Monday, April 28, 2008

TLA 08 Conference Notes: Lunches and final thoughts

This is kind of the all-around wrap-up post. It covers the lunches, and the only reason I mention lunches is that I actually went to lunch events. The rest is pretty much my final reflection on the experience and my two cents. If you already read the actual session notes and don't care much for a somewhat meandering post, feel free to skip this one.

  • Bytes with L.I.R.T. (Day 1): I have made it point since my first TLA two years ago to make it to the LIRT lunches. For one, it is one of the few places in the conference where I can actually be with other instruction librarians. Though my duties changed with the move to UT Tyler, I still feel that once an instruction librarian, always an instruction librarian. When it comes to serving our students, we are the best that our institutions have to offer (ok, that sounded a bit extreme, but what can I say? I am passionate about my work with students, which is something I miss these days, but that is another story). Anyhow, we walked to one of the restaurants in the city. If I recall, it was located in the Adolphus Hotel. The service was pretty good, and the food was good as well. The conversation was much better. In my table, we got to start a discussion about promoting a possible for-credit information literacy course as part of the core curriculum. It does sound interesting; if we can find enough people to promote it, we might get it off the ground. One of the people at my table was Dr. Joel Battle, who delivered a paper last year. See my note on that here. This is definitely the one event I will try not to miss as long as I go to TLA.
  • EBSCO Luncheon (Day 2): This must be a sign of the apocalypse. I actually went to a vendor luncheon. Actually, the only reason I went is because my director sent me the invite, and she was thoughtful enough to register both of us for it. Nice meal, and it was free for me. On the serious note, their presentation was actually pretty interesting as I got to see some of the new things that are coming down the pipes for EBSCO. I was very intrigued by their 2.0 measures that they will be putting into their search tools. The event also gave my director an opportunity to introduce me to some people, so I got a little networking in. All in all, I learned something and got lunch, plus the company overall was pretty pleasant. Now, if the boss had not gotten lost on the way back to the conference center, we may have actually made those sessions on time at 2:00pm. Oh well, I still made it to the debate in the afternoon.
  • Business Meetings: This year, I resolved I would go to an actual meeting of something, and by dang it, I would get involved in something. Plus I figured it would make the boss happy (she herself is pretty active in TLA). I went to two: the College and University Division's business meeting and the LIRT business meeting. The CULD meeting was pretty short and sweet, and I introduced myself afterwards, gave them my card, and expressed an interest in helping out with their information and membership subcommittee. Not sure if I will get in, but if not, I know the next chair will be needing help, and I will be happy to help him out (we worked together at UHD). We'll see. As for LIRT, I came out of the meeting as their new blogging coordinator. So, if those on the blogosphere thought they would not see much more of me, too bad. On a serious note, this should be an interesting endeavor, something that I can be involved with without too much travel and yet reach a good number of members. I will keep you folks informed how it goes. And here is an early plug: we'll be looking for bloggers to cover some of the sessions next year in Houston. Think you'll be there and want to blog it, let me know.
Other random thoughts:

This is my third year attending TLA. I have some mixed feelings about it. I think I am going to borrow the classic movie title to try to explain:

  • The Good:
    • Meeting Walt Crawford was definitely the high point for me. This was like meeting some big thinker and realizing the blogger is actually a real person (who is a big thinker). And he is a real person: a warm and dedicated individual, knowledgeable and thoughtful. When I said, way back when I started blogging, that the guy was a national treasure, well, I can see now why.
    • What else was good? The debate during the second general session was good. Lots of food for thought. While I did not agree with everything, there was a lot I did agree with. I may be writing on some of those ideas in the future.
    • Meeting Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese. This was by a stroke of luck that I had briefly stepped into the exhibits to kill some time between sessions, and the guy was there signing books. I was like "OMG!" (yes, I had a fanboy moment, so sue me). This is one of the best graphic novels I have read, and to be able to get my own autographed copy was simply awesome. If you visit my Flickr page, you can see my photo with the author.
    • The Doo Wop Party. Had I known this party was such a hoot, I would have been attending it since the first time I went to TLA. Once people got over a little initial shyness to dance, it was a blast. I have to take a moment and thank the lovely lady from the Texas State Library who shared the dance floor with me for most of the evening. Given I did not know that many people there, she made me feel welcome, right at home. The band was great (wished they had taken shorter breaks and played more) overall. In addition, this may be one of the few places where you could actually see a lot of the big stars of the profession in one place: Stephen Abrams, Camile Alire, Loriene Roy, the state president, and a few other bright minds were all there. Since the odds of me going to a national conference are next to impossible, this was, for this humble grunt, a small brush with greatness.
  • The Bad (or more like annoying):
    • Sessions that are not labeled or described accurately. Someone needs to seriously take a look at some of those little descriptions. That's all I am saying.
    • The increasing dominance of school librarians. Now before some school librarian decides to write me an angry e-mail, I will explain below, so hang in there for me.
    • 101 sessions. I think for certain topics, by now, we should be way past the 101 session. I want the 201 or even the 501 session. Where are those? I don't know who selects the presentations, but I think in some cases a little raise in the bar might actually help.
    • And speaking of sessions, putting a cluster of sessions (7) of interest to the academic folks on the same day (Thursday) at the same time (2:00p) is not exactly the way to get academic folks engaged or to have a good impression of your conference organizational skills. I understand there are certain time preferences to be honored, but after a while, you people have to assign someone to the 8:00a sessions or the late ones on the last day. That's life. If the session is good and worth it, believe me, people will come. I know I will.
    • The Presidential Party. I was not terribly impressed, in spite of the fact that my director really hyped it up. She just claims I got there on the late side, so I missed the good part. That's what such folks always say. At least the evening was not a total loss. I left, found myself a very loud concert over at the House of Blues with these fellows. I had a blast; the senoritas were very nice, and I got home late(rock on! If I go back to Dallas for TLA, I am definitely taking a night out to get a concert at HOB).
    • Dallas itself. It's ok for a venue, but not the greatest when compared to Houston or better yet San Antonio. I have not been to Austin for conference yet, so I am reserving judgment. No good eating places near the conference venue. In the case of the Doo Wop, I had to drive to get there, which I did not mind (in spite of the pricey valet which mercifully my employer included along with the hotel), but still it was a bit of a distance. In the interest of disclosure, I have family in Keller, which is near Fort Worth, and I like Fort Worth a lot better. Next time, I am taking a side trip to the Stockyards and Billy Bob's.
  • The Ugly:
    • The hotel. The Fairmont may be a fancy hotel, but they gave us a room in which the air conditioning never worked. In spite of being asked to fix it or provide an alternative, they never did so. That their fee for Internet use in the room is pretty extravagant (and I am being polite. Highway robbery would be more like it given just about anyone else would give you free wifi in your room, or at least in the hotel lobby) makes one wonder. I personally did not carry a laptop; I never do, but my roommate did. If I had to review the hotel, it would not be nice, so let's leave it at that. Even though the state picked up the tab, I still felt bad letting them pick that tab up. That should tell you something.
OK, so, as promised, on the school librarian remark. There were a couple of things on this that have been running in my mind. For an academic librarian like me, there is a concern. For one, when I went out to lunch with the LIRT fellows, some professor or librarian, whose name I do not recall, and for purposes of this post, can remain nameless, made the observation that he went to the lunch because it was the one place where he could hang out with other academics. That in itself would not be bad; heck, I would likely agree. It was what came next out of his mouth that made me grimace slightly, and it was that the conference was pretty much taken over by "those school librarians." He went on asking where was the stuff for the academic folks. I have to admit I found that a bit disturbing.

