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Paper no 24









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A view of the Information Online Conference 2003 Part 2

by Paul Bentley


Article originally published in Online Currents April 2003 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd. Part 1 was published in the January/February issue. 

Last month’s article on the 2003 Information Online Conference looked at some of the presentations dealing with roles in an information revolution which, according to some commentators, will run another 20 years. Opinions on roles again bubble to the surface in this month’s article, which focuses on strategy, systems and services.


Stephen Coffman, in his opening address, We Are All Agreed that Life is Better in Books, looked at responses by public and academic libraries to the pressures of the electronic age. 

Quoting statistics from the Association of Research Libraries, he said that circulation in US research libraries declined by 18.3% and reference enquiries dropped by 25% in the period 1995-2000. In some institutions, the fall was as high as 60%. Such trends have created the widespread perception - articulated recently in The Washington Post that ‘we don’t need no stinking libraries - its all on the Net’ (1).  Budget cuts have followed.  

Libraries have not been taking this lying down, he said. They have been doing all they can to disassociate themselves from the book. Library schools have been running away from the L word. Librarians have been trying to reinvent themselves. Some may have taken things too far. Perhaps they need to pull back on the reins.

Printed books are more popular than ever, while e-books are not so popular. There  has been an exponential increase in the number of books and journals. Between 1980 and 2000, 2 million titles were produced (presumably in the US) compared with 1.3 million in the period 1880-1980. Journal titles increased from 20,000 in 1965 to 160,000 in 1990.

Bookshops and the Internet are providing stiff competition for libraries. An average of 40 new superstores opened annually between 1997 and 2002. The number of superstores in the USA is greater than the number of libraries with more than 100,000 titles. They have better amenities. They offer longer hours. They have become the new community centre. Amazon delivers millions of titles to doorsteps. Google does more reference work in 3 days than libraries do in a year. 

If people want books, a place to go to, convenient hours and good service, it makes sense for libraries to follow the lead of the bookstores by offering a better ambiance and more convenience. To pay for services, libraries need to save money by engineering more efficient processes, taking advantage of new technologies and learning how others perform similar functions. They need to make money by increasing the proportion of sponsorship over government subsidy, perhaps by following the lead of organisations like National Public Radio - look at membership, pursue corporate sponsorship, and develop more effective retail services.

Do we need new roles? Turning The Washington Post’s quote on its head, his view was that ‘we don’t need no stinking new roles’, we just need to do old ones better and exercise a bit more imagination.

Iain Brown provoked deeper thinking on this point in a stimulating paper ostensibly about the development of an enterprise information portal at Defence Library Services. The presentation was tucked away in one of the streams but deserved centre stage.

Librarians, he said, have given a ‘fulsome reception to the news that they have been suddenly reclassified as part of the information sector.’  The reality is that ‘their revivalist effusion is sinecurist and largely rhetorical in nature - a weak attempt to manufacture an aura of cutting-edge hipness that sits ill at ease with their workaday experience as cultural bureaucrats’. Their responses to new challenges have been characterised by ‘a rearward-looking access bromide and banal, sugary blandishments by, of and for librarians as the ultimate search engines.’

These are ‘crow-eating days for libraries and librarians’ - particularly in the government and corporate sector.  The profession is under threat from both within and without and is ‘heavily exposed to a scholarly and trade-book publishing industry in crisis, a much vaunted, peer-review mechanism fallen prey to lucre and celebrity, an online industry in long term decline, falling usage measures, professional associations in disarray, a poor public image and, of course, Internet-driven disintermediation.’

Drawing on the conclusions of Randall Collins, he said that technological change does not raise the skill requirements of most jobs very much; the great majority of all jobs can be learned through practice by almost any literature person, and the number of esoteric specialities requiring unusually extensive training or skill is relatively small.

Brown’s anatomy of failure pinpointed deficiencies in library products, services and platforms. It is hardly surprising, he said, that many knowledge workers see libraries ‘as marginal, irrelevant and even archaic’. And, bouncing off Richard Helsetine, he said that ‘there is no way in which their traditional roles can be maintained. In the short to medium term there may be a role for the librarian as navigator, helping to guide users around complex networks to information resources, but this role should diminish as networks become easier to use. The locus of both information provision and information use is shifting out of the library and librarians or their successors will need to follow.’


Portals had become the hot topic by the 2001 conference and are now a strategic plank of National Office of the Information Economy. They continued to dominate the conference program in 2003 - along with website and intranet management - as various speakers explored approaches by industries and enterprises.  

