Sure I’d Attend The ACRL Virtual Conference – If It Was Free

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.

  • Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

    I will readily admit that I’m lifting this title from one of the great all-time sports columnists, Bill Lyon, who not long ago retired after writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer for many years. Published every couple of Saturdays, “Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts” was something to look forward to, as it provided a delectable mix of miscellaneous observations and reactions. I hope he won’t mind me using it. Here are a few I had recently:

  • Infolust
  • A couple of bloggers mentioned the April 2006 briefing from about “Infolust“. It’s a good read, so take a look if you haven’t yet. Your comments on this piece will be appreciated as I’d like to know what other academic librarians are thinking. See if “Infolust” doesn’t describe some of the research behavior you see at your library. The question – or challenge – for academic librarians is how do we respond to users driven by Infolust. While Infolust is certainly about instant information gratification, one observation I make is that Infolust is also about power and empowerment – making users feel empowered. Can academic libraries somehow tap into the user’s Infolust so that we can develop within them an appreciation of satisfying one’s Infolust in the library’s information environment? I know what you’re thinking. The instant gratification factor is not there. But wouldn’t having the ability to master more sophisticated information tools – especially when they can enable you to kick butt on academic research assignments – offer a form of information gratification. That’s something worth thinking about.

  • Microsoft Academic Search
  • There was a fair amount of blogging and discussion list chatter last week about Microsoft’s big news – a new Academic Search engine. Microsoft will be going head-to-head with Google Scholar. I think I’ve seen no less than five or six librarian bloggers giving their personal reviews, but if you want the basic facts go to Resourceshelf. Since more than a few academic libraries have invested resources in creating connections from within Google Scholar, will they seek to do the same with Academic Search – or choose one over the other? On their well-placed link for librarians Microsoft wastes no time pushing for open URL link resolver connections from within Academic Search. Although the content is rather limited right now, there’s a lot to like. If you haven’t done so yet, take a closer look this week.

  • Who’s a Self-Promoter
  • Just because you blog, does that make you a self-promoter? What about publishing an article in a library journal? Are you just communicating ideas or research with colleagues, or are you out to be an “A-list” academic librarian? These are some of the questions raised by a blog post by Walt Crawford last week. Apparently he had some concerns about a reference to “movers and shakers” (LJ’s annual collection) made by The Shifted Librarian. I won’t rehash what created a fair amount of commentary; you can read Walt’s post for that – which will give you a better sense of why I’m writing about self-promotion. From my perspective the vast majority of academic librarians who simply publish, present, or blog are not self-promoters. If you’re good, others will know it and that may result in some unintended recognition. I think that’s how most folks end up as LJ Movers & Shakers. And like every award handed out in libraryland, there are many deserving folks who are not recognized. So I just linked to a post I wrote a while ago. Am I self-promoting my own writing? What if I link to an article I wrote in a journal? I think I’m just trying to get you read something related to the conversation. You may think I’m trying to broaden my personal sphere of influence. Certainly we all occasionally see evidence of shameless self-promotion in an attempt to obtain speaking engagements, requests to contribute articles, or to broaden one’s reputation in the profession. We have to accept it will happen, and live and let live. If you have a good idea or something worth communicating, share it with ACRLog (like Brian Mathews did – which garnered a few mentions in the LISblogoverse). Don’t let concerns about being accused of shameless self-promotion keep you from communicating ideas or news that could benefit your colleagues. I think most academic librarians have the good sense to know where the line is between enthusiasm for sharing ideas and shameless self-promotion – and to avoid crossing it.

    What 2.0 Means to Me

    The “Library 2.0” tag appears in this month’s Technically Speaking column by Andrew Pace, and I was struck by the interpretation he promotes of “Library 2.0” as being solely defined by advances in technology. I won’t try to summarize Walt Crawford’s lengthy and largely critical review of the Library 2.0 discussion, but I will note a key piece of Pace’s column:

    “Put simply, the 2.0 moniker denotes a next generation of Web technology.”

    I disagree, or, rather, I agree that this is a simple way of putting it – too simple, really.

    While most of the discussion around Library 2.0 has noted its connection to the (equally arcane) Web 2.0 discussion, to me the key is interaction and willingness to enhance library services in collaboration with our users. In the Wikipedia entry, we find “Library 2.0” defined, in part, as “information and ideas flowing in both directions – from the library to the user and from the user to the library” and this means a lot more than using blogs, OPACs or portals that allow users to tag favorite works, etc. – it means that the library is an open system, i.e., one that is characterized by permeable boundaries between the library and its user communities and local environment and one that is characterized by dynamic change (Birnbaum, 1988).

    So, what does Library 2.0 mean to me? Let’s think about instruction.

    In a “1.0” approach, information literacy instruction is wholly library-centered. Librarians identify instructional objectives based solely on their definition of what students need to know, and all instruction is provided by librarians in an environment largely divorced from the classroom. There is little attention given to student evaluation of the instruction provided, and little follow-up by the librarian based on the feedback provided. Now, don’t get me wrong, you can provide a lot of valuable instruction this way, and your students may even learn a lot of useful information skills (although you may not have much evidence of student learning beyond attendance statistics), but it’s not the future of instructional service in libraries.