Add to that the fact that, to be honest, most of my academic brethren figure they can get their needs met elsewhere. This is strictly anecdotal (as in folks I have talked to), but if the perception is out there that presenting at TLA is not serious enough for an academic librarian, then you have an image problem. As someone who wants to believe in the organization, and as someone who is starting to get involved, I find I have to agree with some of the concerns up to a point. Even though the current LIRT chair claimed that she was seeing more academic librarians being involved (this was during the business meeting), I am just not seeing it.

Then there was this observation made by the conference organizer liaison who came to the LIRT business meeting. Some vendor (so take it with a grain of salt, I am just passing it on) expressed the concern that he "was not expecting this many school librarians." That vendor deals in adult interest books (no, not THAT kind of adult. If it was THAT kind, I would have definitely stopped by that booth, haha), probably academic, and he was concerned he was pretty much ignored. The suggestion was made at the meeting if it was possible to put the academic vendors in one area so we could just find them at once. Liaison said it may not be likely given vendors purchase space by the amount (i.e. X number of feet or spots on the floor).

It's things like that which make me wonder. You see, as an instruction librarian, school librarians are my friends, or at least, I like to think so. They are preparing the students that I will be working with in the future. Academia and schools should be working more closely for the common goal of serving our students and helping them to succeed in their educations. I have expressed that feeling before, and I will continue to do so. However, when I go to my state library conference, I would like to see a little balance, or at least some pretense that there will be a balance. As of now, I am not quite seeing it. I am concerned that more academic librarians might end up choosing other venues, even if they are out of state, to meet their professional development needs because the state conference is not doing it, especially at a time as crucial as this one when we should all be collaborating more. I don't see an exodus anytime soon, but more like a gradual brain drain process so to speak. This is not easy for me to say, and I may catch some heat for it, but someone has to say it. For what it may be worth.

At any rate, at least for now, I am planning on attending next year in Houston. We'll see you there. Best, and keep on blogging.

TLA 2008 Conference Notes, Day 3: General Session II

The session, once they were done with the usual adminstrative stuff, was a panel on the topic of "Transforming Libraries."

Moderator: Roy Tennant (OCLC)
Speakers: Stephen Abram (SirsiDynix), Joseph Janes (University of Washington, I-School faculty), Karen Schneider (College Center for Automation, consultant, Tallahassee, Florida).

(This was one of the highlights of the conference for me. It left me with a lot to think about, and I took a lot of notes. Since it was a debate, there is no handout, so I hope my small set of notes catches at least a small part of their thinking; this was very much in a rapid-fire style, so not easy to take notes. I sort of had an epiphany while listening to them, which was reinforced later in the conference, but that, is another story. I will be using initials to identify who said what. Warning: This is a long post.)


