Commit To Sharing Three Things You Learn At ALA

Editor’s Note: In this second in a series of posts about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans, William Breitbach, a Librarian from California State University-Fullerton sponsored by CLS Section of ACRL, shares his thoughts on how to get more out of your conference experience by sharing what you know after the conference. We’ll be hearing more about the ALA Conference from our new team of ALA Emerging Leaders over the next few months leading up to the Conference.

Just about every innovation or new project we start at our library can be traced back to something we learned at a conference. This year the instruction librarians at my library did a self assessment based on the ACRL Standards and Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians. The idea for this assessment came from a colleague who saw a presentation at LOEX by Maria Accardi. This assessment not only provided the opportunity for us to reflect on our work, but helped us chart a course for the future or our instruction program. It was all well worth the short conversation with a colleague that inspired it.

Conferences are rife with the exchange of ideas and information. We can certainly do better than simply implement something new in our own practice. We can and should continue the conversation. When you return, chances are you will have a library full of interested colleagues who were not able to attend the conference.

To continue the dialogue commit to sharing three things you will learn at ALA 2011, and discuss how each might be relevant to your library. You can share all three to a large group at your next reference team, department or unit meeting or share one or two things with a few individuals. No matter how you share, you are more likely to benefit from the learning and dialogue that goes on at a conference if you continue the conversation. Moreover, you are also more likely to experiment with new ideas/practices if you talk to people about them. A commitment to share will provide more than a personal and professional benefit. Sharing what you learn could make a great impact on your entire institution. Who knows, your dean or director may be more willing to foot the conference bill if you come back with a few new ideas and poised to share what you know.

Why All The Fuss Over PhD Academic Librarians

While no one has called it Trzeciakgate yet, I can’t help but see some similarities between what’s happening now with his presentation at Penn State University and the whole Michael Gorman firestorm (then labeled “Gormangate”) of 2005. Are you too new to the profession to remember Gormangate? You can read all about it here. Suffice to say that he said a few things that were considered controversial (and just plain insulting), and quite a few librarians took it personally – and reacted swiftly and loudly. If you want to quickly catch up on who’s contributed to the Trzecial controversy as well as its origins, this post at Sense and Reference sums things up nicely. An alternate opinion was offered over at On Furlough. I guess we like to have a nice, juicy controversy every now and then – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

What’s brought about the attacks on what Trzeciak had to say? He stated that at McMaster, where he is the Dean, his plan is to limit the hiring of traditional MLS librarians while focusing more on hiring PhD subject specialists and information technology professionals. Claiming that you think PhDs can do library work better than professional librarians is apparently the library profession’s equivalent of grabbing the third rail. The reaction to Trzeciak’s vision is not unlike that of a politician who talks about cutting social security or Medicare. While the level of negativity was mildly disturbing to me, I did appreciate that many positive and encouraging themes and ideas about the value of academic librarians emerged from the conversation.

I guess what I found most surprising about all the hostility towards Trzeciak’s ideas is that a good part of what he said is hardly new, innovative or revolutionary. It appears that some academic librarians are unaware that CLIR has since 2006 offered a program that systematically creates positions in academic libraries – and not just ARLs – for PhD holders who have decided they want a career in a library. I reacted to this program here at ACRLog when it was first announced. It’s called the CLIR PostDoctoral Library Fellows Program, and it basically offer instant access to library positions for the Fellows – and it’s a highly competitive program. If you are a PhD who’s facing a depressed job market in your field, a career in academic libraries may look downright inviting.

So while Trzeciak is perhaps the first Library Dean who has publicly commented on the merits of this program and sees it as a potential blueprint for future staffing in academic libraries, he’s hardly the first one to hire non-MLS PhDs to take positions that MLS holders would have filled in the past. Looking back, some, not all of the CLIR Fellows go on to earn the MLS, and they’ve made good contributions to the library literature.

As Lane Wilkerson wrote in the post mentioned above:

So, Jeff Trzeciak, if you can find PhDs who would rather work in a library than as teaching faculty in their subject areas, more power to you. But, I doubt that’s going to be the future of librarianship.

