Chicago. Hog Butcher for the Library World. Conference City of the Big Shoulders…
By my count, this is the eleventh time I have attended ALA in Chicago. I’ve been there when there was a record-breaking blizzard, I’ve been there when the heat index was over 100, I’ve been there when Grant Park was given over to Taste of Chicago. Now I’ve been there when Grant Park was given over to… um, NASCAR? Really?
33 years into the ALA-in-Chicago relationship, I have to say: ALA is really going through a dry patch when it comes to technology programming (this is not the first time I’ve said this, and I’m not the only one saying it). But still, a few highlights that made the trip more than worthwhile:
Marshall Breeding, all-around expert on the library systems landscape, moderated a discussion on “Multiple Paths to Openness.” This gave speakers from several vendors (Index Data, Equinox, Innovative, and OCLC) the opportunity to describe their current use of, reliance on, and commitment to open source software, open standards, open APIs, etc. I don’t know if Ex Libris was invited to send someone, but I think it’s fair to say they were conspicuous by their absence. Sebastian Hammer of IndexData and Lisa Carlucci of Equinox spoke about how their business models are all about developing solutions with open source tools, and Tom Jacobson of III described how, in essence, everyone relies on open source and open standards, and that openness inherently builds connections between vendors and clients, and between otherwise competing vendors.
Unsurprisingly, the Top Tech Trends session focused on ChatGPT. Several librarians discussed how they see libraries responding to this technology. This reinforces the need to teach good information seeking behavior and information literacy in general. It is important for us to both understand and teach users how generative AIs are created, and what their shortcomings are. It is also important to teach the concept of authority: when ChatGPT answers a question, who exactly is being cited? As far as students relying on ChatGPT, there were interesting parallels drawn to well-established services like Grammarly. Overall, I was encouraged to see a more nuanced reaction than “zOMG it’s the EnD of tHe WorLD!!1!” However, while the session was specifically about ChatGPT, I was curious that there was no discussion of generative AI services being embedded within other tools that patrons and students might use. Do we feel differently about them? [This paragraph, for example, was written by me, tightened up by the new Bard-powered “Help Me Write” feature in Google Docs, and then re-tweaked by me. Did I cheat?]
Davis Erin Anderson of the New York Metropolitan Council presented on a toolkit she has developed to teach data privacy and digital security to library patrons. This material was very much oriented toward public libraries, but I found a lot of good ideas here and came away wondering how best to provide similar programming to our users.
The Core Federated Authentication Committee hosted a very well received panel discussion, moderated by myself. Our panel included librarians from a large university library, a multi-type library consortium, and EBSCO’s OpenAthens service, and did an excellent job of covering the privacy issues (and other topics) in integrated fed auth into library resource access. With panelists that good, all the moderator has to do is apologize for running long!
Our discussion meshed very well with another program, hosted by NISO, on how browser changes over the coming 12 to 36 months are likely to interact and interfere with access to library resources. Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’s Firefox, and Google’s Chrome are all implementing substantive changes to protect user privacy and cut down on pervasive user tracking on the consumer web. Those changes have the potential to greatly disrupt the [comparatively] benign tracking needed to help library users login to remote resources. Through the W3C, browser makers are pushing new technologies to help with identity management.
One other item of note: Occuspace was a first-time exhibitor at this year’s conference. They did a presentation, but I was not able to attend.
Obligatory hot dog pic: