Geek librarians converge on Windsor

I spent the day travelling across the country from Charlottetown to Windsor, Ontario. Windsor isn’t “across the country” of course, but with the towering buildings of Detroit looming across the river, it’s certainly at one of the edges.

I am here for Access 2002 a conference that one of the organizers characterized as a gathering of “geek librarians” when I pressed him this evening. Access is, in short, a gathering of those secret librarians that the public nevers sees. These aren’t your regular everyday “let me explain the Dewey Decimal System to you” librarians, but rather the ones who work out of sight in the basements, stoking the giant technological coal furnaces that make libraries work.

I have some familiarity with this class of librarian, having been raised by one (and a wicked smart and creative one at that). And so while I have never been formally tutored in the ways of MARC records and the Bath Profile and Z39.50, I can fake my way through enough of it all to not look like a total fool.

Which raises the question: if I am not myself a geek librarian, why am I spending three days in Windsor, Ontario in the midst of one of their big idea orgies?

And that is, indeed, a good question.

I have mostly my friend Barbara Jean to blame. And also a man named Art.

Barbara Jean and I passed like ships in the night in the late 1980s. She left Peterborough as I was arriving. She knew a lot of the same people I eventually came to know and, in fact, we even lived in the same house, a mere two roommate generations apart. Barbara Jean eventually ended up in Newfoundland and, through a complex series of events, we became friends, and remain so to this day.

Back in 1994, Barbara Jean was working at Memorial University in St. John’s, and somehow finagled me an invitation to speak at Access 1994. One of the people in the audience was a man named Art Rhyno. Four years later, Art invited me to speak at Access 1998 in Guelph. And he asked me back this year for Access 2002.

Which doesn’t really answer the question, but at least explains the circumstances that led to the situation where the question could be asked.

If I have a role to play at Access, I think it is akin to the role that I play everyday in my career, and that is to be a mildly informed outsider. With some broad knowledge about systems and people and the Internet, and lots of experience mushing those altogether in my work, I can offer comment on where my world bumps up against the worlds of the systems librarian. And precisely because I’m an outsider — albeit one who can engage in cocktail conversation about Control Field 007 — perhaps I shed a light on things that can’t be seen from the deep recesses of the basement beside the data furnaces.

The real reason I’m here — the reason I accepted their invitation to speak — is that the my fundamental human value of choice is curiousity (this is where the intellectual lives of my parents join as well, no coincidence), and if you’re in the curiousity business, there’s no more interesting place to be than at a conference of people who design the systems that support curiousity satisfaction.

More notes from the conference as things develop. Up at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning to install wireless connectivity for the conference, which may, in fact, kill me.


LubbockLawLibrarian's picture
LubbockLawLibrarian on October 21, 2002 - 11:32

Ah, nothing like reading about Marc fields at 5:30 in the morning (couldn’t sleep) to make a librarian’s heart go pitter pat. I guess it would be stating the obvious to point out that blogs are not just something on the Internet, they represent another evolutionary leap of the Internet. How quickly we forget. From gophers and ftp sites (does anybody still use ftp?) to the Web and Google and now we have blogs and pdf files (law librarians love seeing actual copies of things rather than OCR versions of them — it’s a legal/evidence/documentation thing). Blogs seem to come as close as anything to Stewart Brand’s personalized newspaper/narrowcatching idea from Media Lab. Why bother reading a newspaper when you have all these bright people combing the newspaper world for you? And if you have a person who is in your field and keeping on top of all these things, hey, so much the better. If I want to know what is up with the dismantling of the Government Printing Office in the U.S. or how libraries/freedom of information is being effected by post 9-11 legislation, I just go to…
and read about it. Peter, you’ve pointed out yourself once that the Internet needed more librarians and I think blogs are part of that — perhaps even moreso than the Dublin core and metadata, but don’t get me started I’ll get too worked up. And hey, if Clifford Lynch is there, make sure you hear what he has to say. Hope you post a copy of your remarks as well.

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