IT SEEMS AS IF THE exhibit halls at the Special Libraries Association (SLA) and the American Library Association (ALA) conferences get bigger every year, and it takes longer for me to get from one end of the hall to the other. Certainly the glitz of new systems, fancy interfaces, and new technologies is more impressive every year, and new Internet companies keep showing up.
At SLA nearly every one of the more than 335 exhibits is relevant to online in one way or another. In the middle of my trek through the 2000 SLA exhibit hall in Philadelphia in June, my feet began to hurt and my eyes began to glaze over, so this list of highlights is personal and idiosyncratic.
Engineering Information Village2
From the time of its inception in 1994, Engineering Information (EI) Village has impressed me. It was a portal to serious engineering sources before "portal" was a buzzword; it featured a metaphoric, virtual-reality interface when such innovations were mostly confined to games; and it was one of the first online services to combine access to high-quality web sites, bibliographic databases, and human experts. The new, greatly changed version (www.ei.org/ engineeringvillage2) was introduced at SLA 2000.
My first reaction was disappointment--EI has abandoned its metaphoric interface, which led users through a cybervillage, in favor of a no-nonsense fill-in-the-blanks interface that looks much like other information retrieval systems. EI staff explained that the new look was a response to customer input; engineers and librarians complained that the village metaphor was "patronizing" and "too toylike," and, in Europe, the term village implies a backwater.
More importantly, the concept of wandering through a village suffers when users must …