Iain Brown in Cooler Runnings, after examining the broad professional contexts summarised above, described progress at the Defence Library Service (DLS) in developing an enterprise information portal in collaboration with a commercial partner.

Librarians will find the transition to information portals very difficult, he said. ‘They are not now nor have they even been in the information business. They have no overall concept of the whole communications environment.  Contrary to hyped up claims, specialisations in the collection, organisation and preservation of largely print-based materials does not extend to managing community and work group netspaces containing essentially open-end, unstructured, volatile and, yes, ephemeral, digital content’.

Current library systems, he said, contain ‘debilitating design flaws that compromise information services delivery’. New service strategies and systems are demanded to deliver dynamic electronic spaces, integrated information management, and collaboration and workflow environments that catalyse information sharing in the context of key business processes. Solutions are needed which redefine ‘access’ and seed and shape customer information use behaviours.

The DLS portal was initiated in December 1999 and, following a tendering process, a partnership was formed with Wizard Computer Training and, later, Synergy Innovations, to begin an ‘exploratory journey with major, unidentifiable risks’ to become ‘one of the more successful government-commercial sector partnerships in the recent history of Defence’.  The project management story, technical components based on Lotus Domino, functionality and success measures are described in Brown’s 72-page report.

Edward Lim and Earle Gow provided a progress report on the Australian Academic and Research Library Network Portal Project, involving twenty Australian universities and the National Library of Australia in the development of improved access to analogue and digital resources at Australian university and research libraries. Initiated in 1999 by CAUL, the pilot phase, with $2.8 million from the Federal Government, established a consortium framework and identified interoperability standards and technologies that will underpin phase 2, which is expected to begin in 2003. 

Other case studies were represented by the following: Groenewegan and Huggard on Monash University’s portal project which tested Fretwell–Downing’s ZPortal software; Girke, Porter and Westwood on CSIRO’s portal (using ENcompass and other Endeavour products); Raunik and Browning on another Endeavour site, the State Library of Queensland’s Queensland Information Portal; Korale and Forsyth on a cooperative public library website developed by Leichhardt Library and the State Library of NSW; and Easton on the Australian Resource Centre for Hospital Innovations’ portal. 

Intranet management was explored by Kirton, Brady and Reilly (NSW Agriculture), Scolaro, Archer (WA Women’s and Children’s Health Service), and Sellick, Beacham and Kalucy (Primary Health Care).

Iain Hildebrand presented findings of a survey of Australian public library websites, highlighting the fact that most are still static. He urged public libraries to rethink the way their sites can be used to provide interactive, real time online services and to make a stronger commitment of staff and financial resources to online services.

Katie Blake, in The Lonely Librarian, contemplated the impact of the user interface on corporate library services, based on the results of a survey she conducted recently. Siding with the views of one survey respondent, she concluded that, on the whole, librarians have let themselves down by not getting up to speed on technological and marketing requirements. Some librarians, however, have achieved a higher visibility and adopted innovative ways of providing services. Their responsibilities are broadening to include a wider range of tasks. Web-based services are proving that there is opportunity for librarians who are willing ‘to grab hold and get on the boat’.  


Putting things in the shop window is one thing, meeting service expectations is another.  Some of the tools and techniques for meeting these expectations are described in the following summaries, which I hope will serve as navigation guides to individual papers and presenters. 

Collaboration and virtual reference services

Collaborative reference and information delivery service is now the main productivity frontier for libraries. Collaborations to create digital content will continue to be a key strategy for some libraries well into the future. 

Naomi Krym, from CISTI, promoted the need for partnerships to expand access, develop systems infrastructure and provide workflow efficiencies. Diane Kresh gave a progress report on the LC-led QuestionPoint, which, she said, is leading to true 24/7 service, increased internationalisation, adoption of relevant standards and systems integration. Elizabeth Dracoulis reported on Australia’s equivalent, AskNow, in the context of the National Library of Australia’s strategy to digitise collections, provide electronic resources, and develop aggregated services like PictureAustralia, MusicAustralia and DancingAustralia.  And case studies involving collaboration between other kinds of libraries were presented by Rigney and Cummings (Queensland Police Service and Justice and Attorney–General’s Department), Drummond and Campbell (Queensland Government Library Consortium) and Lewis and Saunders (Yarra Plenty Regional Library and Brisbane City Council Library’s for managing NetLibrary eBook titles).

