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.


waltc said...

Thanks for the kind words. It was a pleasure to meet you also, since I've read both of your blogs for some time and appreciated your thinking.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by. And thanks for the kind words as well and for giving us all something to think about.

Best, and keep on blogging.