    In a “2.0” approach, information literacy instruction is integrated across the curriculum. The library serves as an instructional center on campus and as the hub for a campus-wide commitment to preparing students with the information skills needed for success in the 21st century (see the role of the Writing Center, and then read Elmborg & Hook, 2005). Assessment of student learning benefits from its integration into campus activities that foster input and interaction from student and faculty library users, including: (1) course assignments designed to demonstrate student information skills; (2) portfolio assessments that include assignments chosen for their demonstration of student mastery of information competencies; and (3) end-of-course assessments of student learning and student satisfaction (“Senior Surveys”) administered by academic programs or campus offices of institutional research. And, yes, you might meet those goals using an online course environment, a Web-based learning object, and an interactive tutorial, but those are simply the tools.

    Likewise, it is very “2.0” to integrate information literacy instruction into campus educational opportunities outside the classroom, e.g., residence hall and Greek life education, and as part of staff development and faculty development programs sponsored by units such as Human Resources and the Center for Teaching Excellence. Both foster integration, interaction, user feedback, and permeable boundaries between library and other campus services – the very heart of the “Library 2.0” concept; the heart of the library as “open system.”

    Finally, “Library 2.0” means that we’re committed to continual improvement, which strikes me as a much better way to identify that commitment than the more familiar, IT-based, phrase “Beta is forever.” I’ve been through enough bad OPAC upgrades (and you all know who you are!) to have a visceral reaction against the idea that “beta is forever,” but I’m perfectly comfortable saying that I (like the services I provide) am a work in progress, and a work that can always be improved through interaction with my peers and my users and through integration with broader services and initiatives embraced by my campus. Some of those services will be technology-based (e.g., a information literacy Weblog that I can use to alert faculty interested in the integration of ILI into their courses about new resources and questions to ask), but others are wholly human (e.g., working with a curriculum committee to identify end-of-program learning objectives for graduating students as relate to information skills).

    Commitment to improve, commitment to assess, commitment to integrate, commitment to communicate – that’s my Library 2.0. I get there using the newest information technology and tried-and-true human technology. I don’t agree with Crawford’s conclusion that “Library 2.0 is hype,” but neither do I cede the notion entirely to those engaged primarily in discussions of technology. How about you?

    Questioning The Value Of ALA Membership

    Once again there is discussion in the biblioblogosphere about the value of joining ALA. You can read posts about it here and here. There are good points in both of these posts – and in the comments (though I had to take issue with Meredith’s remarks about ACRL – see my comments on her post), and many of us long-time members of ALA would do well to give thought to them. It seems that most of the concern of the younger generation is that membership in ALA is too costly and that it doesn’t provide an adequate forum for information sharing and connecting with colleagues. I’m not sure what ALA can do to make membership less costly. It’s already a bargain compared to other professional associations. As I said in my comments ALA and all the sections sponsor many programs and activities that could only be paid for by additional fees (e.g., belonging to a section, participating in an online workshop, etc.).

    Why aren’t more library administrators supporting their younger members involvement in ACRL? Further, more needs to be done to get new librarians involved while in library school. I’m sure many of the schools have ALA chapters but I can’t comment on how active local librarians are in working with faculty to get students engaged. We need more discussion about and support for local initiatives.

    Perhaps ALA could extend low cost memberships for the first few years of a new librarian’s career. I think I’d be willing to pay more to make it easier for new members to join at an early stage in their career. After all, if we don’t get these folks involved our association might not have a future.

    There also has to be greater support for ALA and ACRL at the local and regional level. Since it is less expensive to participate locally, that is how many of us first get engaged in the national organization – so let’s capitalize on the existing network. ALA may be better off to allow newer members of the profession to participate locally at a lower membership rate than to have them be unable to join at all.

    And with ALA’s evolving online community, these locally-oriented members could also have a voice in national level activity without needing to pay their way to national meetings. On the ACRL College Libraries Section committee I chair we get tremendous work done by email, phone calls, and virtual chat sessions.

    I think we all, veterans and newbies, get more out of our ALA membership when we are actively involved. It all comes back to getting out of it what you put into it. However, if we don’t make it easier for folks to get in the door we can’t expect them to have the chance to put themselves into being an active member.

    What if Libraries Were Run Like a Rapacious Corporation?

    Remember when Steve Coffman asked us “what if you ran your library like a bookstore?” (American Libraries, March 1, 1998.) Not just any bookstore, but a mega-chain that has its books selected centrally and doesn’t pay its floor workers much because, hey, reference services are an unnecessary extravagance anyway.

    Now digital media consultant Joseph Esposito asks “what if Wal-Mart ran a library?” He predicts our days are numbered because we’re simply too expensive and inefficient.

    If Wal-Mart ran a library, there would be fewer libraries, but they would be much, much larger. Wal-Mart would study the entire supply chain, from authors all the way to readers, to root out inefficiencies. If a particular vendor proved to be hard to deal with, Wal-Mart would encourage other vendors to enter the area. Wherever possible, solutions would be sought with information technology rather than high-cost First World labor . . . It is not only the cost of academic journals that is unsustainable, but also the behavior of entire institutions that are currently operating outside the demands of a globalizing society steeped in industrial processes and a stubborn, if narrow, view of accountability.

    Of course, if there were fewer libraries, and those that survived were run this way, we’d stop supporting academic programs that were small or unproven, we’d avoid stocking material that wasn’t sufficiently popular, we’d outsource as many functions as we could, and (like Coffman’s bookstore model) we wouldn’t bother building collections geared to local needs. Not to worry: higher ed as we know it is doomed, anyway.

    We’d also be enough of a monopoly that we could bully publishers into meeting our terms. Lest you think “hey, he’s got a point” – consider SPARC and other efforts to reinvent scholarly communication. We’re already having an effect. But Esposito would disagree: he thinks open access is a bad idea and will end up costing more than traditional publishing, redirecting the expenses from libraries to authors and their institutions.