IMLS WebWise 2007 – My sleeper-theme

IMLS WebWise Welcome

[Image: Ken Hamma, Jay Jordan and Anne Imelda-Radice welcoming IMLS WebWise 2007 attendees]

At most conferences I go to, there’s the official theme, and then there’s my personal “sleeper-theme,” some issue that grabs my attention which gets negotiated by a variety of speakers in passing, and may gain more depth in hallway conversations. For IMLS WebWise, my sleeper-theme was how institutions positioned themselves vis-a-vis the network. OCLC CEO Jay Jordan started me off with his opening remarks, where he quoted the Perceptions Report [pdf link]: 84% of respondents claim that they start their quest for information with a search engine, as opposed to the 1% who start with a library website. While this statistic has been well-publicized since the report’s publication in 2005, it still gives me pause.

In the museum keynote, Elizabeth Broun (Smithsonian American Art Museum) seemed struck by that number as well, and readily acknowledged that this fact didn’t only apply to libraries, but also to museums and their online offerings. On the other hand, her presentation focused almost exclusively on how the Smithsonian American Art Museum has made their web presence a more attractive destination in and of itself – and what amazing work SAAM has done! Chewing on the 84%, however, I would have also loved to hear strategies for how the museum intends to get in the flow (as Lorcan likes to call it) and meet users where they are (search engines, social networking sites, social knowledge creation sites). During the q&a, McKenzie Smith beat me to the mic and pressed the issue – would Elizabeth Broun consider giving up some control over museum content by injecting it into contexts where the museum itself wouldn’t have any control over the content anymore, such as for example Wikipedia? Broun acknowledged that she’s getting ready to re-evaluate the museum’s need for authoritative control around issues of social tagging, but unfortunately she didn’t address the deeper implications of the question at hand.

Deanna Marcum’s (Library of Congress) library keynote on Friday morning confirmed that while museums only feel the pressure of finding their audience where they lurk to a degree, libraries know they don’t have a choice. Deanna as quoted by Holly: “What I think our challenge is, it is not enough for us to create the perfect finding system, we know from all the user studies that individuals, who are looking for information, go directly to the open web, and our marvelous catalogues are not getting used. We have to find ways to take our content and the metadata and move that content to the open web.

One of the WebWise preconferences addressed the theme of getting in the flow head-on – “Sharing Images and Data: Making Access to Collections Easier and Better” presented a packed ballroom with technological strategies, mission-driven rationales as well as case-studies on how to get digital image collections into the hands of our audience. Again, hallway conversations confirmed that the museum community is currently struggling with the right balance between control and sharing: while they’d like to be more effective in fee-free licensing of high-resolution digital images with researchers and learners, they also want to make sure that those very same images do fetch an adequate price when used commercially.

Disclaimer: I was on the WebWise planning committee this year – and I still thoroughly enjoyed myself in DC!
Head’s up: A podcast of all talks, powerpoints, as well as a conference summary prepared by Diane Zorich will be available in the future.

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