  • RT opens with the question: What keeps you awake at night?
    • KS: The reemergence of reference. Reference becoming a specialized tool; students will use online reference when needed.
    • JJ: Reference is a small fraction as search engines will win. You want them (patrons) to think of you for specialized information. There is more to what we do than ready reference. We are useful when important things are needed. What keeps JJ awake at night? The question of what a librarian is. The nature of a librarian changes. The conversation is fine. The problem is that the conversation has heated up and it wants to lock down the definition of what a librarian is. It is a bad time to lock down that definition given all the change going on.
    • SA: An information professional (I think he was referring to the idea or definition of this, responding to JJ). Notice that library schools have changed, and many librarians did their MLS 20 years ago. Get a grip! (He is telling this to those who still want to type card catalog cards). What keeps SA awake? Overdone coffee (from Starbucks) that takes too long to make. Seriously, what keeps him up is: are our colleagues capable of making change? "Put your meat in the game" were the words SA used.
    • KS: How we are not an evidence-based profession (as I think it about it, this is something that keeps me up at night as well. Irks the heck out of me, but if I say it, no one listens. If one of these guys says it, maybe people will listen). Facebook as an example (of course, keep in mind that it often gets blocked from public computers). We have dogmas but mostly without evidence.
    • SA: Replies to the above: we are a social institution refusing to use social tools? (the irony writes itself, huh?)
    • JJ: This makes us look dumb. It's not about the tool, but how you use it.
    • SA: Loss of a Third Way (given all that will be left is Google and Microhoo, or whatever merges). Who will put quality information campaigns, etc. in place? Us, but we "poop" all over new initiatives.
  • Roy Tennant asks: If you could change one thing?
    • SA: Big picture confidence of our colleagues (this, for me at least, goes with Alire's presentation). We need more confident people. We need advocacy at the state and national levels.
    • KS: Put a software developer in every library. If we had a Manhattan Project, we could do anything (apps., our own software, OPACs that don't suck. And tell me about. My OPAC sucks big time).
    • SA: Invest in user experience. We need to be local and develop the local user experience as it is driven by context, not content.
    • JJ: Go and change collective professional attitudes from "no" to "yes." (that may be a little bit easier said than done)
    • SA: How to stop conflict and the old guard vs. new folks issue.
    • JJ: Meanwhile, those in the middle just cross their arms and wait (in the interest of disclosure, I am one of those in the middle. To be honest, I am of the philosophy of letting others kill each other, then deal with whoever is left standing. If both of them kill each other off, so much the better. I am really a bit tired of the whole "us vs. them" in librarianship.). The message often is don't fight the old guard. When it comes to patrons, "where the start is up to them, where they finish is up to you" (this is in reference to things like IM reference). Make a "fail blog." Try new things, when they fail, share it (again, another thing easier said than done. I have pondered once or twice such an idea, and I happen to like my job security as well as my future prospects well enough. Be honest, how many potential employers would look at a "fail blog" and see it as learning experiences? I am not holding my breath, but I think it can be a worthy idea still).
    • SA: Not supporting someone trying something new is sick ('nough said).
    • KS: First failures is where much learning occurs (very true. It's how scientists do it. How many prototypes do they go through before they get it right? Why the hell can't we do that in librarianship without some administrator giving us grief when something goes splat?)
(For me, a lot of this has the usual catch: these are people in positions with nothing to lose. Of course they can say a lot of this. I am not saying it makes what they say less valuable.).
    • JJ: Change is unpredictable. Hard to predict new tools and what we'll do with them, speaking on new digital texts, scholarship, and creativity.
    • KS: Librarians are the curators of the world. We can be embedded. We have to see opportunity and seize it.
    • JJ: Embedding and partnership. Librarians are in communities, so use your local and professional knowledge and membership (Idea: look for local blogs. For us here on campus, could we find student and faculty blogs and link to them and interact with them? This is one of the things that intrigued me. My catch is time, but I think it could be done. More on this might come later.)
    • SA: Libraries with a diffusion problem. Why is a good idea in one place is not spreading elsewhere? Why are library governances still in the 1800s?
    • KS: Not so much a management structure. People need to change; if this does not happen, management structure changes matter little.
    • JJ: The new people are different in their thinking, more tech savvy, and different in their interactions. Yet they are very much like the old guard in wanting to do "traditional" things: reference, RA, etc. Go with the argument that given new tools, you can be a better librarian in 2008 than in 1988. But this takes work to work collaboratively.
    • KS: Do not fall into the trap of categorically denying/dismissing what a group (old or new) says.
    • SA: Can we create a 12-step program for librarians? And why are new librarians treated like children (sounds like my workplace in some ways. Can you say "locked down computers" children? How do you expect me to learn and innovate if I have to ask permission to install anything basic? And that is just one example.) The old guard is not mentoring us (and this, in my estimation, is a major failure in the profession). Concern: so many new librarians saying they do not seek higher level/leadership jobs (guess what? I am one of those, and I can give you a lot of reasons why. That I landed in this job that has some management to it--notice I did not say leadership-- is a combination of luck and miracle. This was the trigger to the epiphany that was to come for me later this evening).
    • JJ: But we need to make management/upper level attractive. (It's like public schools. This is not new or revolutionary, but it is still a cause for concern. Be honest, if you are a good teacher, why in the hell, other than maybe a little more money, would you leave the classroom you love to be an administrator? Same principle in our profession. If you ask me. . .well, no one is really asking, so I better quit while I am ahead.) Positive: we are drawing people with broad interests and experiences (my classmates in library school were a pretty good example of that). We have to see librarianship as a profession of leadership (I think this is highly debatable, but let's leave that to another post, shall we?)
    • SA: If we don't invent a Third Way, we are ("toast" was basically the implication).
  • Roy Tennant asks: What one thing do you want to know about?
    • SA: How did information become knowledge? Reading and text-based is only one of them. Go back to Bloom's (taxonomy). We need to understand this in order to base decision on our end users, if we want to do this.
    • KS: Where will Google be in 20 years? When will their time pass? (Think of restrictive content agreements some people and libraries are signing with them now)
    • JJ: Not difficult to imagine a future in which libraries lose, so he wants to know how it will happen. Note: it can go either way now.
    • KS: How do we get to the transition from print to digital? It will happen; and who willing are we to embrace a world where we curate collections we don't own. (I personally don't think print will die, but will they be mere museum pieces?)
    • JJ: Idea of library bigger than the building. Also, we have to offer better services online.
    • SA: Those that come to the library vertically are not the same as those you see in the building. We need to understand this. In an information knowledge economy, we are the ones with the tricks, and we need to convey this. We are the last objective, civic, open community space and resources. (We are the last line of defense.)
    • KS: People love librarians, and we need to tap into that.
    • JJ: Talk to those in library schools, in a constructive way. Teach for them as well as learn from them.
    • SA: When we study something to death, death was not the original goal. Librarians need to remember this.

