Daily Archives: January 26, 2007

Thoughts For Better Conference Discussions

A highlight of an ALA conference for many librarians is the discussion sessions. Unlike the structured programs, anyone can take center stage as the speaker. There’s no set agenda so anything can happen. Great discussions are stimulating, but they really work best when those in attendance are activated and make themselves integral to the program. We should use these forums to challenge our thinking and traditional methods.

At one such session I attended in Seattle, which had a great premise for a heated discussion, it just never seemed to materialize. Instead of hard questions and bold calls for action, what I mostly heard fell into one of two categories, either “here’s what I do at my library – who else is doing this?” or the variant “we tried this – is anyone doing it better than we are?” These are good questions to ask and that’s one reason folks come to the sessions – to share what they’re doing with others in order to affirm they are moving in the right direction. But to my way of thinking, those fishing for answers to these types of questions could do their trolling in the sea of discussion lists. My personal preference is to move beyond “my library” to “our profession and its future”. I’d like to hear more of “why are we doing this”, “what do our patrons want”, “is this the best we can do” or “can we do this better next year or should we do something else”. I think these questions can lead to a far more engaging discussion.

So here are some ideas, aimed at discussion participants, I thought of that might lead to better, more engaging discussions at future conferences:

  • Think more globally about the discussion topic. It’s not just about your library but what could be happening beyond it.
  • Be on the lookout for articles on the topic or new ideas related to it – share them in addition to your own local experience.
  • If at all possible give some thought to the topic before you get to the room; you’re more likely to be in the right spirit to get engaged in the conversation. I realize that some folks just drop in to these discussions on an “it’s convienent to where I am” basis, but a fair number of us know about the topic in advance owing to a prior invitation.
  • Jot down some questions you’d like to ask, in advance of the program, that could prompt others to say “hmmm” let me think about that.”
  • If a group is significantly large (50 or more) you might be able to get by as a lurker. But smaller group discussions only work if everyone contributes. Even if you think what you have to say won’t be significant, get it out on the table anyway. You never know what’s going to spark others to get engaged in the discussion. If no one shares an interest or finds it worthwhile to discuss, they’ll just move on – don’t take it personally.
  • If you are just joining to passively listen (or rest your feet before moving on) consider that you might be taking a seat from someone who really wants to be at the table to add to the discussion.
  • Perhaps the moderators of these programs can allocate the discussion time so that the first half is “how are we doing it good at our libraries” and the second half could be the “why are we doing this and what else could we be doing to make our libraries better”. The session organizers could even put these (and their own) “tips for preparing for our discussion” into their invitational e-mail messages. Let’s always aim for discussions that send us home thinking about more than just what we’re doing in our own library.

    Posted by StevenB

    Communications in Information Literacy

    With scholarly communications at the front of many academic librarians’ minds, it seemed worth noting the new journal – Communications in Information Literacy. According to the journal’s website (http://www.comminfolit.org/):

    Communications in Information Literacy (CIL) is an independent, professional, refereed electronic journal dedicated to advancing knowledge, theory, and research in the area of information literacy. CIL is committed to the principles of information literacy as set forth by the Association of College and Research Libraries. CIL is also committed to the principles of open access for academic research.

    Submissions are being accepted and, in full-disclosure, I must mention that I am part of the editorial team for this publication. Seems an excellent opportunity to share one’s writing and also further the open access movement.

    Lisa Hinchliffe

    Truthiness in Publishing

    Nature is reporting that the Association of American Publishers arranged for a “pit bull” public relations specialist to help big science publishers (including Wiley, Elsevier, and the American Chemical Society) defend themselves from the open access movement.

    The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as “Public access equals government censorship”. He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and “paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles”. . .

    In an enthusiastic e-mail sent to colleagues after the meeting, Susan Spilka, Wiley’s director of corporate communications, said Dezenhall explained that publishers had acted too defensively on the free-information issue and worried too much about making precise statements. Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn’t matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: “Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate”.

    Nor is it the same, apparently, as telling the truth. But what seems almost stranger to me is the statement to Nature by Brian Crawford of the ACS. He believes that when a government agency insists the results of its publicly funded research be made public, it’s engaging in censorship.

    “When any government or funding agency houses and disseminates for public consumption only the work it itself funds, that constitutes a form of selection and self-promotion of that entity’s interests.”

    What?! Dude, those are MY interests. I PAID for them.

    Posted by Barbara Fister