Thursday, October 19, 2006

New Frontiers

At the PNC/MLA Conference in Seattle, Terry Henner, Associate Professor and Head of Information & Education Services of the Savitt Medical Library at theUniversity of Nevada School of Medicine, gave a fascinating presentation on a collaboration project between the Savitt Medical Library and a consortia of local public health organizations to build information sharing capacity into a regional obesityreuction initiative. His presentation highlighted how information technologies can support and enhance the activities of care providers, educators, and advocates who have entered into a regional coalition aiming at reducing obesity rates.

Two things particularly stood out for me. First was Henner's introduction of social software into the library environment. In using RSS to Javascript, a program that seamlessly integrates RSS feeds directly to the webpage, Henner's project removed the previous inhibitions of users about creating their own aggregators and feedreaders by doing the work for them, thus making the homepage more accessible and user-friendly.

Second, Henner left an indelible mark for me about the acceptance of new experimental technologies. In his conclusion, he makes clear the point that not everyone will accept what you think is integral: "Utility is in the eye of the beholder." What an excellent point. Simple, yet so often overlooked. We often want results right away -- but in doing so, we forget that it takes time and patience for others to follow. (However, "Resistance can be overcome" as he argues). Henner leaves us with what I thought was the best quote to take home with me: "Some success is better than none." A marvellous anecdote: if we create something out of nothing, then perhaps that itself is an achievement worthy of celebration.


Dean Giustini said...


When I was the editor of Biblioteca medica Canadiana in the 1990s, I received a paper from Terry Henner. Glad to hear he is still an avid technology librarian.

It's been said that librarians should not adopt technology for its own sake, but I think that's one of the benefits of academic librarianship. I feel it's been a worthwhile experiment in LIBR534.

Cheers Dean

Allan said...


I feel that you are the perfect spokesman for this area. You have the experience and insight. But yes, I can definitely feel the cringing when I talk mashups and social software.

It is perhaps stepping into unchartered terrorities and makes librarians feel uncomfortable. The reason is perhaps things are moving along at such a rapid pace. I marvel at some who keeps up with all the new developments.

I think it's also which separates information professionals from the rest. Everything they do is for the purpose of advancing the cause -- for the user. Not just for the sake of experimenting with new technologies.

Dean Giustini said...


There may be a bit of a "generational divide" to consider in librarianship as well. I know that some librarians rightly point out that they do not have time to test and follow social software trends. Professionals look to social software updates during conference season more than the daily watching that you and I are into....