Programming Unconference Northeast 2013

I’m proud to say that I’m one of the unconference unorganizers (as we have dubbed ourselves) for Programming Unconference Northeast on September 27th at the Darien Public Library in Darien, Connecticut. It should be a great day of meeting and discussing programming topics and issues with my fellow librarians as well as hearing Lisa Carlucci Thomas give the keynote. Since I helped organize a school librarian conference a year and a half back, I’ve grown to love the format. It really helps to connect with other librarian and learn from their experience as well as provide your own knowledge to them.

My partner in crime is Erin Shea from Darien PL who has been gracious enough to put up with my pestering over the last couple of months. The original idea for a programming unconference originated from her and my friend Janie Hermann from Princeton PL. With any luck, there is going to be a Jersey one in early 2014 , but this was a good way to give it a trial run. I’m really looking forward to it and I know it’s going to be a blast!

For those interested, there is more information (including registration) on the website. This is a free conference which will also be providing a lunch for attendees. Yeah, it’s full of lots of win!

Hope to see you there!

Roll the Dice

This past week I had the chance to attend a day of the New Jersey Library Association Annual conference down in Atlantic City. In its own way, the location is somewhat apropos as a setting for a librarian gathering. The glamour of the Boardwalk Empire days lives on as a fiction of television, depicting a time when the city was America’s choice destination resort of the 1920’s. The legendary acts of Frank Sinatra, Martin and Lewis, and Sammy Davis Jr. at the 500 Club in the 1950’s would influence and entertain generations of people. But the city has been in a slow decline since the 1980’s as gambling and vacation dollars have slowly slipped away from the America’s Playground to brighter, fresher, and more attractive venues. It’s a city in a labored transition yearning to recapture the magic of the past while stepping into a very different future.

Sound somewhat familiar?

I arrived at the end of the first day of the conference ready for an evening of social events. From what I’ve been told by librarians from other states, this doesn’t happen at their state conferences. They are in bed by 9pm, 10pm at the latest, and everything shuts down. New Jersey librarians are a separate breed. My evening stretched into the hours after midnight, starting with dinner, a formal conference event, a reception, an informal meetup, and finishing with a room party. Perhaps this is what happens when the state conference is held at a casino full of alcohol serving venues by the beach in the summer, but at the previous venue we’d shut down the hotel bar at 10pm and then head upstairs for the room parties. So, if you ever come to our state conference, you had better manage your energy levels and warn your liver: it’s going to be a fun night.

My only mistake was not rehydrating after an evening of steady-but-very-controlled alcohol intake with no food and then soaking in a hot hotel bath. (Being a six foot plus tall man who likes baths, you have to take them when you can fit into them.) I had some pretty weird dreams over the course of a restless night, ending with a constant renewal of my alarm snooze button till I reached some semblance of feeling human. Or at least human enough to get up, shower, dress, check out of my hotel, and head back to the conference.

In its own roundabout way, this is another way that reminded me of libraries and vendors. The conference hotel was $177 a night (I don’t know if that included taxes); I stayed at the hotel casino next door for $40 with taxes. One option is convenient but expensive, the other requires a little money, more work, but ultimately offers you the same thing. This was more prominent when it came to dining at the conference casino; $14 sandwiches and $8 beers was the going average. I could have sought other dining options that would have taken me off-site, but the casino ones were right here. I paid for the convenience even if the quality wasn’t always the best and was subject to the limited selections. Now if that isn’t a good metaphor for libraries paying for convenience over quality or customization in their services and products, I don’t know what is.

As for the conference sessions, I wasn’t disappointed in the ones I attended. The highlight for me was the keynote given by Stephen Abram which was joyful and simply rejuvenating. I haven’t felt much in the way of morale or sense of purpose in a long while. Some of his points I’d like to save for later blog posts, but the ones that I’ll mention here relate to the long view of libraries as a whole.