TLA 2008 Conference Notes, Day 3: Reference 2.0 session

Title of session: Reference 2.0: Using New Web Technologies to Enhance Public Services
Presenters: Miranda Bennett (University of Houston), Susan Clarke (Stephen F. Austin), Eric Frierson (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor).

This will be brief because I actually walked out of the session. I was hoping for something a bit more substantial, and this boiled down to a "101" session. This is basically the kind of presentation that was ok two years ago, and that I think we should be done and over by now. I will go ahead and be blunt: if you are a librarian who by now does not know what is a blog, what is a feed reader and what it is used for, you have no business being a librarian. Why? Because a librarian should have intellectual curiosity among other things, and such intellectual curiosity would have guided said librarian to find out what those things are. I am not saying a librarian needs to have a blog. Blogging does not work for everybody. I know; there are days when I wonder if it works for me. But at the absolute minimum, a librarian should know what these things are, making yet another session on "This is a blog. This is what you do with it. You can search for them on Technorati, and you can keep track of them on Bloglines" unnecessary. It's called keeping up. I basically stayed out of politeness until the first speaker was done, but had I known, I would have picked a different session or just slept in that morning.

You see, when the program description said "discover practical applications of Web 2.0 in reference and public services," I was expecting exactly that. How are these things used at the reference desk and at service points? Are you using a account maybe to keep track of commonly used resources at the desk? How exactly are you using a blog for reference work, if you are, and what is the success of that endeavor? Internal blogs as knowledge base for instance? Anyone doing that? How's that work and how would it be different than a wiki? And how is patron use being assessed? Because I hear a lot about how libraries set up the tools, but I don't hear any evidence of assessment or whether they have an active audience or not. Sure, your webpage may look slick with 20 blogs and 50 subject wikis on them, but are they being used, how do you know? What feedback mechanisms do you have in place and are they working for you or not? And if they are not working, what would you do differently so the rest of us can learn from that? Now that would be a session worth getting up for at 8:00am. I am sure other librarians better or more experienced than me could come up with better questions of what they would like to know. Just my two cents.

TLA 2008 Conference Notes, Day Two: Alire on Advocacy, plus CULD Business Meeting

(CULD= College and University Division. They combined their meeting with this session, so the business meeting came after Alire's talk. I did stay for the meeting too, and I did introduce myself and offered to volunteer. We'll see if something comes out of it. I think this session was added late since it was not in the first printed program, but it was in the little booklet they give at the conference. Anyhow, here we go.)

Title of session: Academic Library Advocacy from the Frontline.
Presenter: Camila Alire


  • Advocacy, articulating the value of libraries, librarians, and library support staff. Alire is concerned about our ability to do this. Interested in looking at power of personal persuasion and self-confidence, which needs to be developed.
  • We need parallel advocacy for academic libraries. Library administrators on one side; academic librarians and staff on the other.
  • "Action. . .is best implemented by individuals who have a frame of reference on which to build advocacy." --Sandra Kaplan.
  • (Her bragging moment: getting 700K added to her library's base budget at U. of New Mexico. To which I think, must be nice.)
  • Check the ACRL Toolkit. (I think she was referring to the advocacy one, but you can find that and others here.)
(Dr. Alire is running for the ALA presidency, and I have to say she seems sincere about her commitment to grassroots advocacy. I am not quite sure she is inspiring enough to get me to renew my ALA membership, but she made me think about it for a moment, if that says anything.)

TLA 2008 Conference Notes, Day Two: Net Fair I

Net Fair I session (at exhibit hall)
Session title: Keeping up with technology: Top trends.
Presenter: Richard Wayne, of Strategic Information Management Services. He also works for the UT Southwestern Medical Library

Here is the presentation powerpoint, from the Strategic Information site. However, it is either not friendly to Firefox or may not be working.

(I did something different this year, and I went to one of those semi-vendor sessions. I say semi-vendor because Net Fair sessions are either fully sponsored by a vendor or by someone in the IS field not necessarily a librarian. Just making the observation. Anyhow, this was a 50 minute session, and it did get packed.)

  • Used Surveymonkey with 144 responses this year to the survey on trends (seems like a low sample to me). Respondents were from Texas. 1/2 of the respondents from public libraries, covering a time frame around September of 2007.
  • The highest rated trend was downloadable/streaming media. This includes e-books, videos, podcasts, lectures. (This is something we are not really talking about at my work. We do have e-books, and I think the term podcast was thrown out once or so, but not high on the radar. To do something like podcasting requires time and equipment, neither of which we have now). As an example, the Denver Public Library was highlighted, see here. Note that in our audience at Net Fair, when asked, only 2-3 people raised their hands that they did podcasts (out anywhere from 40 to 50 or so).
  • Next trend was social software. This includes blogs, wikis, IM, Facebook, MySpace, Meebo, Twitter, etc. Again, when asked, only one or two people in audience said they had an FB or a MySpace presence (and one of those two was me. I have a Facebook profile. I did open a MySpace on a limb recently, but have not fully worked on it. It is not exactly user-friendly.)
  • Number three was Open Source ILS, things like Evergreen and Koha. This seems to be picking up interest.
  • Number 4 was InfoCommons. This includes computers, services, and comfort. The actual definition can vary. Examples include UI-Urbana and Indiana University (where I worked while in library school).
  • Number five was gaming.
  • Number six was technolust. Asking if technology should be adding some value. Should have a reason to have the technology in the library. (This sounds nice in theory, but we know a lot of my professional brethren suffer severely from technolust and want every single toy in libraries. I'll quit here while I am ahead.)
  • Number seven was the death of MARC.
  • Number eight was risk tolerance. It should be OK to try things and fail. People are saying we need to challenge the status quo.
  • Number nine was mashups. This is combining data from more than one source into one integrated tool. Things like iGoogle and Yahoo! Pipes.
  • Number nine was SUSHI (Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative). It is a standard for gathering user statistics.
(Presentation was alright, though most of it was stuff I knew already. The SUSHI thing I did not know. May need to look into it and check it out.)