KM, strategic positioning, demonstrating value & marketing

Knowledge management is no longer the Next Big Thing. Demonstrating value and good marketing have been catch-cries for the past few decades and deserve to be repeated as ingredients for providing effective service rather than as panaceas for reaching the top of the information industry mountain. 

Martin North, in Harnessing the Insights from KM to Ensure Success, said KM needs another 3-5 years to overcome growing cynicism and find widespread acceptance. Nearly 60% online initiatives, he said, have failed to deliver on their promise. Only 15% of KM projects have had a significant impact within two years, although 50% have had limited traction within 3-5 years. He compared a successful and unsuccessful project against his company’s Knowledge Management Assessment Framework consisting of work, information, application and technical KM architecture indicators.

Merle Conyer, in Influencing Decision Makers to Support Knowledge Initiatives, said there is no sure-fire formula because we don’t have control over decision making, but the odds of success are narrowed by listening, leading, positioning, balancing, communicating and demonstrating. Anne Caputo said people make decisions based on the information at hand and the trick is to make sure the information is at hand by integrating online services into the work environment using the right combination of people, processes and technology. Kathleen Lazzari approached things from a resource discovery perspective, using her experience as part of a knowledge management business requirement within Centrelink.  

Amelia Kassel described methods for determining return on investment, identifying and tracking contributions, and conveying value to stakeholders and upper management. Jeremy Hodes talked about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission’s Information Initiative, involving an information cycle aligned with the budget cycle to help create effective and sustained information partnerships with business units.  

Roxanne Missingham’s paper was on the value of digital collections and hybrid libraries from the perspectives of information seekers, libraries and information producers predominantly in a public and academic library context  The digital library creates value when collections, the needs of users and information production are in synchronisation or harmony. Measures of value, reflecting the match between the three perspectives, can be made within specific disciplines (where in the past variable patterns have been noted) based on usage, availability and production indicators for measuring ‘digital footprints’.

Intelligence and analysis

Andrew Ford provided an overview of intelligence work and systems and pointed to a potentially greater collaborative role for librarians in intelligence gathering and decision making processes, while Babette Bensoussan gave a lesson on analytical tools and techniques. .

Searching and search engines

Chris Sherman explored the scope and quality of information on the Web. The Web is a treasure trove of authoritative, high quality information, but search engines crawlers have difficulty with about 46% of pages. The invisible Web is two to fifty times larger than the visible Web and resources are of a much higher quality. Certain file formats such as pdf, Flash, Office files and streaming media are not currently available –although this is likely to change. Real time data, dynamically generated pages and Web-accessible databases are also not available. In future some of the more difficult content will be indexed (eg Flash and  dynamic content) and we will see development of data-centric search engines; agent brokered database searching, and form crawlers. 

Ovid Technologies’ Bette Brunelle surveyed technologies, standards and issues relating to the quest for ‘a universal search engine’. She said there is no one-size-fits-all answer to search integration. The tools are still at the lowest common denominator and are likely to remain so for a while. Information vendors and institutions, however, are ideally positioned to work together in providing solutions for varied institutional users.

Electronic sources

Carol Tenopir gave us a picture of the growing world of e-journals. The librarian is now offered 2 major aggregator models, 6 types of e-journal categories and 3 main choices. There are now about 250,000 periodical titles in the marketplace, including 15,000 refereed scholarly periodicals - of which 12,000 are available in e-form from scholarly e-publishers (like Elsevier, BertelsmannSpringer and Blackwell), general e-journal aggregators (like OCLC ECO, EBSCOhost, HW Wilson, Gale and ProQuest), specialised aggregators (like Ovid and JSTORE), news and business aggregators (like LexisNexis, Dialog and Factiva), and free and partially free aggregators (like,, and

Corilee Christou offered golden rules for managing electronic content licences based on an understanding of user and potential user needs and requirements, Vicki Nicholson and Heather Layton discussed a trial partnership between DSTO Research Library and EBSCO Australia in developing a model licence for e-journal management between the two organisations. Dianne Hodge looked at the challenges faced by Australian Maritime College and other tertiary institutions with a small, dispersed student population to provide online services and information literacy programs. Beverley Forner presented some of the emerging models for online payment services with particular reference to buying and selling items of very small value to enable ‘pay-per-view’. Micropayment systems, she said, are likely to have a positive impact on Australian information services and products by opening up new and more flexible ways to pay, creating revenue streams that can be re-invested and development of better delivery infrastructure. 

