Internet Librarian 2007: The Bad Stuff

I had a great time in Monterey at Internet Librarian this year, but boy, there sure were some aspects that I found frustrating and infuriating.

Let’s start with the internet access. Why am I blogging about the conference after the fact? Because I wasn’t able to access the free wifi at the conference, not once. Other attendees told me they also had a lot of trouble using the wifi. Apparently, the wifi couldn’t handle so many conference attendees using it at the same time. But I did see people online, and I could never get the wifi to work for me. Could it be because I was using an Ubuntu Linux-driven laptop? Maybe. But at an “Internet Librarian” conference, that shouldn’t be a reason. (Also, I was using my Ubuntu laptop last year and was able to use the conference wifi, as erratic a signal as it was.) Because I rely on my laptop to keep me connected, I missed a lot of opportunities for spontaneous socializing and conferencing; I couldn’t use Twitter, I couldn’t IM, I couldn’t keep up with other people’s blogs. The only internet access I could get around the conference area was in my hotel room (hi-speed cable access, for $10 a day), which was far from convenient and far from immediate. Frankly, I’m appalled at the internet access problems at a conference called “Internet Librarian.” It’s as if the conference organizers don’t take the name and focus of the conference seriously.

This flows nicely into my next point of frustration. Let me first say that I don’t want to harsh on the work the presenters put into their presentations. Some of the presenters are friends of mine, and all of the presenters I saw did at least a good job of presenting at a conference (and some did a great job). But…at a conference called Internet Librarian, I was surprised and frustrated at how many of the presentations were lectures based around offline Powerpoint slides. I’ve seen videos of TED presentations, and compared to that, Internet Librarian generally looks like Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. I appreciate that the library profession as a whole isn’t rolling in money like Scrooge McDuck, but as many of the presentations I attended pointed out, even on a shoestring budget, you can make dynamic, networked presentations. If I’m attending a conference called Internet Librarian, I don’t just want to talk about the internet, as if the internet were Shangri-La, I want the conference to be a part of the internet, a part of our everyday librarian lives.

So, while I had a great time and would go back to Monterey in a heartbeat to interact with these dynamic, inspirational librarians, I’m seriously on the fence about attending the conference again until Internet Librarian really starts living up to its name.

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17 thoughts on “Internet Librarian 2007: The Bad Stuff

  1. Actually, someone needs to do a program called “dynamic networked presentations.” I don’t begrudge people relying on PowerPoint because it’s cheap, it’s easy, and most of all, it’s *reliable.* In this same post you note the connection issues with IL… as a presenter, I have absolutely got to be sure that I’ll be able to give my talk.

    Liz Lawley did a good job because she connected to two live sites and engaged with them directly. But she did warn us she had her talk “in the can.”

    Right now I’m making slides I don’t want to have to use. I’d much rather work from my delicious set, which would be apropros , given that it’s a talk about folksonomies. I’m guessing that the Defrag conference will have far better support than IL did for ‘net access. But though I attended a couple of talks that were too slide-based, I do understand why presenters use slides in the first place.

  2. Right, KGS. That’s why I think the two issues are (pardon the pun) connected. It’s hard to plan a dynamic, internet-based presentation when you have no assurance that you’ll have any internet connectivity. And I can’t say all the Powerpoint presentations I saw were bad–obviously not, because I sat in on some great presentations by some great presenters. But all in all, to have a conference called Internet Librarian where there really isn’t so much of the internet, except in theory, is awfully rinkydink.

  3. Dang… I should amend my trip report and add “rinkydink.” 😉

  4. Well, you’ve validated some of the same feelings of others of us who attended AASL. See: http://robdarrow.wordpress.com/2007/10/27/aasl-and-a-web-20-rating/ . It is up to all of us to help move the school library and library profession into the 21st century. Using newer technology tools is a challenge because everyone is at a different level of use / comfort level no matter what we do. At least people are using PowerPoint and not overheads like are being used in the doctorate classes I’m taking!

  5. Thanks for the link, Rob. I think it’s an excellent point that definitely carries over to IL. IL is about Web 2.0 and Library 2.0, but it isn’t really Web 2.0 and Library 2.0.

    Then again, IL isn’t at all different from the other professional conferences I’ve attended. That’s another blog post I’ll be writing soon.

  6. I hear what KGS is saying about having a backup if the net access is down, but isn’t it time we start treating “internet access” in the same way we treat the other things that conference organizers provide? After all, presenters don’t pack hand puppets and felt boards in case the organizer can’t muster a projector. We don’t feel the need to keep the number of a folding chair rental facility handy in case the organizers forget to bring the chairs. And promising an internet connection shouldn’t be like promising sunny weather.

  7. Steve, I’m not objecting to what you’re saying at all. I’m saying as a presenter my fanny is fried if I can’t give a talk, and I can’t even rely on technology being available for a library conference called “Internet Librarian.” So I *have* to package a talk as if I’ll be offline, because experience has taught me it’s not enough of a priority to the conference organizers to ensure I’ll have access.

    Once I’ve put it in the can, repurposing it in some networked form is twice the work.

    Though… one time I grumbled about making slides and then drove several hours to Sacramento to give a talk, only to find the city had neatly sliced a major telco cable and we were totally offline just about everywhere. I smoothly opened my bazillion-slide PowerPoint with its umpty-ump screen captures, and the talk was a success.

  8. It is a same that up-scale hotels and conference centers feel the need to charge for Internet access. At some point, they have got to see it as being essential, just like the TV and phone service. I’m pleased that ITI was able to get us some access to the Internet in one hotel, but like others, I had problems with it sometimes.