There are shifts in content (digital collections continue to rise), shifts in services (the addition of non-traditional classes, trainings, and workshops), and shifts in access (the prevalence of smartphones and the continuing slow expansion of broadband). His point is that shift happens; we too often cling onto structure that inadequately supports our principles. We believe in reading and literacy and let the container (book, eBook, etc.)  be damned. We believe in information access and look to provide through an app or an internet terminal as well as an encompassing collection policy. To paraphrase a political operative, it’s about the end user, stupid. The important internal discussions cannot be allowed to completely paralyze the external patron-facing outputs. Shift happens.

It was the message I needed to hear. I’m feel like I’m in a professional rut, trapped with an idea board in my apartment full of ideas but no inclination to follow up. I’m not finding the inspiration to write these days either and it is something that I miss. I’ve felt adrift and disconnected from my immediate library community, my friends and colleagues in New Jersey. Combined with seeing and talking with people I haven’t seen in awhile and meeting new librarians, it’s been a good jump start to wake myself from this hibernation.

In rousing myself from dormancy, it is also driven by a sense of shared responsibility towards this generation of new librarians and library science graduate students. The most striking observation in meeting them is how damn young they look; in doing the age difference calculation, I’m now old enough to be their fun uncle. Though I am a relative newcomer to the libraryland scene (class of 2006), it’s imperative to me that libraries don’t fail in massive, fatal ways on my watch. (Smaller, non-lethal failures are completely expected and encouraged; they are the risk to the natural course of trial and error.) I feel the need to leave them with a legacy to carry on, to expand their possibilities and potential in an information centric world, and to leave the profession just a little bit better than when I started.

In driving away from Atlantic City, I made one last observation as to why it is the perfect setting for a library conference. The city itself was a gamble, constructed as a health resort before morphing into a working class getaway alternative from the social elites of Cape May in the late 1800’s. It would go on to offer attractions, dining, and housing to all social classes; it was a destination that sought to satisfy a desire (and in some cases, a vice). Atlantic City has always been a customer driven economy; those who can bring the people through the doors get to stay and those who can’t get to make way for the next developer.

In similar respects, libraries are no different; we are also people driven entity and a continued calculated gamble on the idea of communal resources. It is the interactions that matter, be it face-to-face, over the phone or email, or now online. The prevalence of individually tailored information access gives the illusion of independence when there is actually a greater need for interconnected networks and the infrastructure to support them. We lose out when our primary focus becomes the collection, policies, and other behind-the-scenes oriented minutiae. We lose out when the discussion shifts away from the value we bring to our respective communities. These are the factors that will determine our continued collective existence.

Crossing the marshlands between Atlantic City in the mainland, I saw the skyline against the perfect blue of a cloudless summer day. It’s a place of dreams and fantasies and an escape from reality, not unlike the image that is sometimes projected from public libraries. Unlike some of the hard luck cases perhaps driving along side of me, I left as a winner. Once again, I feel a renewed sense of purpose in the profession that I love. I will be able to wager once more on the public library, a gamble based on finding new and new-to-me ways to help people. It’s a risk, but the best odds and a payout that can’t be ignored.

So, roll the dice.

ALA Virtual Conference 2011

Just a quick plug for the presentation that the lovely and talented Nancy Dowd and I are going to do at the ALA Virtual Conference this coming Thursday at 11:30am. Here’s the teaser for our talk:

“Advocacy Awakening: The Revolution in Recognition”

Are you tired of reporters only asking for quotes when a library closes? Do you wish they would call you about issues like copyright laws, eBooks and book banning? Are you fed up with people telling you they didn’t know libraries do more than lend books and DVDs? Pulling your hair out when you hear the stereotypes of librarians portrayed over and over again? We think its time for a revolution! Somewhere between passive and aggressive methods are ways for librarians to awaken their communities to the value they and their libraries provide. Andy Woodworth and Nancy Dowd will discuss esoteric ideas and practical ways for librarians to become rock stars and deal makers of advocacy.

I’ll be making the case for rock stars and Nancy will be giving the lowdown on what it takes to be a deal maker. I’m excited to be presenting and especially on this concept!

