As a large conference they could afford stellar keynote speakers. Atom Egoyan, Jian Ghomeshi, and Michael Wesch were insightful and inspirational. There weren't a lot of take-aways points from their addresses, but they did powerfully highlight the importance for our schools, libraries, media, governments, and culture of collaboration, access, diversity, and an egalitarian treatment of new and popular culture.
If an army marches on its stomach, then conference delegates survive on their coffees. Yet not only was there no coffee provided there wasn't even attainable access to coffee! There was only a sole Timothy's with untenable lines. The lunch breaks were way too long (2 hours) yet the session breaks were only 10-15 minutes. Not long enough to get a coffee let alone visit the bathroom. I did have the an advantage of being a male in a crowd where women outnumber men about 1 to 20 and women's bathroom lines were long and winding. These gripes seem trivial but they greatly affect attendees experience and they are puzzling and perturbing when they occur at large and established events.
I wanted to live blog this conference but the organizers cheaped out on providing wifi. I've heard that the Metro Toronto Convention Centre charges exorbitant rates for delegates to have wifi. Still what does it say about the OLA and libraries in general when they apparently do not think Internet access is important?
It's not just the lack of wifi that was rather luddite of the OLA, but their conference website and online offerings were paltry. It would have been great to have some social networking and/or attendee profiles posted pre-conference (and not just a link to a Facebook page that was used as another channel to post messages). I only encountered one speaker who mentioned they would be posting their presentation online. The location for this was never specified and it doesn't seem like there is one yet. It is so simple and free to post links to presentations to sites such as SlideShare. There was mention of a companion "virtual conference" with live and archived webcasting, but details on this, such as a URL, are still lacking.
If the technical sophistication of the conference itself was lacking, it was not reflected in the speakers - as I found the speakers to be among the most insightful, topical, and understandable of any conference I have been to.
Unfortunately, my own tech savy was lacking. I signed out a netbook from my school to test drive it (and the plan was to live blog, as mentioned). I still haven't decided whether I want to buy a tablet or a netbook, so this was a good chance to put it to a field trial. BTW, I talked to a major academic publisher on their plans for smartphones and tablets and they indicated that they officially have zero intention of supporting BlackBerry - just Apple and Android. So I won't wait for RIM PlayBook to come to Canada after all. I took copious notes of the presentations (as it didn't seem like they were going to be shared afterward, also as mentioned). When transferring my files from the netbook to a USB stick (as I couldn't upload or email them due to the lack of wifi) most of my notes mysteriously disappeared.
Luckily, I was able to gather the key points of a couple sessions from the conference tweets. It was painful going through all the crap tagged as relevant to the conference (why do so many people pollute a collective feed with their narcissist posts or insane retweets of someone else's narcissist posts?). But I gathered the salient points. One speaker who was particularly incredible and whose session notes I lost is Fiacre O'Duinn. I hope to get his presentation somehow as it merits a post of its own.
Great Web 2.0 Face-off
This was a fun and action-packed panel panel where speakers went through an amazing amount of new web technology and how it can be used in education and libraries. Luckily, they posted a website with their list so I was able to get some - yes some - of their recommendations. Here is my simplified description of my favs (all appear to be free):
- Bitstrips - online comic creation
- Diigo - online bookmarking & annotating, collaborating info sharing
- Evernote - annotation & notes service
- FreeRealms- kid-friendly virtual world
- Glogster - seems like MySpace but have education version
- Google Apps - rough equivalent of MS Office
- Google Apps Marketplace - free or cheap biz software integrated with Google
- Kaywa - QR Code generator
- MyStoryMaker - online picture book creator
- Piclets - image poetry facilitator
- Popplet - social, information visualization
- Quora - collaborative Q&A
- SpringNote - wiki-based notebook
- Voicethread - collaborative multimedia presentations & commenting
- Voki - speaking & embeddable avatar creation
- Wallwisher - public or private webpages with commenting
- Worldlet - word cloud generator
- Zotero - reference & citation manager
Top Tech Trends
The speakers at this panel were also incredible and delved into more detailed consideration of the issues resulting from new and emerging technology. There was significant discussion on the familiar topics of the digital divide, net neutrality, and privacy - which I won't recap.
There was an interesting debate on the need for libraries to experiment and innovate. Dorothea Salo advised that through experiments is how we innovate even if projects are a failure, but Roger Nevin cautioned on the problems of failed technology decreasing partner buy-in.
Salo raised the growing role of personal data management and preservation. She cited Yahoo's announced closure of Delicious (something that has worried me greatly) and how would people react if they similarly shut down Flickr? As she alerted "We are now investing our digital content into the cloud, but... where's the backup for the cloud?"
Aaron Schmidt noted that in general "library interfaces are too hard to use. Why does this matter? Because easy trumps free". People will pay for applications that make it easy to fulfill their needs rather than invest in the learning curve of free, library apps. He suggested that library interfaces should be optimized for the demands of a mobile device as this will help us strip out extraneous features that can also be removed on the main web interfaces to improve usability. Schmidt noted libraries need more user testing to discover and rectify these problems.
In considering the new tech services libraries could provide, Schmidt cautioned that too often libraries try to provide the same offerings as commercial organizations (such as Amazon) or become a "book mausoleum". Libraries, he added, should facilitate experiences and help people to gather around content. Building upon this Salo noted that libraries could solicit and record local information, so that a library can become a commuty's "ambassador to the world".
This later points is acutely relevant to my research interests and an area that I hope is ripe for future discussion and exploration.