of the learning organisation.

TFPL’s Angela Abell, however, based on her experience as a major recruiter of information professionals in the UK, where KM jobs seem to be more abundant, promoted the viability of KM and the opportunities it presents for librarians. Drawing on two recent reports - The 2003 CKO Summit’s framework The Knowledge Proposition and the British Standards Institution’s Skills for Knowledge Working: a Guide to Good Practice – she predicted continued integration of information and other disciplines within teams to support complex work in all sectors. KM, she said, is about managing connections, contexts, opportunities and partnerships. And, if you’re interested in a career shift to the world of internally generated information, records management positions are now in very high demand, certainly in the UK.

Kate Andrews urged a central role for librarians in intellectual capital processes, particularly in identifying information assets, converting information consumables to organisational capital, managing the information lifecycle, and improving the capacity of organisations to create value.

There was some evidence at the conference of the integration of the information disciplines within organisations, while papers on the difficulties in dealing with inter-disciplinary relationships suggest that convergence and integration are still in their infancy.

Joan Frye Williams said that, in a period of disorientation, librarians have been caught in a turf war and cultural clash with IT workers because of different values, motivations and behaviours. Her exploration of personality types and tips for handling these relationships, however, seemed to deal with stereotypes at an operational rather than a strategic level.

Lisa Cotter and Suzanne Lewis touched on the past reluctance by some librarians to talk to IT at Central Coast Health and subsequent forced engagement as the result of changing agency business strategies.

Centrelink decided that its library and IT worlds could no longer remain separate. Anne Daniels and Pam Garfoot described how library-IT relationships have changed partly as a result of work on language management by the Data & Information Service, which is responsible for data administration, performance reporting, data matching services such as fraud detection, records management, and resource discovery.

Janet Fletcher and Jennifer Peasley, from Macquarie University, outlined how the silos are being dismantled and the divide between library and IT services is being bridged through the adoption of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) as a framework for improved services based on incident and problem management, capacity building and delivery of physical and electronic information.

Marshalling the capabilities of librarians, IT workers and other knowledge workers was the subject of a vivid talk by Paul Smollen, a Clinical Nurse Consultant, and Rolf Schafer, the chief librarian, at St Vincent’s Hospital. When St Vincent’s was inundated by travellers as a result of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis, there was a lack of information about the disease and widespread confusion. Articles had not yet been indexed by main databases. Linking systems, staff and information involved rapid reconfiguration of resources centring on the intranet and the development of an information pathway, filtered links to accredited websites, a SARS manual, and messaging service.



Other examples of the imagination and commitment of librarians in responding to technological change were on display in papers from all library sectors.

Eric Wainwright, echoing other eminent university librarians, touched a pulse in his ALIA 2004 conference paper when he said that many university libraries are still in danger of defining their roles too narrowly. They must see themselves in educational terms, he said, rather than informational terms.

At Information Online 2005, Maxine Brodie’s paper on the eScholarship agenda at Macquarie University deserved plenary rather than parallel status. Sparked by the crises in scholarly publishing, new access problems are emerging from a “new mode of knowledge production.” Responses generally revolve around electronic publication of monographs and journals, redefinition of intellectual property, creation and exposure of open access repositories, digitising materials created in other formats, preservation of electronic publications, and management of large data sets on the PCs of researchers. With an eye on critical success factors espoused in Davenport and Prusak’s Information Ecology, Macquarie University Library is taking an evolutionary approach which avoids the “perennial library trap of perfectionism.” It is not clear, she said, whether eScholarship activities will be successful and sustainable in the long term. The major barriers to implementation and success are political and cultural rather than technological.

Developments in specific institutional repository initiatives were amplified by a number of speakers. These included Geoff Payne on the Australian Research Repositories Online to the World (ARROW) project, Tom Ruthven on the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories, Tony Cargnelutti on the Australian Digital Theses Program, and Martin Borchert and Joanna Richardson on the experience at Griffith University implementing the Hive Digital Repository.

A paper by Di Clarke and Des Stewart, led examples of other activities in the higher education sector, when they described the development of the Southern Cross University Tweed Gold Coast Campus Library as the first bookless e-campus library in Australia, and resulting changes to approaches on selection, document delivery and information literacy. Vicki Bates and Paul Genat spoke about the creation of a metadata, digital rights and learning assets management system as part of a “blended learning agenda” at Brisbane’s Southbank Institute.

