I confess to having been somewhat puzzled at the lineup for the opening session of the UKSG annual conference. I wasn't quite sure what I was doing up there along with Microsoft's "Director of Publishing Evangelism" (Cliff Guren) and Google's "Manager, Strategic Partner Development" (Phillippe Colombet). Seemed a little unbalanced. But as the program developed I began to think that Paul Harwood, the conference chair and guy who had asked me to come, had more of a plan than I had foreseen. As Guren & Colombet's talks proceeded, one could see the nervousness among the librarians in the audience increasing -- but where does this leave us, being the perennial question. So my focus on the opportunities for librarians, once we let go of the notion that our sole role is to manage libraries, was a perfect follow-up. Google & Microsoft aren't our competitors, I said; they're not threatening to put us out of business -- they're simply developing great tools that librarians will be able to make excellent use of. At any rate, I enjoyed it and got some good feedback. Charlie Rappel posted a fine summary on the UKSG blog. (And I must note that Guren ended his presentation with a Kay Ryan poem -- I was damned impressed).
The conference as a whole was quite excellent, and the delightful thing about doing the opening session is that I could then relax and really take advantage of it. While both NASIG and the Charleston Conference bill themselves as opportunities for librarians, publishers & vendors to meet together to talk about common issues, I've found them to still be librarian-leaning in their overall content and tone (NASIG moreso than CC, perhaps). The publisher side of the equation was much more in evidence at UKSG (indeed, one colleague commented that it might be starting to lean too far in that direction), and I found that quite refreshing.
I thought the content level and quality of presentation was extremely high. My favorite session was the one by Geoffrey Bilder on data-mining and text-mining (nicely summarized here). I met Bilder last fall in a bar in Frankfurt with Jan Velterop during the STM association meeting and found him to be one of the most creative and penetrating thinkers about what is happening with publishing that I have ever talked with. So when I saw that he was on the program, I was eager to see what he'd do with it, and I was not disappointed. Not only did he do an excellent job covering the basics and the current state of text-mining tools, he went on to talk about what publishers can and should be doing to make this kind of knowledge retrieval easier and more productive in the future. He's now high on my list of people that I'll go out of my way to see present no matter what the topic because I know it's going to be engaging and I'm going to learn something.
Overall, it was a great trip and I'm grateful to have had the chance to go. Despite the gloom & doom that still seems to permeate much of libraryland, the more I talk with bright and creative people, the more optimistic I become. This is a great time to be a librarian.