Well guess what? Trzeciak doesn’t have to go very far to find those PhDs. With the support of the CLIR program, they’re lining up for jobs in our libraries – and getting them while MLS graduates sit on the sidelines. I don’t think it’s going to be THE future, but it’s going to be an unavoidable consequence of a future in which library deans will be looking for ways to incorporate new skill sets into their organizations. If you want to better understand why this happening, perhaps you ought to read Jim Neal’s article on “feral librarians” if you happened to miss it when first published in 2006. You can attack Trzeciak’s ideas if it makes you feel better, but he’s hardly the first to promote these them, and he won’t be the last.

ACRL 2011: Walking The Talk

If you attended ACRL 2011 I hope you enjoyed it. I just completed the evaluation (be sure to complete it if you attended), and gave the conference high marks (disclosure: I co-chaired the keynotes committee). One of the things I really like about the ACRL conference is that it constantly evolves. A number of new initiatives were introduced this year. Some risks were taken, and some new things worked better than others. A few of the standbys may not be working as well as they used to. But it’s the way we want our own academic libraries to function – taking risks to try new things for the benefit of the end user – or in this case – you – the conference attendee. We have speakers who encourage us to take risks in the name of change. We read it in our literature. Be an innovator. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. You know the talk. Well, for me, the message of ACRL 2011 is that we need to walk the talk – and that’s just what ACRL did.

Take the choice of Clinton Kelly as the final keynote speaker. Not everyone agrees that this was a wise choice. For their final keynoter big library conferences usually go for NPR personalities, distinguished authors or highly recognized library advocates – especially if they are Hollywood personalities. Kelly is none of those. He’s the star of a TLC reality show. Not just any show but one with a strong message about personal change. Kelly shared seven rules for change, and spent more time on Q&A than most speakers. Maybe you liked it, maybe you didn’t. The point is that ACRL didn’t play it safe. They took a risk, and based on the reaction in the audience I’d say it was a risk well worth taking that paid off by giving attendees a great end to the conference.

Take the conference bag for example. For the years 2009 and 2007 ACRL conferences I’ve featured photos of the ACRL conference bag. Guess what? There is no ACRL conference bag in 2011. While I personally miss the bag – well not having it – just being able to critique it and provide a photo for you – I support the decision not to have one. The conference factsheet indicates that the members indicated that the bag just wasn’t necessary. We all have plenty of these bags. If you come to the conference and you really, really need a bag for your stuff, you can always find a vendor at the exhibits giving them away. And we all know librarians prefer to score exhibit hall swag anyway.

What else was new/different/risky? For example:

* Reduced time allowed for contributed papers from two 30-minute slots to three 20-minute slots. On the upside more librarians got to give a paper which is great. On the downside (experienced personally) it is tough to summarize months of research in 12 minutes – but constraints should bring out our creative side. Also on the upside, if the speaker is not so great, it won’t last long. I vote a thumbs up for this change. A risk worth taking.

* Introduction of the IdeaPower Unconference. I only got to one of these but it was packed. My take is that these are lightning talks with Q&A at the end. Sometimes I wasn’t exactly sure what the idea was, although I could tell it was about a project someone tried at their library. Whatever you thought of the presentations, it did give more attendees a chance to participate and present, and from what I heard this was really popular and well received. So this one gets a thumbs up too – not all that risky but it could have bombed.

* Moving the Cyber Zed Shed out of the Shed and into an actual conference room. While I understand the rationale for this – in 2007 and 2009 the CZS was packed to the gills – moving it to a regular room just seemed to take some of the wind out of the CZS sail. Maybe it was that it just didn’t have the “alternate conference” vibe that it used to. I’m going to give this a thumbs down. Either move it back into the exhibit hall or some weird spot or put it to rest. If you can’t get in because the area is small, well, there’s always another program. Again, not a huge risk but a change well worth trying.

*Heavy promotion of conference tweeting. This is not all that risky or groundbreaking these days. Seems like every library conference is judging itself by the volume of tweets it generates – and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Seems like we were just trying to encourage live blogging – but I think there are hardly any blog posts about the conference at all – and I think that’s our loss. I read that the conference generated approximately 8,500 tweets. I did attend two sessions where presenters asked attendees to tweet back responses relevant to the presentation. In at least one of them an attendee protested that he didn’t have a twitter account, and therefore couldn’t participate.