Yes, I can hear the sounds of eyes being rolled at the mere mention of the term ‘rock star’. But I encourage you to hear me out on this one. I think you’ll appreciate what I have to say on this… or you’ll get plenty of blog/Twitter/Facebook/Google+ ammo to blast away at me for even broaching the subject.

Looking forward to (virtually) seeing you there!

Two Nights in Philly (Visiting SLA 2011)

On Monday and Tuesday evening this week, after a long day at work I hopped on the train to meet and dine with my fellow librarians in Philadelphia. The Special Libraries Association annual conference was in the area and I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to meet with a whole new set of librarians that I generally only know through Twitter, Facebook, or the blogs. Monday was a chance to meet students from Pratt at the Hack Library School meetup and then onwards to the people I consider to be my tribe, Library Society of the World. Tuesday, I will say, was the night I was really looking forward to as I got a chance to share a meal with Ned Potter. We’ve been corresponding back and forth for months on various library advocacy things so it was great to actually meet him. Later on, I was glad to meet Laura and Bethan as well as the other British librarians who had made the trip over (Chris, Sam, and Natalia) at the SLA Dance Party.

In reflecting on two days worth of conversations (both sober and slightly less than sober), I will say that it was a nice change of pace to hear about libraries that don’t face the same obstacles as public libraries. While socializing with the SLA Pratt students, the range of environments in which they were operating their libraries was fascinating. From hospitals to government agencies to non-profits, each person brought a new set of difficulties and challenges to the table. As someone who works in a public library and is generally surrounded by public librarians, it was like visiting a different culture which spoke the same language but had different customs. It was fun to question and explore what these students were doing and how their library experience was radically different or surprisingly the same as mine.

To me, it poses it’s own conundrum: how does one advocate for special libraries? This was uncharted territory for me; on top of that, it is very contextual. In some cases, it’s not an issue when the company, agency, or business has an output or product based on knowledge resources. In other cases, it’s a matter of convincing an executive or government bigwig that the library is not a cost center and has value on its own merits. In assessing it in the scope of Big Tent Librarianship, it begs its own question: so how does it fit under the tent? Where is the give and take as it relates to other libraries? These are things I’m going to have to think on now, but I welcome other insight.

It was a couple of great nights in Philadelphia. I hope to be able to see everyone again; in the meantime, I’ll see you online!

NJLA Conference

I’ll be gone for the next couple of days attending the New Jersey Library Association annual conference. Last year, I was co-presenter of the Information Technology section “Tech Lounge”, a gadget and gaming petting zoo. Attendees can come get hands on time with different game systems and a variety of gadgets (iPads, iPods, Kindles, Nooks, and whatnot). It was a success last year and I’m hoping to duplicate it again this year.

In addition, we schedule people to hang around the Tech Lounge to answer specific questions about different topics. This year, I’m happy to once again have Justin and JP from 8bitlibrary who will be answering questions about teen gaming, gaming programs, and video game collections on Tuesday between 1pm to 3pm. Doug Baldwin will be there on Wednesday at 12pm about alternate reality games and the very cool mystery game his library did with patrons. Karen Klapperstuck and Cynthia Lambert will be doing hands on eBook demonstrations (as in, how to download it to various devices) on Wednesday from 2pm to the start of Battledecks. I’m also very pleased to announce that Kenley Neufeld will be spending an hour at the Tech Lounge on Wednesday from 1pm to 2pm to talk about social media platforms. The talks allow attendees to ask additional questions and have longer conversations about certain topics; it was a great success this year and we have a variety of people this year. I’m looking forward to it once again.

In mentioning Battledecks, I am the slidemaster for this year’s competition. I have some truly wonderfully bad decks made for the contestants. I look forward to seeing how everyone does, considering how many random internet image searches it took to get all the pictures that I needed. I’m also thinking that the better description is “PowerPoint Improv” rather than “PowerPoint Karaoke”, since karaoke implies that they know the tune ahead of time.