The work of government and corporate libraries were represented by Heather Jones on an audit of information resources as part of risk management exercise at Hobart City Council, an initiative that has gained support for other information management projects at the council. Two presentations, one by Catherine Gilbert and the other by Gaik Khong and Shirley White, described projects at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library – delivery of digitised television and radio items to the desktops of parliamentarians and implementation of 3M’s Digital Materials Flow Management system, using radio frequency identification technology to manage stocktaking, shelf-reading and other activities.

Public libraries seem to be clawing back ground that some Information Online 2003 presenters said they were at risk of losing. MLA chairman Mark Wood proclaimed last year that, in the UK, “the tide has turned for public libraries” because library visits in the past year had increased by almost 5 million, library investment had reached an all time high, libraries had bought more books and they were now open for longer periods.

If this trend is mirrored in Australia, further progress will undoubtedly centre on efforts by the National Library of Australia, which reported on two significant initiatives.

Tony Boston and Bemal Rajapatirana gave an update on the redevelopment of Kinetica as Libraries Australia. Among enhancements are parallel searching of multiple remote databases, record sorting, IP authentication, and improved advanced searching and ‘get’ options. (Find and Get have appeared as the new, no-nonsense buzz word for resource discovery and delivery). Proposals for future development include wider access (subject to funding), provision of RSS feeds, and clustered displays derived from its work on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FBBR) data model.

Information Australia is a pilot portal project involving the National Library and selected public library services to facilitate improved access by their constituents to the National Bibliographic Database, PictureAustralia, APAIS full text and other resources. Fran Wilson, Roxanne Missingham and Janet Smith, in reporting favourable outcomes, pinpointed three major areas to be resolved - funding models for community access by all Australians, support for resources to match increased ILL traffic, and authentication issues. Although extension of the project is dependent on additional government funding, work on subsidiary issues is continuing through the Peak Bodies Forum and other meetings, as are discussions with local government and other possible players.

Andrew Bennett provided an interesting case study on the implementation of wider community access to online resources at the University of Queensland Library, a thorny subject that will surely attract wider interest at future conferences as head-scratching continues on ways of connecting libraries in the manner of banks.

Virtual reference, two years ago, seemed to be the productivity frontier for libraries. After the laudable creation of cataloguing efficiencies, the time seemed to have arrived to rationalise effort at the enquiry counter. However, several speakers hinted mixed success on this front and one vendor indicated that adoption of dedicated technology had been limited.

It was heartening, therefore, to hear Royal Adelaide Hospital’s Mary Peterson and Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s Sue Rockliff talk about a successful joint venture, Chasing the Sun, involving the South Australia Department of Human Services Libraries Consortium and the South West Information for Clinical Effectiveness in the UK. Most of the development work for this award-winning after-hours cooperative virtual reference service was undertaken in Australia. The UK provided funds for the trial. That the idea ignited at a dinner between Australian and UK counterparts is an indication that imagination is relatively cheap. Its global perspective hints at opportunities for other types of library groupings to consolidate their interests worldwide. And its dependency on future funding underlines the challenges of dealing with costs, benefits and scale.

Lindon Fairbairn reported on University of Sydney Library’s experimental Ask Live Service. Many questions relating to staffing, training, promotion, management, evaluation and integration, she said, still need to be answered. Has virtual reference arrived too early for the marketplace? What will be the long term impact of increased numbers of tech-savvy users with a preference for electronic material and an intolerance of delays?

Liz Blankson-Hemans from Dialog urged delegates to go beyond return on investment in defining the value of services, beyond traditional "soft" indicators such as time saved, and to use metrics which more effectively articulate impact on business initiatives


Broad strategic issues received scant attention.

Colin Webb called for a national plan, based on overseas models, to guide future action on digital preservation. His paper on the National Library’s PANDORA project also stimulated the metaphor for the title of this article. Ten years ago, he said, we talked of the Internet in terms of “drinking from a fire hose,” but we are now discovering there are more similarities with the fire than with the hose. PANDORA operates in a ”fire zone” as it deals with the paradoxes and tensions of beginning something yet finding the means to sustain it, of promoting individual responsibilities within a collaborative framework, and of responding to the challenges of rapidly evolving technologies and standards.

