Opening Remarks to a Website Talk on American Memory by Gwen Williams July 2006 Welcome to Hollywood Library’s first Website

Talk. I believe this is the first time any Broward County Library has presented a Website Talk. I am Gwen Williams, a Reference Librarian here, at Hollywood Library. I thank you for supporting our Adult Programs at Hollywood by attending this Website Talk tonight. I hope you enjoy our time together. And after you leave here tonight, I hope you will be excited to explore the website I will talk about this evening, American Memory, a digital library free and on the web, built by The Library of Congress. For American Memory is a truly extraordinary website. Please allow me to briefly introduce myself and my credentials to speak on websites. As I said, I am a Reference Librarian. I have worked for Broward County Library for one year. I am proud to say I received my master’s degree in library and information science from the prestigious library program at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign. During my time at Illinois, I not only worked at the wonderful library at Illinois, I also studied digital libraries and technologies extensively, and built a fully-functional digital library with a team partner for a course on digital libraries. If digital libraries seems an odd phrase for all of us to hear, I would predict that five or ten years from now, we will all have become rather accustomed to it. After all, as you will see, the website I will talk about tonight is, in fact, a digital library. I say that with great confidence because I also received a rather classical schooling in traditional bricks-and-mortar librarianship at Illinois. In essence I see my librarianship training at Illinois as straddling two centuries—the 20th and the 21st, which, truth be told, are really not so different. My traditional bricks-and-mortar librarian training leads me to conclude that my job as a Reference Librarian is essentially to be an authority on finding the authority. For when a patron has a reference or research question, he or she is seeking a relevant answer from an authoritative source. Which is why it is vital that librarians know how to find the proper authority that can lead to relevant answers. Librarians consult encyclopedias as authorities on some subjects; dictionaries as authorities on some subjects; directories as authorities on some

subjects; and government publications as authorities on subjects concerning government. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories, and government publications are all published in book format—so we have lots of big reference books. But, of course, as we know, encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories, and government publications are all also published in electronic format and can be found via the Internet. So the Reference Librarian today, as an authority on finding the authority, needs to go wherever that authority is to be found: whether it is on the bookshelves, or posted on the Web, or available by an Internet subscription. Have you heard of the term “e-government”? Well, e-government is in fact occurring all around us, at the federal, state, and local levels. In order to find the authority on numerous government subjects, a person can oftentimes consult a government website. For example, the IRS—prodigious producer of paper—has a nicely organized website, which includes all of the appropriate forms in electronic format. Of course, in many instances, we have to print them on paper ourselves, but nevertheless the actions we take to find the authoritative IRS forms are to browse and search the IRS website. Pretty soon, we shall probably be forced to browse and search the IRS website, as I imagine the federal government will soon discontinue printing tons and tons of paper. It may seem like that was a long diversion from my Website Talk on American Memory, but I thought I should begin tonight by offering some kind of explanation why I planned this website talk at a library in the first place. It is primarily because more and more of the services librarians provide to patrons involve networked machines, the Web, and websites. And I think that many patrons may not be aware that librarians as a professional group—especially early-career librarians such as myself—are fairly skilled at finding the authority that is posted on the Web. I believe an important part of my work is to communicate to my patrons the whole range of services I can provide. This range of services includes assistance in exploring the Web, be it for formal or informal learning, or for pleasure. Public libraries in the United States have long offered Book Talks, or Book Discussions, for their patrons. So I thought, why not offer programs called Website Talks? A Website Talk would be like a Book Talk, only different. Rather than talking about interesting and

memorable books, the librarian giving a Website Talk would talk about interesting and memorable websites. Websites, like books, have persons or organizations responsible for creating them, something like an author. Websites, like books, generally have a title-of-a-sort that appears prominently on the homepages. We should note that the earliest books and manuscripts frequently had somewhat ambiguous and lengthy titles, too—books such as this one written by a Mr. Isaac James and printed in 1800 Bristol: Providence displayed: or, The remarkable adventures of Alexander Selkirk, of Largo, in Scotland; who lived four years and four months by himself, on the island of Juan Fernandez; from whence he returned with Capt. Woodes Rogers, of Bristol, and on whose adventures was founded the celebrated novel of Robinson Crusoe. With a description of the island, and an account of several other persons left there, particularly William, a Mosquito Indian, and Capt. Davis’s men, including brief memoirs of the famous Capt. Wm. Dampier. To which is added a Supplement containing the history of Peter Serrano, Ephraim How, and others, left in similar situations. Websites, like books, generally have targeted audiences and purposes. Our library orders our book collection by audience, thus we separate the children’s books from the adults: and of course, we try to provide books on a wide range of topics, from various perspectives, so as to satisfy many different audiences and their interests. And perhaps most important of all, some websites, like books, can be wonderful resources for exploring, learning, and enriching our lives. Not all websites make for great intellectual encounters—neither do all books, sad to say—but those kinds of websites serve their purpose: we are able to bank online, shop online, apply for jobs online, blog, and retrieve important tax forms for filing our income tax! But there are some websites that are rich with possibility, and worth spreading the word about: I believe these are the types of websites that make ideal candidates for Website Talks at libraries. I plan to offer more Website Talks in the near future, or other kinds of programs that bring patrons and librarians together to talk about the at-times-confusing world of networked computers—so watch

Broward County Library’s monthly Bookings for details. And if you have suggestions for future program topics related to networked computers that you would like to see offered at the library, please feel free to let me know about them. Briefly, I would like to plug a companion program on American Memory that will be held next Tuesday at Hollywood Library. Our speaker for that night is an historian, whose doctoral research involved researching and writing about the history of the American Memory Project. So I would say that if you are intrigued by American Memory, you might be very interested in attending his lecture on the story behind the making of it. It is a fascinating story, involving the development of the Internet, the graphical user interface, and K-12 public education in this country. [Handout fliers.] Okay, without further delay, onto American Memory.

Screenshots from website talk’s companion PowerPoint. The two-slide PowerPoint was composed as a thematic backdrop for the website talk.