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On Monday, March 12th, I joined Mary Scanlon, Ellen Daugman and Sharon Snow and headed to Chapel Hill for the 2007 Librarians’ Association of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Conference, which had the theme “From MySpace to OurSpace: Connecting With Millennials.” Here are the sessions I found most interesting:

Are We Ready to Rethink Libraries for NetGen Students? – by Joan K. Lippincott of the Coalition for Networked Information

Ms. Lippincott began with a good general introduction to Millennials, or, as she calls them, NetGen students. Most of this material was familiar and similar to stuff we’ve been hearing about this generation for a while now: born between 1982 and 1991, they grew up with computers and mobile technologies, they’re always connected, they’re used to multi-tasking, they’re visual and experiential learners, they like to work in groups, and they’re producers of information as well as consumers. Now, of course, not all those attributes apply to everyone born between 1982 and 1991, but they provide a picture of how this group as a whole differs from previous generations of students.

However, despite NetGen’s familiarity and comfort with ubiquitous information technology, Lippincott has the sense from her research that NetGen is good at incorporating technology into their recreational lives, but not necessarily into their academic lives. She doesn’t believe that they use technology effectively in terms of being information literate, net savvy and visually literate.

Lippincott believes that libraries can play a role in increasing NetGen’s effective use of technology in their academic lives, but that libraries must transform in various ways to accomplish this goal. She cited a poll asking NetGen students what information sources suit their lifestyle and information needs, and the results were not positive for libraries. 64% of respondents said search engines suited their lifestyle, 30% said the online library, and only 24 % said the library.

In order to connect libraries to NetGen students, Lippincott argued that we must rethink our content, tools, service style and environments. She argued that library content should be more graphical, less textual, more multi-directional and less linear. She said that we should go for more graphical, visual displays of our collections in websites and such. Furthermore, we should begin or expand collections of webcasts, podcasts, and digital video, because these are sources that are and will continue to be important to NetGen students. She also recommended libraries work to provide services to pda’s and mobile devices. Regarding tools, Lippincott argued that we need to change library search tools from their traditional receptive, query-based, highly-structured, complex models to models that push out information, are interactive, are open and less-structured, and are simple. We need to do a better job of connecting users to the right search tools, and need to encourage faculty to develop new, specialized search tools. As for service style, Lippincott argued that we need to change to a less formalized approach, allowing service to be provided by trained students who function more as coaches, rather than always or exclusively relying on experts. She also argued for encouraging group activities and exploration. Group activities also formed the basis of her major idea for changing library environments, namely, providing more group spaces for collaboration.

Lippincott closed by offering some suggestions on how to accomplish this sort of library transformation: hire new types of staff (rather than traditional librarians), train existing staff, work in teams with students, “reverse mentoring” (having a younger, less-experienced person show an older, more-experienced person how to use new technology), experimenting and piloting, adapting and adopting, doing research assessment, and letting go of the old way of doing things.

Special Collections – by Richard Szary, Dr. Connie Eble, Laura Clark Brown

Richard Szary, the director of Special Collections at UNC-Chapel Hill, spoke first during this session. As he freely admitted at the beginning, Joan Lippincott covered much of the territory he wanted to discuss during her keynote address. However, he did hit on some interesting ideas. Szary explained that special collections are supply-side. They’re unique. Users have to come to the special collections, so they haven’t necessarily been friendly or easy to use. If you’re the only game in town, everybody else has to adjust, not you. And he honestly pointed out that special collections are not primarily concerned with ease of use or access, they are concerned with the selection and preservation of collections that have long-term value to society. With that in mind, Szary argued that many of the same methods that Lippincott endorsed could be used to encourage Millennials to connect with special collections, however, he stipulated that these methods should be used in such ways as do not disrupt the authority, quality and integrity of the collection.

Richard Szary was followed by Dr. Connie Eble, an English professor and Laura Clark Brown, manuscripts librarian, both at UNC-CH. Eble and Brown described a course they co-taught called “Interpreting the South From Manuscripts: A Seminar for First Year University Students.” The course revolved around freshmen working intensively in the UNC special collections to study the American south, and it seemed to be quite successful (even if I personally found the recitation of the details of the course to be a bit tedious).

Innovating Library Systems – by Andrew Pace and Tito Sierra

Andrew Pace talked about NCSU’s Endeca catalog system, which has been talked about quite a bit recently. If you haven’t seen it, it’s really something. Its use of faceted searching more effectively leverages the rich subject data of MARC catalog records, and it also allows for customized relevance ranking. The implementation looks great. The major drawback I see for using Endeca is that the front-end has to be designed and created by local staff, which works fine for a very large institution like NCSU, but would be very problematic for smaller libraries that can’t assign enough staff to oversee the programming and maintenance that needs to be done on a homegrown system. You can find out more about NCSU’s Endeca implementation at http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/endeca

Tito Sierra then spoke about NCSU’s Quick Search project, which is an attempt to create a single-box search engine that can search across multiple search tools at once. A federated search essentially. The design principles were that the search must be fast, with results in less than a second, that the results must be intuitive, and that the tool should be modular, rather than a one-size fits-all approach. Not all of the modules are currently active, but they include a Best Bets module, which gives a single result for each of the 100 most common search terms entered into the system to give quick access to high demand terms; a FAQ module with answers to commonly asked library questions, a library web pages module, which tries to provide relevant Google-style search results; a catalog module, which directs users to catalog-relevant searches; a journal results module, which provides direct links to journals for known-item journal searches; and an article module, which is the hardest module to get to work properly (the search is slow and poorly ranked). All of the technology used in the Quick Search tool is open source, and highly customized for local use. You can learn more about the project at http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/dli/projects/quicksearch/