Brian Fitzgerald urged libraries to become involved as critical agents in the global creative commons movement, represented in Australia by Queensland University of Technology. And Hemant Manohar’s presentation on the knowledge landscape in India tempts further investigation by those, who, like me, missed it.

It was curious that programmers, presenters and maybe even delegates were not attracted more deeply to contextual threads such as the cursory Senate Inquiry report, the release of the latest Strategic Framework for the Information Economy, the break-up of the National Office of the Information Economy and continued development by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of knowledge-based economy and society metrics. The work of the Australian Research Information Infrastructure Committee was mentioned in at least one paper and, by implication, in several others about specific projects, but other new players and enforcers such as the Collections Council of Australia seemed to be off the radar screen.



The Information Online conference again attracted over 1000 delegates and presenters from all library sectors, reaffirming its status as Australia’s most popular library conference and trade exhibitor. But its vanguard status may have disappeared. As Joan Frye Williams observed in her presentation, every library job is now a technology job. Other local conferences now echo its look and feel.

Are there lifecycle factors that need to be considered in future iterations?

Australian library conferences tend to be about learning and networking. Their financial viability depends on an appeal to different interests operating at different levels within the profession. The formula involves thought leaders delivering sermons from the mount, papers that are sometimes refereed to ensure quality (as in the case of the VALA conference), and a good time for all. But, if comments by a senator at the Senate Inquiry on the Role of Libraries are interpreted correctly, politicians think librarians do not use their association conferences to great effect.

ALIA, in recent years, has endeavoured to reduce duplication in conferences under its control and discouraged those with risky prospects, an approach that has seen the temporary or permanent disappearance, for example, of the Specials, Health and Law Libraries Conference. This strategy often meets with tribal responses lamenting loss of territory: the thirst for the experience of a conference seems to override interest in macro problems looking for solutions. The launch of the Australian and New Zealand branch of the US-based Special Libraries Association at the Information Online conference, leading to an immediate increase its ANZ membership by 20%, generated speculation about a possible local conference representing the special libraries sector in the future.

Major overseas reports beg local interpretation and possible action. The Wider Information and Library Issues Project (WILIP) by the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, for example, concluded that the potential of libraries is underdeveloped, at least in the UK. The situation is caused by fragmentation, duplication of effort and resources, lack of leadership and lack of influence in the higher reaches of policy and political power. A more coherent vision, it said, is required to link strategies for all types of library and information services, raise the profile of libraries with government and other stakeholders, and address issues of low esteem and skill gaps within the sector. A flow-on report is due in April. How applicable is WILIP to the Australian scene? Are there opportunities awaiting ownership? To what extent is it the role of conferences to address these issues? And should a conference such as Information Online have a contributory role to play?

Attempts to use of major local library association conferences for strategic purposes have not met with success. Conferences with strategic intent – as exemplified by, say, forums of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) – need rigorous lead-up processes and post-conference momentum. Even then, success is not guaranteed - as Alex Byrne observed in his report on WSIS at ALIA 2004. Despite exhaustive consultation through subcommittees, negotiations at WSIS were often frustrated by territorial interests. While its action plan captured a worthy agenda, it is more of a response to the pressures of advocates than a well considered strategy. Urgent targets have all been moved to 2015, far enough in the future, Byrne said, ‘to lose any sense of urgency.’ And the failure of many heads of government to attend sessions signalled a lack of confidence in major resolutions.

Effective action by libraries generally falls to bodies with control over funds and political connections. Leadership in managing the bush fires awaits the Collections Council of Australia.

Most information is managed by organisations without libraries. Information Online is still very much a librarians’ conference in a country where genuine mingling of businesses, academia and the information disciplines seems to occur at smaller events such as AusWeb, Educause and Ozeculture. Large conferences are important mechanisms for stimulating unexpected collisions that can elude smaller gatherings. The need to bring the unconnected information tribes together in a big conference is debateable. Maintaining a leading edge for Information Online, if that is a goal, paradoxically may require risking popularity. If a new niche is warranted, its shoots may spring from Information Online’s origins as an information science and technology enterprise. Life cycles can be circular.



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