Different perspectives, new horizons: the 2018 INFORUM Conference

A wide range of topics were covered at INFORUM in Prague, including library strategy and advocacy, tech developments, preservation, archiving and digitisation.

The 24th annual conference on information professional resources (www.inforum.cz/en) was held in its usual spot at the University of Economics, Prague, on 29-30 May 2018. With 350 registrants, most from Czech Republic and Slovakia, the conference additionally draws speakers and delegates from other countries in the region, making it more international than you might imagine. Simultaneous translation made it a breeze for those of us without language skills in Czech or Slovak to easily follow the gist of the talks. I say " the gist" because on occasion, the translation was fine but without background about the project, I didn't always grasp every nuance.

As per usual, the opening session was a performance by the staff of the organiser, Albertina icome Praha (www.aip.cz) This year, the Albertina band performed a blues number called the Knihovnicke (Librarian) Blues. Lyrics were posted in both Czech and English. Why would librarians be singing the blues? People aren't physically coming into the library, instead they're glued to Facebook. GDPR (European General Data Protection Regulation) prevented the library from sending out notices that it was open. But, sang the group, following the AiP Wellness program and getting GDPR straightened out made the Library Blues a thing of the past (https://youtu.be/kaJVMveZkqQ.

Creating smarter communities, embracing technologies

The first keynote of the conference was delivered by Jan Holmquist, Deputy Director of the Guldsborg Public Library in Denmark and a co-chair of Internet Librarian International (www.internet-librarian.com). Titled New Horizons: How Libraries Create Smarter Communities, he delved into strategy and advocacy. He made the point that a strategy and a strategic plan are not synonymous. "Libraries are strategically important for modern knowledge societies," he believes. Although Holmquist used examples from his public library, particularly highlighting its FabLab, many of his ideas easily translate to other types of libraries. Challenges are always present, so to which challenges is your library the answer? That's a question applicable to all types of libraries.

Happily, my keynote speech directly followed Holmquist's, which was pleasant since I'm one of other co-chairs for Internet Librarian International and the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher (www.infotoday.com/onlinesearcher). Expanding on some of his ideas, my talk focused on technology developments that will affect our professional lives going forward. I originally called it Everything You Know is Wrong, but that seemed a bit harsh, so I renamed it to Learning to Unlearn, which is what I believe we need to do as a profession if we are to survive and thrive. Artificial/Augmented Intelligence (AI) is changing both our ability to glean important information from massive data stores and to control the relevancy of search results.

The third opening keynote was from the British Library's Will Prentice, who is an expert on the preservation of sound recordings. His talk was a thorough explanation of the complexities of caring for and preserving audio collections. He described the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project at the British Library and how its funding comes from the UK Heritage Lottery Fund. He made an impassioned plea for preservation of sound archives in Czech Republic and other countries.

New horizons

Presentations during the rest of the conference were a mix of representatives of exhibitor companies bringing the audience up to date on recent developments and academic librarians reporting on projects they've done. In the New Horizons track, Vilém Sklenák, University of Economics, Prague, took a look at the dark side of search engines. He thinks they steal both our privacy and our common sense. He also noted that, even without a social media presence, people leave a surprising amount of personal information findable on the web. Although Google removed links to personal information as a result of EU "Right to be Forgotten" legislation, the data is still there. Google has also been rushing to remove or blur images from Street View. Sklenák warned that overuse of technology leads to "digital dementia." Our devices contain our memory so we don't use our brains. It is the responsibility of information professionals to educate students to use technology critically.

David von Rothenburg, ProQuest, outlines what he sees as the evolving information needs of researchers, based on a survey ProQuest regularly conducts. Video is gaining ground as lecturers increasingly recommend them. Faculty confidence in the library role is growing, which is nice to hear. 

The report on the CzechELib (www.czechelib.cz), given by Jirí Jirát, National Library of Technology, made me very happy that I don't have to deal with the bureaucracies that he encounters. He's had to look at cash balance issues, tax implications, and situations within individual libraries. The National Centre for Electronic Information Resources – CzechELib is managed by the Czech National Library of Technology and represents the major EIR users in the country in negotiating for the purchase of access to key resources. The project is co-funded by the EU Operational Programme Research, Development and Education for 2017-2022.

Archiving and digitisation
The session on archiving and digitisation had perhaps the most international array of speakers. Eva Capková and her co-author Milan Konvit, Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia, looked at the concept and forms of information space, particularly how digitization and digital networks have led to a new type of information space. For libraries, lending books is not longer the main activity so they look for a replacement. What about robots as creators of literature, intermediaries of human experience, or digital book guides?

Joanna Radzicka, Cracow University of Technology, Poland, gave some examples of projects that used technology in preservation of the national heritage. Newer digitization technologies allow for "before and after" photos, colorization, and special effects on objects. Beata Katrincová and Iveta Lacková, University Library in Bratislava, Slovakia, discussed the problems of archiving original electronic journals. More born-digital journals are appearing, necessitating new archiving methods and workflows. Although no legal requirement exists to archive ejournals, the librarians thought they should be preserved, as long as they had an ISSN.

End of the line

The news coming out of INFORUM was that this would be the last conference, at least in its current format. Not only are registration numbers declining but the space in the University of Economics is scheduled for remodeling, which would probably make its use for INFORUM in 2019 very difficult if not impossible. I hope that INFORUM survives in some form or another, as I've found it very valuable over the years I've attended. Good luck to Albertina i Praha and the a version of INFORUM in the future. 

Marydee Ojala (Marydee@xmission.com) is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher and co-chair of the Internet Librarian International conference.