TLA 2008 Conference Notes, Day 2: Crawford on Balanced Libraries

Title of session: Balanced Libraries: Books, Bytes, and Web 2.0
Presenter: Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor for PALINET Leadership Network and author of Cites & Insights.

(This was probably the highlight of my conference experience. Not only to hear the guy, but actually meet the guy. Is that cool or what?)

By the way, Walt has an e-handout for this session. Find it here. (no, I did not read them before the program, which means I have to read it sometime later).

  • Though he has notes, he prefers to have a conversation (and once people "warmed up," it did get more conversational).
  • Reference to "slow libraries" (this goes to the concept of mindfulness). Pay attention to what you do and your community.
    • Comment: It may be a good thing federal money to support academic libraries is low. We all know if that money comes, so does the control with the meaningless metrics.
    • Living vision of your community and what your library does.
  • If you believe libraries are doomed, you may be better off elsewhere.
  • Healthy libraries continue to change. Build from strength for a library's continuity and balance.
    • But who are you not serving? You won't serve 100%; you can't reach all of them (this, by the way, was one of the harsh truths I learned early on as a public school teacher: you teach as if you could reach all the students, but you will always lose a few, and it has nothing to do with you.)
    • Public libraries are about the exceptions, the fringes, the ones not served by Barnes & Noble.
    • Question of mission: target 20% techie, online, rich people or the 20% homeless, on the economic fringe people. It is a question of balance. Walt is not saying to ignore the online crowd but don't lose everyone else in the process.
  • Learn from failure. Sharing those failures may be tough, but it is needed. Call it then a learning experience.
  • Tools only help with a plan to use them effectively. Real world is not "build it, and they will come." He pointed out that in the movie, the line actually says, "build it, and he will come" referring to the one baseball player. People have simply kept misquoting the line. Moving on. For example, most library blogs seem to lack evidence of being read by the community.
    • A lot of 2.0 tools are free monetarily. But they are not totally free. (Time is an issue for example. This is something I often try to convey to other folks when it comes to things like the library's blog. It takes time to find content, write about it or write the content, and then if any comments come, you have to reply. And you have to be able to do it consistently.)
    • Getting people to actively participate is "like pulling teeth."
  • Libraries should serve their public, but it should also be over time. Need balance between new and long term needs of the community. Patron desires and needs change over time.
    • Getting patrons involved is always difficult. To some extent, maybe they don't want the library to be their friend.
    • But do ask what they want and have a feedback mechanism in place (even if it is as simple as a suggestion box).
  • Walt talked about telling the library story, prompted by an audience question. Libraries are primarily about the stories and making the community story. How did the library enhance people's stories? Tell how your library story has an impact on other stories in the community.
    • Understand who your community is. Make sure you are perceived as part of the community.
    • 2.0 is one more way to stay in touch. It's another interesting way. It is not the panacea. Your library should have something interesting to change. Whether it belongs on Facebook or similar, that's separate and for each library to decide. But the seeming consensus is that people don't want to "friend" the library.
  • On new services.
    • Does it extend your services?
    • Can the library allow an experiment to fail?
    • Does it allow you to serve other populations?
    • Does it increase accessibility?
    • Are you serving the "haves" at the expense of the "have nots"?
    • Does it create a conflict with library norms? If so, can you resolve the conflict? An example is the issue of privacy and circulation records.
  • Librarians should take a strong stance on privacy issues than patrons may care. This was prompted by a question asking about us caring about privacy when the patrons do not. (This is more significant when it is the kids who do not seem to care about their privacy).
  • The "shiny new toy" peak was in 2005.
    • Is the stuff worthwhile (referring to librarian blogs)? Yes. A lot of good stuff not found in the LIS literature is in the librarian blogs.
    • Do these things matter? Most important literature is not in the professional journals, but in the grey literature.
    • Most people in the field are trying to make things better (Walt here is responding to negative librarian bloggers). He admits that the Annoyed Librarian is a good writer; the problem are the many commenters on that blog. The ZenFoPro is an example of a good blogger who uses tough language as needed and/or appropriate. (Full disclosure: I read both of those blogs.)
  • Check the PALINET site (see link above). It is a leadership resource. Interested in leadership issues. Also stuff for leaders needing to get up-to-date. Read the entry defining a leader.
  • On fighting negativity.
    • Hold on to strengths because they work. The strengths are what works. Build on this and get in contact with the public. Think of "books plus" as a brand.
    • Public libraries should be uplifting, but also provide for needs. Good pop fiction can give a love of language and get you in touch with your own humanity, and these are good things.
    • And once in a while, a library may lack support. If a community is not willing to support a library, maybe that library has to close. But maybe, the community might reconsider.
    • In general, it is troublesome that academic libraries are treating their print collections like orphans (and by the way, this sounds very familiar). Academic libraries trying to restore the love of books to students is hard. (The students lack time to read and have too much stress. They'll probably have more time after graduation. I know that was my experience somewhat, especially in graduate school)
    • Food for thought: Circulation numbers are down not due to more electronic resources but because the print collection was neglected and allowed to age out of date (again, hmm.)
    • When libraries are defunded and more electronic resources seem to take over, we may as well be forsaking the mission of the library to no more than a mere trade school, like the University of Phoenix. (This did strike a chord with me. U. of Phoenix is the last place I want to work for, and if it came to that, I would go into some other line of work. Yet a lot of universities seem to be headed in that direction).
(Overall this was one of the best sessions for me this year.)