I guess my thinking on this is that if everyone is tweeting about the presentations during the presentations – is anyone really paying attention to what the presenters are saying. I know all the tweeters will say they multi-task well and can tweet and listen. Not me. I was tweeting when asked to, and I know for a fact that I missed something the presenter said because other people were chuckling and I had no clue. There’s no way I would even have attempted to tweet during Jaron Lanier’s keynote – I didn’t want to miss a word he said. Yet other folks were tweeting a plenty. I’m sure they missed something. A presentation of mine didn’t get much tweeting action. I don’t know what that means. Maybe I gave nothing to tweet about. Maybe I kept the audience so engaged that they didn’t want to stop and tweet. I hope it’s the latter. Anyway, I think I’ll do more listening and less tweeting – to me you start tweeting when you are bored and need a distraction to keep yourself engaged. Next time, let’s have a conference with such great speakers that the number of tweets actually goes down. So I turn my thumb sideways on this one. Great for those who like it, but forgettable for those who would rather listen to the talks without distraction or who don’t have a twitter account. Who the heck even knows how we’ll be communicating electronically in 2013.

Speaking of 2013, ACRL 2013 will be in Indianapolis – an up and coming city with a vibrant downtown (I was just there two weeks ago so I know). Will they go with “Start Your Engine – Racing to Our Future” as the Conference theme (Indy 500 – get it). Who knows? One thing I do know is that ACRL is the type of conference that doesn’t rest on its laurels. There will be changes. There will be evolution. Risks will be taken. You can count on it.

News From An Academic Library in Japan

It is now just over two weeks since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We have all seen the images of massive destruction, heard and read the stories of death and suffering, and witnessed the fortitude of the Japanese citizens as they attempt to return to normalcy despite the ongoing severity of the crisis in their country. There’s nothing I could say or tell you about what is happening in Japan that would be more insightful or eloquent than what Garr Reynolds shared.

In 2009 my library was visited by three academic librarians from Tohoku University. Even though we spent just one day together, we learned a great deal from each other. They were eager to hear about our information literacy initiative because that is something still rare among academic libraries in Japan. We were curious about the Japanese system of higher education, and how academic libraries were operated (for example, the Dean of Libraries is often a non-librarian faculty member). Tomoe Hanzawa was the lead librarian of the visiting group; she was the best English speaker and did the translating. In the wake of the news coming out of Japan my thoughts turned to Tomoe and her colleagues. She is the librarian at the Science and Engineering Library at Tohoku, which I thought was in the region where the earthquake struck, but I needed to check on that. Sure enough, Tohoku is in the Northern region of Japan, but not among the cities that took a direct hit from the tsunami.

I e-mailed Tomoe to try to get some news. I was hoping to hear that she and her colleagues were safe, and that hopefully her institution had been spared much damage. I heard nothing for a week. Then finally, last Tuesday I received a response. The good news was that she and her colleagues had survived the earthquake and were safe. Tomoe did not have access to e-mail until the electricity was restored, but she said she was glad to hear from me – and she was thankful that American academic librarians were seeking news about their fellow librarians in Japan. While Tohoku University was spared the complete destruction that occurred in other cities owing to its more Northern location, there was still extensive damage to the campus. Yesterday, Tomoe shared a few photos with me so I could get a sense of the damage at her library:

This first photo is a scene from the Reading Room:

Scene from the Library Reading Room. The stacks are still standing.
Scene from the Library Reading Room. The stacks are still standing.

The journal collection was hit hard:

Hardly a volume is left on the shelves in the periodicals stacks - but again - the shelves are standing
Hardly a volume is left on the shelves in the periodicals stacks - but again - the shelves are standing

As you might expect, given the first two photos, a great deal of clean up work will be needed in the main book stacks:

Significant damage in the library book stacks
Significant damage in the library book stacks

The severity of the damage appears worst in the microforms area:

Heavy cabinets tossed around like toys by the quake
Heavy cabinets tossed around like toys by the quake

Tomoe sent me photos that showed other damage caused by the earthquake including cracks in the interior walls of the Library, and cracks and other problems on the building exteriors. But given the severity of the earthquake it’s amazing that the buildings are still standing – and we’ve all heard much about how the Japanese engineer their buildings to withstand quakes.