Adrian Cunningham reviewed developments in recordkeeping and archival practice, evaluated successes and deficiencies in the last ten years, and proposed an agenda for collaborative action. Good recordkeeping has often been overlooked in the rush to adapt to new technologies, adopt email and web-based information delivery, and deal with the increased volume of information and changing user expectations. But there are grounds for increased optimism, based on solid international and local research, the emergence of standards and best practice guides, the development of strategic alliances between commonwealth and state government bodies and with other professional groups. New legislation and digital preservation strategies are in force. The recordkeeping profession is reinventing itself. But more work needs to done. Standards need to be implemented. The message needs to more effectively communicated. Change management techniques need to be employed to modify bad habits and promote the benefits of good recordkeeping. Too many recordkeeping professionals live in comfort zones. They need to work on their image as managers of paper and deal more effectively with people they don’t normally talk to.

Philip Garlick, from OneSource, considered a subject likely to find more prominence in future conferences -  external and internal content integration. Anne Parkhill, facing one of the big challenges of the electronic age, looked at issues surrounding the transfer of metadata responsibility to authors and outlined e–learning modules which she is developing to train  web authors in metadata use.

E–learning, library literacy and information literacy.

On a broader educational and training front, Leanne Cummings discussed the development of an online tutorial program at the Queensland Police Service to promote more effective use of department information resources to a large remote client base stationed throughout Queensland. Marie Therese Van Dyk and Richard Siegersma of Monash University addressed the practical realities of collaborative learning, with particular emphasis on the role libraries, using case studies and lessons learned within corporate and educational environments.  In the school arena, Alan Caters spoke on meeting the challenge of integrating online information resources into school curricula, while Estelle Lewis’s presentation was devoted to teaching strategies for managing online resources.


Anyone who has experienced the messiness of information management in the health system, will be interested in Mary Peterson’s experience at the Royal Adelaide Hospital Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in exploring wireless applications and the integration of library databases and resources into the hand–held (PDA) environment. 


The conference, in attracting more than 1200 delegates, was one of the most successful in its 17-year history and owed much to the experience, drive and commitment of its convener, Elizabeth Swan and her committee.

The need for clarity emerged as a common theme in a number of papers devoted to roles, strategies and services. In this context, it was refreshing to encounter provocation – reality checks - in a number of presentations. Too often professional discourse is cloaked in a security blanket. But even the most provocative pieces sometimes fall prey to emotion. Generalisations muddy positions. Opinions tend to be supported by literature reviews rather than hard data. Statistics, when they are used, are sometimes selective in supporting claims. : In discussing library strategy and practice, we will do well to remember Dr Roger Summitt’s exhortation in the final plenary session ‘distinguish between different types of information needs, from broad public needs to the needs of the commercial workplace.’ 

Stephen Coffman opened the conference by sticking up for the printed book and for places which hold lots of books.

The value of the book was underscored in attending and writing about the conference. There was no printed proceedings this time, in line with an emerging trend, in part driven by the major cost of producing them. It is only physically possible to attend 40% of the sessions. Presentations are increasingly only available as slides, which sometimes fail to give full value. At the time of writing the article, less than half the presentations are available from the conference website. Paradoxically, the most efficient way of gaining a comprehensive understanding online information trends and issues exposed by the conference is by reading the book, which no longer exists

It is a sentiment sometimes echoed in consulting focus groups by well-educated, experienced users of libraries and online resources in assessing the worth of the library to their organisation. The book, when available, is sometimes better than other forms of information and protracted online searching.  

In moving up the information industry trajectory to maturity, we will undoubtedly continue to witness both increasing levels of convergence of roles and deeper appreciation of specialisations in business, strategy, systems, sources and services.

Opportunities for librarians will be strengthened, in some places of employment, by a higher credentials in information management.

Depending on the needs of the user, underlying old fashioned principles - and formats for that matter - will stand many in good stead.

Paul Bentley is Director of Paul Bentley & Associates and the Wolanski Foundation He is also a member of the ALIA Information Specialists Group committee.

Information Online Conference papers are available at


(1)  Comment from Washington Post feature article quoted by Mary Devlin and Jeanne Goodrich in the editorial: Its Our Choice, OLA Quarterly, vol 7 no 3, Fall 2001 <>.



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