TLA 2008 Conference Notes, Day Two: General Session I

Day two is April 16, 2008.

This was the session featuring Dave Barry (his official site) and Ridley Pearson (his official site).

(As I look over my notes, I notice I got a bit snarky on this one. Part of it was that this session is the type of session where you have to wade through the usual business stuff, to use the polite term, before you get to the actual speakers. Add to it that I personally do not like the speakers much, especially Dave Barry, and it made for something akin to torture. Hey, if Dave Barry's humor is your thing, rock on. I like mine darker a la Lewis Black, for example. The initial entertainment I did not find particularly amusing. Anything that usually involves audience participation reminds me of summer camp, parts of which I hated then and I hate now. And don't even get me started on librarians with hoola hoops.)

  • The TLA President gives us the welcome. Of course, the mandatory greeting from the mayor of Dallas. Remember to go eat at the nice restaurants and do some shopping while you are at it. (Yes, that is what he actually said. Thank goodness the West End was within walking distance, or I would have starved. Downtown is not exactly brimming with easy eating locations). Of course, the governor had the mandatory librarian anecdote (I think the ones in Houston and San Antonio did too. It must be written somewhere in their "How to run the city" manual that when a conference comes to town, you need an anecdote related to the professionals in the conference. I can only imagine his anecdote had we been the Texas Proctologists' Association instead.)
  • There was also the mandatory introduction of the sponsors. This works on levels. Level One are those who get an intro and are given time to give some small remarks. Level Two are the ones they just read the names (holding applause to the end) and then they just get a small applause (i.e. the ones who did not give enough money to get to Level One). Don't forget to visit their respective booths.
The speakers: They are promoting their Peter Pan prequel, the Starcatchers series. Find Wikipedia entry here and the official site to the books here (warning, the official site, which is part of Disney kicks in with music and graphics and the music apparently cannot be turned off in a readily apparent way.)
  • Barry opens. He jokes about Miami, the bad rep. of the city, that it is outside the U.S. Parenting by embarrassing philosophy. Sing in public for effect. Reason for writing a kids' book with Pearson is that they are both parents. Talked about the Rock Bottom Remainders (official site) and their "hard to listen" music style.
  • Pearson tells of the band tour; they raised money for charity. Stephen King is described as a well-read guy, like a teen. It's his fans who are psychopaths.
  • Barry says you need to go buy Ridley's books, which are his outlets for his criminal musings (this refers to Pearson's adult books, which are crime thrillers). Ridley's poison the coffee grinder idea as Barry grinds his coffee beans. (I have to admit; that was one idea that never occurred to me).
  • Pearson on the Peter Pan sequel, which he collaborated with Barry. There was some babble about some bad waiter in France, which Dave turned into a column (I am still not sure where this fit in other than as a joke, which was only so-so). They did a "ping=pong" method of writing (e-mailing drafts back and forth). Now they do kids' book signings. A Broadway version of the book is coming up. (By the way, at this point, it was only 9:25am, and it already felt like I had been there for a couple of hours).
  • Barry. Discussing how Captain Hook became the Black Moustache. Then to complicate matters for the writers, some kid then asked what Capt. Hook was called when he was small (sans moustache). The authors discussed other new characters they created and their plotting. They then took about ten minutes saying how wonderful it is writing for kids. Then we had the mandatory librarian suck-up moment (see my note about the mayor above) about how good librarians reach kids via reading.
Questions from the audience (at this point, a good number of people left in droves. My guess, confirmed when I left the arena, was they all rushed to get in the book signing line.):
  • "Would you consider writing for a high school audience?" Pearson said that he thinks a lot of his books could be read by high school kids, which elicited some laughs from the audience.
  • A comment from a librarian that they liked the series because they had a strong female character. The authors said this was the case because they both had daughters.
  • There was the mandatory question of "how did you start in writing?" Barry said he was lucky he had good, encouraging teachers. In newspapers later, he eventually worked up to writing humor after being stuck writing the sewage coverage. Ridley says he taught himself to type at ten, then began writing short stories. He took a course that was influential on the topic of literature and insanity (I want to take that class, hehe). The final exam in that class allowed him to either to an essay or write a short story, and he picked writing the short story. Barry made a crack that at the time of that test, 8 people were killed.
  • It ends with another mandatory librarian suck up moment for the authors: Please bring your band to Houston (Houston is the next TLA conference site. I hope to see many of you there.)
(I guess for me, after listening to Isabel Allende last year, this was really a letdown. Pearson seems the better speaker of the two, then again, he is the straight man in the duo's routine. I can only hope that overall they are better writers than speakers because I am really curious about the Starcatcher series. I may pick up the first book sometime soon, maybe give Pearson a try. Yes, I have read some of Barry's works, in case anyone says I am just being snarky for the sake of it. Did not like them then, and I don't now. However, as any good readers' advisor will tell you, read what you like and never apologize for it. If I do pick up the book, I will try to review it. We'll see.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

TLA 2008 Conference Notes, Day One: Session on school librarians and professional reading

Session title: Be PRO-active: Encourage Professional Reading.
Presenters: Mary Ann Bell and Holly Weimar, of Sam Houston State University.

(This session was an example of bad advertising. When it comes to conferences, this is a pet peeve of mine: sessions that on paper look pretty good, and then you discover they are not quite what they say on the program description. For reference purposes, here is the description as listed in the program).

Program description: "Overwhelmed by professional literature? Explore management solutions for busy faculty and staff with limited time. Inspire professional reading by providing resources and technological tools to organize materials and encourage critical and creative thinking."

