‘An Educational Event Inside a Networking Event’

They talked about the technologies they were using to provide services during the COVID-19 pandemic and when they were planning to reopen their libraries. They described the 3D printing capabilities at their organizations and shared examples of 3D-printed objects. They mused about the challenges facing librarianship and whether emerging technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence might help address those challenges (or create new ones).

And then they moved to different tables and started new conversations with different groups of people.

The 160-plus librarians and information professionals who attended SLA’s inaugural InfoTrends had plenty of opportunities to connect and share with each other, thanks to an interactive platform that allowed attendees to talk live with others at their (virtual) table and then move to another table, all the while participating in online chats with the entire audience and/or privately with individual attendees. Each table had a guest moderator to help guide discussions and access to a whiteboard they could use for group activities during breakout sessions.

“An educational event inside a networking event inside a professional development event inside a technological event,” is how 2020 SLA President Tara Murray described it during her opening remarks. Interactive, informative, valuable and engaging were the words that came to mind afterward, when attendees were asked to contribute to a word cloud (below) by summing up their InfoTrends experience.

The InfoTrends networking sessions and breakout discussions were organized around two presentations, the first titled “Out of the Cloud and into Your Library: Putting Emerging Technologies to Use.” In that session, Christina Mune, associate dean of innovation and resources management at San Jose State University’s King Library, and Stephen Rhind-Tutt, co-founder of Coherent Digital, discussed library applications for technologies such as 3D printing and virtual reality.

“As I was making the slides for my presentation today, I was thinking that it’s difficult to focus on emerging technologies with everything that’s going on, like COVID-19 and this awesome explosion against racial injustice that we’re experiencing right now,” Christina said. “But I actually think that makes emerging technologies—and putting them in the hands of all of our users and teaching them how to use them—really, really important, so that everyone has access to the technologies and the digital literacy they need to move their ideas forward.”

“The skills that librarians and information professionals have in selecting, evaluating and licensing content, working out the true expense of virtual content, setting up hardware and software training, and figuring out what’s interoperable are all helpful in addressing the barriers of the virtual reality experience,” Stephen said. “We conducted a survey of 100-plus institutions of higher education last year and found not one site that didn’t have multiple expansions of extended reality across many, many subject areas. At about half the sites we looked at, the virtual reality labs were run by the library or by the MIS Department; at the other sites, all VR work was being done at the departmental level, with the same learning, the same experiments, and the same mistakes.”

The second session, titled “Refresh Your Search Strategies: New Tools, Tactics, and Technologies,” was co-presented by Mary Ellen Bates, a veteran information services consultant, and Scott Brown, senior cybrarian at Oracle. They discussed the skills and tactics needed to excel at search and shared examples of using these skills to discover information that is “hidden” to most people.

“The first thing I’ve noticed that’s different in approaching search is that I have to think even more like a detective than I did before,” Mary Ellen said. “Looking for clues and not just the answer is the best approach—if it was easy to find, my clients would have found it already in a Google search.”

“When you look at a company’s website, look at where they say they are on social media,” Scott said. “Where are they pointing you to? Just as important is to look at where else they are on social media that they’re not talking about. Oftentimes they’re active on platforms they aren’t pointing people to.”

While the speakers were delivering their presentations, attendees could submit questions using the chat feature. The session moderators—SLA members Seema Rampersad of the British Library and Eugene Giudice of Dentons—compiled the questions and queried the speakers after their presentations.

InfoTrends was sponsored by Lucidea, which hosted a “lounge” adjacent to the attendee tables. Attendees who visited the lounge could register to enter a drawing for a tablet computer, which was presented at the close of the event.

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