There’s a very interesting conference starting today and continuing through the weekend at New York University on “The Comedies of Fair Use.” Not only does it feature Lawrence Lessig and Siva Vaidhyanathan, but Art Spiegelman, Jonathan Lethem, and lots of other interesting people will be there. A full schedule is available here.
If you’re in the New York area, head downtown tonight for the opening… and be sure to take notes so you can send us a report.
How many ACRL members share this sentiment? I raise this question because of a comment submitted to a previous post about the ACRL virtual conference, asking if any thought has been given to making the ACRL Virtual Conference a free event. And that’s a good point to raise. After all, there are a fair number of free web conferencing opportunities being promoted throughout the year. Why does ACRL charge a fee to attend the conference? Is this just another way that ALA tries to vacuum money out of its members’ wallets (or conference budget line)? Honestly, I have no intimate knowledge about the economics of the ACRL conference, so I don’t have a good answer to the question.
I do know that putting on a virtual conference has costs attached. The organization that provides the conferencing infrastructure has expenses, and ACRL can’t expect to use their (in this case, The Learning Times Network) resources for free during a two-day conference. We couldn’t expect to use the New Orleans Convention Center for free, could we? I’m sure there were other costs as well. Perhaps ACRL could do more to find sponsors who would support the cost of the virtual conference, allowing them to lower the registration fee. On the other hand, I think there may be some positive outcomes because ACRL does charge a fee for their Virtual Conference. Consider the following:
ACRL supports great programs and benefits for members. There are scholarships, such as those that allow many younger members to attend the national conference for the first time. There are grants, such as those that allow sections and regional chapters to offer special programming to their members. These benefits have costs associated with them, and I’m quite sure that any revenues from a Virtual Conference help to support these activities.
Virtual conferences should be more intimate. I like that I’m not a tiny dot in a huge auditorium with hundreds or thousands of folks. As a virtual presenter I find that when the number of attendees gets too large (nice that lots of folks wanted to hear my presentation, but…) we lose some of the intimacy of our learning space. With just 50 to 100 attendees there are ample opportunities for active participation, and for engagment between speakers and attendees – and among the attendees themselves. I felt that many of the sessions were more like classrooms in which I was listening to a lecturer, and then engaging in a discussion with classmates (many of us attended the same sessions during the conference so we got to know each other just a bit). That’s the intimacy I’m talking about. You don’t need to have a PhD in economics to figure out what impact making the conference free will have on attendence. Say so long to small crowds and intimate sessions. It’s something you rarely get at a national F2F conference, and I’d hate to lose it in the virtual space. Please don’t interpret this as as an elistist or exclusionist statement, but if a registration fee keeps the number of attendees present at a number that makes for a better virtual learning experience I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
What if ACRL did make the virtual conference free? Would you register? I think more members certainly would. And would they show up? When any program or event is free those who registered have less of a commitment to attend, and I do believe that virtual conferences require a certain commitment factor. By commitment I mean making sure you have taken the time to test your PC before the conference to make sure it works and you are ready to log in the day of the first program. I mean investing in a microphone so you can participate more fully. I mean clearing your calendar so you’ll be free all day to log in to conference sessions. If the attitude’s going to be “maybe I’ll give this a try the day of the conference” it’s not going to work well for you, the presenter or other attendees. To my way of thinking, having a registration fee in place helps to ensure those who attend are seriously interested and have made a commitment. That’s going to make it a better conference experience all participants.
Perhaps ACRL could make some of the poster sessions and a selected presentation archive or two available for free after the conference. Not only would this be a great gesture for the members who didn’t attend, for whatever reason, but it might encourage them to do so in the future after getting a taste of virtual conferencing. I’m sure there are going to be many free virtual webcast events throughout the year, such as those offered by the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community, OPAL, Web Junction, SirsiDynix, and others. If you try them and find virtual conferencing is a form of professional development that appeals to you, give some thought to registering for a fee-based, more intensive experience like ACRL’s virtual conference. I think you would find it to be a great value for money considering how much you can learn right at your desktop. And speaking of great value, there are several presentations and poster sessions that I can choose from to use for staff development (ACRL is fine if you use your conference registration to log in and share a session with others – up to a year after the conference – but it’s not kosher to pass your conference login account to others to use as they wish). As an administrator how much might you spend sending staff to F2F conferences and workshops to get the same level of training. From that perspective the registration fee is an even better value.
Several days ago ACRLog posted a story about charges of harassment filed against a reference librarian named Scott Savage over controversial books he suggested for the institution’s common book reading experience for freshman. On Friday, April 21 The Columbus Dispatch reported that OSU investigator T. Glenn Hill found that the charges of harassment had no merit. Savage was quoted saying “I was making a point. I want us to be aware of our biases.” Now exonerated, Savage is filing a complaint against his accusers.
The several other reports I read on this incident seemed to be in favor of Savage. Although many considered his choice of books reprehensible, they thought the filing of harassment charges against him were even worse. Perhaps his motives and methods were questionable, but others defended Savage’s right to express his opinion and choices – and that in higher education we should be free do to so without fear of becoming a target.
Carla Yanni argues in the current issue of the Chron that “all campuses need public places.” in her words:
In addition to inviting undergraduates to public lectures and including them in research projects, another effective way to connect faculty members and students would be to make the physical environment more conducive to informal gathering. Loitering should be encouraged. Lingering should be a positive value.
She also adds that people use designed space in unanticipated ways – that their uses will change the design on the fly. This reminded me of Scott Bennett’s idea of designing libraries for learning – not limiting education to traditional classroom encounters, but enhancing all the social and playful behaviors that support learning outside the classroom. And making library planning student-learning-centered rather than service-centered.
So why not make the library the public place? “The libraries are not lively gathering spots because they have no food” according to Yanni.
Well, some do, and many of them are lively. Is there compelling evidence that banning food is so important it outweighs the benefits? It’s nuts for an institution to spend so much on providing a public space – and then erect barriers that prevent it being used to its maximum advantage.
I was very interested to read the article in this week’s CHE on electronic theses and dissertations (subscription required) and the brave new world of copyright issues their production has engendered.
The questions of: 1) how and when one would seek permission for the use of images, video, and sound used in a multimedia dissertation; 2) how the process of seeking such permission might differ from prevailing practices related to “fair use” of text “clips” (i.e., quotations); 3) the impact of open access policies; and 4) the big question of whether or not such a dissertation would be accepted (either by the host school or by UMI/Proquest) are all critical ones for our graduate students and for us.
Here at KU, we have recently implemented a mandatory ETD program in which the library has been very much involved. We were part of a couple of large public meetings hosted by the Graduate School last Fall aimed at answering questions about the ETD process and several of the above questions were exactly the ones that faculty and students asked. It will be interesting to see if we receive any feedback based on the CHE article.
On the whole, it’s another great example of how a technological innovation like the ETD can provide a fertile field for one dimension of scholarly communications instruction, i.e., education (esp. for future faculty and scholars) on copyright management and challenges to fair use in the digital environment.