(My first clue should have been that it was sponsored by the Texas Association of School Librarians. Now, that clue would have told me that it was not geared to those of us in academia. Having said that, I have been known to go to sessions for school librarians since I was a school teacher in a previous life, plus being an education subject specialist, it helps me to keep up. However, the program description made it sound like a more general session about professional reading. Somewhat far from that. In essence, this was for school librarians to learn how to get their faculty the professional reading they need. Nice, but not exactly academic level. However, I did find a silver lining: I learned some things that I can pass on to our education faculty and their students getting ready to go into classrooms. I think I will modify my notes a bit and post them over in our library blog with an "education" tag.)


Two websites, which belong to the presenters: and

(By the way, a lot of this presentation boiled down to the presenters simply showing their wikis. If I wanted that, I would ask for the link and look at it myself. Note to any potential presenters out there: don't do that. Actually present and discuss. I can look at the website later.)

  • Issue: having time to read. This presentation is based on a study of school teachers and reading. ALA used to have a statement on professional reading collections. This is now gone (would be nice if I could have seen that ALA statement. Makes me wonder why they got rid of it since I would think encouraging professional reading would be in the interests of ALA. Then again, ALA is the American Library Association, not librarian association. Anyhow, tried to do a quick search for examples of places with a professional reading collection, and they are pretty slim. Jackson State Community College offers one as a service to faculty. The South Dakota State Library also offers it. See the note here, then find their bibliography, which is a Word doc. And apparently, the Texas State Library offers a library science collection. I need to look into that later. At one point, in my previous job, I had mentioned having some kind of professional reading collection. Idea did not get too far off the ground. And given the budget where I am at now, suggesting it here is probably not advisable.)
  • If we are not reading, we can't be an example to others who are also expected to read (nice idea). Administrators should be seen reading professionally too. If they share it, it is found that staff will do the same. (Careful on this. Forwarding articles because they look good does not equal actually reading them and thinking about them.)
  • However, in schools, lacking other reading is discussed. If not professional reading, it is not seen as OK (I think the point here is about teachers actually reading other things and seen doing it once in a while).
  • Professional reading can lead to other activities. For teachers, it can lead to things like professional development.
On locating the right professional materials (this is addressed to school librarians, but I think with a little modification, we in academia can learn from it t00):
  • Talk to teachers to find needs.
  • Promote things like WorldCat and TexShare.
  • Note: observation that teachers often went to bookstores on Friday or Saturday evenings. This was the only time they had available (heck, when I was a school teacher, I often did not even have those times available. However, the point of the presenter was to observe the school teachers went to the bookstore at those free times considering their public libraries were usually closed at that time).
  • School librarian needs to give some guidance. Maybe start by providing some abstracts to the teachers.
  • School librarians: while providing services, do collect data as well.
  • Remember your online resources.

TLA 2008 Conference Notes, Day One: Session on Library Value

Day One was Tuesday April 15, 2008. I will basically put in my notes taken at the time. Any extra comments or thoughts on my part I will put in parenthesis.

Title of session: "What's it worth? The Value of Library Services as an Advocacy Tool."

You can find the powerpoint for this presentation here, along with many of the other presentations. TLA was trying to be "green" this year, so they made a lot of the presentations available electronically so you could print them out as you saw fit.

To the presentation then:

(This was a presentation about how to use spreadsheets and what to put in them in order to calculate the value of your library. While they did not focus as much on the nuts and bolts, they gave enough of a sense for anyone who may want to replicate the process. Given my new job focus on outreach, which includes marketing and being the library evangelist, I thought this presentation would be relevant for me. I learned a thing or two).

  • To create the spreadsheets, use information that is readily available. This kind of information is often found in annual reports. What you are figuring out is ROI (return on investing).
  • Ask what value items you want to use. Some examples are circulation stats, reference transactions, databases, etc.
  • Tool: Maine State Library, Library Value Calculator.
  • The value of website hits. Base this on Google's rate for clicks (this is based on the advertising concept).
  • They noted that a $3 to $8 ROI was considered good (I take it that it was based on their situation). Remember that this is services returned to the community.
On Advocacy:
  • Constantly communicate value to users. Focus on service quality.
  • Show cost-effectiveness. Ask: what if you had to buy the services?
  • Library users take good technology for granted in the library. (I know this is the case here. The day before I had a student I had to teach at the reference desk who told me her story of how she lived in a rural area where nothing better than dial-up was available. She had to come to campus to use the faster connection, going to the point of staying out in the library parking lot after hours to get the wireless. You want to talk digital divide sometime? Anyhow, this is something we can certainly use to show our value and argue for better funding.)
  • Ask: what's in it for me? (well, we should encourage patrons to ask that). Ask: what needs does the library meet?
  • Find stories and anecdotes from users. Use personal accounts and testimonials. (The concept of telling the library story is one I have been pondering for a while since I got here. One place I was doodling with the idea is here.)
  • Ask: what difference does the library make? How does the library impact the community in a positive way? (Another idea or two I have been kicking around for a while. I have been reading things about it here and here for example.)
(As I am listening to the presentation, I am thinking how can I apply this to an academic setting. I do think there are applications for academia, things we can learn from. Some of the items I would want on my spreadsheet, if I ever got around to making one: reference transactions and any librarian consultations, value of the wireless, books and materials, technology and computers, study rooms, and a few others. I was also asking myself how to get stories from the patrons. Focus groups maybe? The recent usability testing we recently did provides, I think, a good model to use, but it does require a good amount of promotion work to get people to come talk to us. Still, worth thinking about it. By the way, as soon as I get the transcripts done, I will probably write about that usability test).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back from TLA, brief note, more later