I was glad to learn, that despite the physical damage at Tohoku University, Tomoe and her colleagues are safe and starting to recover – and that is going to take a long time. But things are far worse in other parts of Japan. I hope to learn more about anything specific that we can do to help our academic library colleagues in Japan. Right now, they are just trying to figure out the extent of the damage, and how they can restore some degree of normalcy. I will stay in touch with Tomoe to see if there is any way we can provide assistance. For now, the best way to help is to make a generous contribution to any of the several charitable organizations accepting donations. If you have any news of other Japanese universities impacted by the earthquake or tsunami please share what you have learned.

Many of us are headed to ACRL in Philadelphia to learn, to share and to enjoy each other’s company. As we have these experiences, let’s not forget that our fellow academic librarians in Japan are having a completely different experience – and let’s think about how we can help them as they seek to recover from what will likely be one of the worst natural disasters of the 21st century.

UPDATE – 3/30/11: I received an update from Tomoe in which she let me know she and her colleagues are already hard at work putting the library back to normal. See here. AMAZING!

Plan Ahead For Your First Time On The Exhibit Floor

Editor’s Note: In this first in a series of posts about the ALA Conference, John Meier, Science Librarian at Penn State University, shares his experiences as a new librarian attending the ALA conference exhibits – and hopes you can avoid some of the newbie errors he made. We’ll be hearing more about the ALA Conference from our new team of ALA Emerging Leaders over the next few months leading up to the Conference.

My first visit to the exhibit hall at an ALA National Conference was brief and confusing. In the incomprehensible swirl of activity, I only remember drinking way too much free coffee. There are hundreds of exhibitors (in New Orleans there will almost be a thousand!) and as a newly minted librarian I had no idea where to start. I think I also might have picked up some free books and pens–there are always those–but I didn’t take away any new knowledge.

Next time I prepared ahead of time using the materials available at registration on-site: The ALA Program and Exhibit Directory along with the Passport to Prizes, which has give-away ads from companies and a fold out map. The map is now available online ahead of time in the pre-show Cognotes ,
ALA’s conference newspaper. I considered each company that my library or I personally use, such as our ILS vendor Sirsi, and created a short list of exhibitors to visit. Then I added in some favorite publishers, my library school and ALA member units to make the list a manageable two dozen out of the hundreds. I used a highlighter to indicate them on the map for later reference.

Remembering that I felt intimidated and unimportant the last time, I came up with something basic to start conversations with exhibitors: “What’s new?” They were happy to tell me, and after that icebreaker I felt much more engaged with them. I go to know some of them personally and even got invited to lunch and an after hours social event.

Finally I found myself comfortable in the exhibit hall. I had left behind my reservations and felt comfortable talking to exhibitors as professional colleagues. I felt free to talk about the new things I was doing in addition to their products. At ALA Annual in Anaheim, I stopped at one exhibit to watch a presentation on Graphic Novels. Graphic novels are an interest of mine as a Science Librarian so afterwards I chatted with the presenter about the dearth of non-fiction science graphic novels. I saw him later in the day, and he waved me over. That publisher needed a librarian with my subject tbackground to regularly nominate the best science books published.

Now when I attend an ALA National Conference, not only do I get to see my friends and colleagues who work in libraries, I also meet my friends and partners among the exhibitors. I encourage all new conference attendees to skip the first two steps I took and go to the exhibit hall (there’s one at ACRL 2011 as well) with a plan to engage library vendors and publishers in a meaningful way. It will benefit you personally and professionally.

● Set aside a block of time to visit the exhibits, so you don’t feel
● Plan a short list of exhibitors to visit ahead of time
● Have a few questions ready, be prepared to talk about yourself,
and take business cards
● Relax, they want to talk to you, so walk up to them and say “Hi”
● Don’t take every handout, much is available online or vendors will
gladly mail to you