    I’ll “second” Karen’s remark that presenters have to be able to do their presentations no matter what. I’ve been bungled by bad networks in the past. PowerPoint (or whatever people use) is reliable.

    One thing we (presenters) don’t know totally ahead of time is what we “could” do. We’re asked if we need an Internet connection, etc., but we don’t know how stable it will be.

    What could ITI tell us ahead of time that would allow us to be more creative in our use of technology?????

    BTW I did a live demo of SL as a cyber tour, proving that I could walk (virtually) and talk at the same time!

  9. I wasn’t at IL, but I’ve been to tech conferences with iffy wifi or Internet access. Before I went to library school, I was (very briefly) an event planner. This was before everyone had wifi and before hotels routinely had Internet access in their conference centers so I can’t speak to this problem directly.

    However, I think we’re all (I do this too) a little quick to fault the event organizers. If I knew I needed something for the conference I was planning, often all I could do was call the hotel, ask if they had it and hope they weren’t lying to me/incorrect/saying what they thought I wanted to hear without checking.

    Surely these hotels/conference centers have other heavily wired groups coming in. I don’t know why they don’t get it, but it seems that they don’t. Perhaps if every attendee of every conference complained to the conference center/hotel individually, they’d decide it’s cheaper to improve their wireless network than it is to listen to all those complaints?

  10. Hmm. How hard would it be to set up a guerilla Wi-Fi network as a stopgap measure? I can tell you I’m definitely bringing my own power strip to the next conference at a minimum.

    I generally did OK with Wi-Fi at the Monterey Conference Center – but of course the keynotes and other sessions were in a different hotel where we didn’t have access to the network.

    I’d be interested in seeing more interactivity and audience participation in sessions generally. With some exceptions, standing at a podium and showing me a website isn’t much of an improvement over standing at a podium and showing me slides.

  11. Kate, in all fairness, I’ve done the “call the hotel” routine only to be left more confused than before. I do think it is the event planner’s responsibility to ensure that an event planned for “Internet librarians” is fully online…

  12. Dude! You have channeled my blog post about NELA!

    http://coollibrarianblog.blogspot.com/2007/10/nela-again.html

    Your blog post, however, got actual comments.

    Perhaps we need to be looking at colleges/universities as conference locations, as their wifi is usually set-up for heavy use, and they have COMPUTER classrooms that would allow us to have more INSTRUCTIONAL presentations, which I would love to see.

  13. Yeah, your complaints are spot on, Jessica. I think conferences are another area in our profession we need to rethink.

  14. Good point, Karen. I guess I assume they investigated and were told “oh, sure we have wifi” and not told “for 12 people.” I, um, did not like being an event planner and have endless (maybe too much?) sympathy for conference organizers.

    Oh, Jessica- yes yes yes. Conferences with classes would be great. I presented at NELA and the tech problems were so aggravating! I did put my preso online, though and so did at least a few other presenters:
    http://nelib.org/conference/2007/program.htm

  15. Same issues at ASIS&T this year where the conference theme was: “Joining Research and Practice: Social Computing and Information Science.”

    http://marklindner.info/blog/2007/10/21/asist-2007-annual-meeting/

    What is it about this profession and its conference that “we” do not get this?

    I do have to concur with Karen and others, though, about the need to know one can actually present. Of course, having something in Powerpoint is no guarantee either as was demonstrated at ASIS&T–different versions, moving cross-platform, etc.

  16. Okay…having given this more thought, I’d like to suggest that we make a tangible list of suggestions for Information Today on how to keep Internet Librarian relevant and attracting librarians who want to position themselves and their institutions for the future.

    I’ll get us started.

    * Make the cyber tours a track. Put two cyber tours together in a session and allow time for questions. I know the cyber tours might now be known when the program is announced, but I would suspect that general topics for the cyber tours are known and could be announced for that track.

    In a room, it would easier for people to hear, etc. Presenters wouldn’t feel like they are competing with all of the other noise in the exhibit hall. Yes, I know that one of the reasons for putting them in the exhibit hall is to draw people to the exhibit hall…we’ll just need to find something to take their place.

    * Negotiate with the two conference hotels for free Internet access for attendees who stay at those hotels, as well as for free wifi in the conference areas. Explain to the hotels that this conference attracts people who are reliant on technology and if we don’t have access, we get grumpy (in person and online). For us, Internet access is like water.

    * Keep the power strips that where placed in some/all of the rooms. That was very helpful although I know they couldn’t be used by everyone.

    * Invite innovative libraries to come and present about their services. Don’t look for them to respond to “the call,” since the might not. Have each talk about what they have done & how. Emphasize that they need to do a show-and-tell, and be prepared to really talk about the good, bad and ugly.

    * Have a session at the end of each day that is a wrap-up session, that allows people to talk about what they have seen, shout out ideas, etc. Yes, facilitate it, but ensure that the people talking are the audience. (Sounds kinda unconference-ish!)

    * Tell people during the conference how they can follow the conference online. I think we assume that people know, but they might not.

    Okay…What other tangible suggestions do we have?

  17. Those are great suggestions, Jill! I would go so far as to add that IL could use half as many presentations, with the rest of the slots filled with breakout sessions for conversation and hands-on play. Honestly, how many lectures do we need on mashups and Second Life? Why not have full sessions where people are given hands-on tutorials on mashups or realtime tries in Second Life? If I attend IL next year, I will cheerfully volunteer my hotel room for conversation sessions. I’ll even make coffee.

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