I came back from TLA last Friday afternoon. I learned a few things. Found a thing or two a bit disappointing. Had some good fun too. I will be posting my notes for sessions and so on along with an overall reflection on the experience later in the week. I just wanted to let folks now I am back. Wish I could blog things faster, but work is busy, and just because I took a couple of days off, it does not mean the drama stops. So stay tuned.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Heading to TLA (Texas Library Association) Conference 2008

Texas Library Association
Annual Conference
Dallas, Texas
April 15-18, 2008

As if I was not busy enough, TLA just creeped up on me. I will be in Dallas this year. I am leaving tomorrow morning, should be back by Friday. Yes, I know; I have not been blogging with any consistency lately, but work has literally been a madhouse these last two weeks or so, and it is not showing signs of letting up. To be honest, a part of me is not sure I should even go to TLA since there is so much to do here, but I know that if I don't take care of myself and my professional development, no one else will. Anyways, feel free to chat me up if we run across. I will be posting my session notes once I get back. This will be my third year attending now; first time while working for UT Tyler. How time flies. Since this is becoming sort of the one thing I do for my professional development, I am going to try to make it to a meeting or two and see if I get involved in something.

Best, and keep on blogging.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Article Note: On use of public libraries and large bookstores

Citation for the article:

Hemmeter, Jeffrey A. "Household use of public libraries and large bookstores." Library and Information Science Research 28 (2006): 595-616.

Read via ScienceDirect.

To some extent, this article restated a few things that now seem obvious to most of us in the library world. From the abstract, "the study finds that large bookstores reduce the probability of household library use for some, but not all, uses of the library." I think that is pretty evident without the study. A caveat is that this study is based on 1996 data; yes, the data set is ten years old as the author is drawing on the 1996 National Household Education Survey (NHES) and some other items. I say it's time someone took a new look because a lot of the speculations or observations the author makes as being possibilities have already happened. If nothing else, this is an example of an LIS article where the content is already pretty much well known to librarians. In other words, it's a bit of a day late and a dollar short. Usually, I would not have blogged an article I do not find too useful or practical, but I did get through the whole thing.

Some highlights:
  • The author opens by recalling the economic theory where public services are often provided where the private sector fails to provide for a need (595). To which I say, in theory maybe, but the problem more often is that the market does not provide for X need, and it sure as heck does not do it out of any sense of common good. In other words, there are some things that if the public trust does not provide them for the community, they would never be provided. I am betting public libraries are one example. When it comes to the speculative question of having to start public libraries today, I tend to think the answer is probably no, mostly because I just don't see a sense of public good anymore, but I won't digress further.
  • An observation: "Modern super-bookstores offer books at low prices in a library-like atmosphere" (596). To which I ask the author, "have you been shopping at a super-bookstore recently?" Thirty dollars minimum for a hardback is not exactly cheap.
  • "Super bookstores, in particular, have begun to provide services that libraries traditionally offered" (598). Really? Such as? I don't see that lowly paid clerk moving to do any substantial amount of research assistance. I don't see bookstores either providing computers for internet access (sure, they may or not have wifi, but you do have to provide the laptop, which does indicate a certain level of income), or providing access points to various forms of government information. Story hour? A public librarian can probably do a better performance than the average bookstore clerk. I am sure one of my brethren in a public library could keep this little string going.
  • "Another potential problem is that bookstores and super bookstores might locate in areas with high reading activity, which counties with high library use are likely to have" (605). Well, I wonder a bit if there might not be an income motivation as well. Let's be honest. How many bookstores and super bookstores would locate in a rural area or an inner city where there may be a very well used public library? Just because an area has a public library that has a lot of users, it does not follow as easily that the bookstores would go there as well. The cynic in me is thinking more in terms of suburbs.
  • "The spread of the Internet increases the probability of library use for job search, work, and consumer information purpose, although the effect is quite small" (611). As any public librarian will tell you, the Internet also increases the probability of library use for MySpace, YouTube, Runescape, and the perennial favorite: porn. And before any L2 evangelist gripes at me for appearing elitist or other nonsense, let us keep in mind that public libraries ought to be about more than getting your social networking fix or your next hook-up. Balance, you know?
  • "Household in wealthier ZIP codes use the library somewhat more often than those in poorer ZIP codes" (611). Could it be because those wealthier areas can afford to actually subsidize a decent library with a good and diverse collection? Could it be than in the lower income ZIP codes that is not the case, thus the library may be some dilapidated place no one would want to use? I think this is not too different from the eternal debate about public schools, their locations, and their tax bases.
  • Something that already has happened: "The importance of A/V material relative to books suggests that use of the library as a popular materials center may prove to be a large source of future activity and expansion. The small, negative impact of library book collections is indicative of the public view of libraries as being warehouse for out-of-date books. This supports the general perception that households are changing their sources of entertainment and information from print media to more electronic-based media" (613). Well, maybe, maybe not. If you look at circulation stats for recreational reading, the view of being out-of-date may not be as bad, but overall, things have changed. See my remark above about the Internet.
  • This made me take a second look. It is talking about how bookstores, to stay in business, have to carry the latest manuals for job searching, computers, so on. "Additionally, most large bookstores have extensive periodical and job search sections with which a person can search for a job" (614). Really? Bookstores now offer job ads and extensive listings? Is that another of those services bookstores now offer that libraries used to offer? Seriously, do people really think bookstore when they think they need to look for a job? Sure, they may go there to find a good book on how to write a resume or career advice, but actual job searching? I have not seen the bookstore that does that yet, nor the library. And no, I don't think a little community bulletin board with a few local ads counts. I think the author may be stretching here a bit. Of course, for libraries, the catch is they have to have those up-to-date career advice books or else.
So, there you have it folks.