I may or may not be able to squeeze out some blog posts (I’m leaving the laptop at home), so I’ll leave you with the official Battledeck competition design that I made with GIMP and Inkscape.

 u mad?

Behold it in all its terrible glory.

CIL 2011 Reflections

Earlier this week, I had the chance to attend two days of the Computer in Libraries conference down in Washington D.C. I could see why some of my librarian friends really like the conference: it’s big but not too big; there is always at least one topic at any given time that is appealing; and that it attracts some of the well known librarian thinkers and innovators to attend and/or present. Overall, it was a great experience to hear some new ideas and perspectives, to meet people that I only conversed with online, and do a bit of networking. I left feeling professionally rejuvenated. 

The site of the conference was the Washington Hilton, sprawling complex of a hotel that felt like you needed a passport to go from one wing to another. It’s claim to fame is that it is where the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan occurred; the 30th anniversary of which will be on 30th of this month. While the entrance where the shooting happened has been redone, you can still see the resemblance of certain details when you look at the pictures from that day. It’s also the location of the annual White House Correspondents dinner. From the same stage that Presidents and comedians tell their sanitized humor, each day’s keynote and one track’s worth of presentations filled the ballroom.

In the end, I left the conference with more questions than answers. I sat on the dark train car on the way back Tuesday night, pondering and organizing all the presentations and conversations of the three previous days. I don’t think that having more questions after a conference is a bad thing. I think you should go into a conference with questions, get them answered (or something like it), and then leave with more curiosities than you started with. 

One such set of sessions that set my neurons into motion was from Internet @ Schools on Monday morning. In talking about the issues around eBooks in the school setting, one presenter said something that really caught my attention. “Perhaps schools are not yet ready for eBooks”, I remember her saying (I wish I could remember who said it). I thought this was a bold statement as the push has been to work on getting eBook integration into the classroom. Her reasoning is that eBook licensing and devices have not arrived at a point that make both fiscal and logistical sense. I can understand what she means in the fiscal sense; the devices are still mainly proprietary and highly transitional. The next generation is but a few months away, not exactly something a school budget planner needs to hear. As to the logistics, the restrictions on books in terms of licensing and DRM does create additional barriers to eBook and eReader collections. Add in the varied needs of the student body from age range to reading ability and it makes for an incredible amount of effort going into a collection in which there are limits to material control and device compatibility. On top of that giant mess is the end user who needs something that can be easy to understand or present an easy learning curve.

This is not withstanding the efforts of Buffy Hamilton and her work with using Kindles with her high school. Buffy is doing important and pioneering work in integrating the eReaders into the lives of her students and the faculty. I do not know of any other cases of experimentation at this kind of level; to be honest, I wish there was more projects like this to give a better data picture. And while I would characterize Buffy’s project as a rousing success for both her school and her library, it comes down to a question as to whether that success can be replicated in other venues. Under a different funding structure under a different set of state laws, could that success be duplicated? I’ll bring back around to the original question posited: are schools ready for eBooks? What are the remaining barriers (if any) for their integration into the school collection?

The other neuron agitation came the next day listening to Stephen Abrams talking about eBook models & challenges. This was my first time hearing Stephen speak at a conference in person; I had been told it was something not to be missed. I was not disappointed. (Check out Sarah Houghton-Jan’s notes on the whole speech.)

As an aside, I like to imagine that I can step back and look at the big picture when it comes to library topics. That, in tackling and turning over the issues in my mind, I have a figurative ten foot step ladder I climb to give a little perspective on the pros and cons, what sounds right and what doesn’t, and to try and put things into context. In giving his talk, I realized that Stephen’s figurative ladder is one of those ladder fire trucks that reaches up to the fifth story of buildings. His vantage point is much higher; thus he can see much further. (I can also imagine him calling down to me and saying, “What an adorable starter ladder, Andy!” in his Canadian accent, smiling and waving.)

The thing that really stuck with me from his talk is in regard to the eBook endgame. Namely, what is it? It is not a matter of current formats and devices, but how information intersects with the learning style of the person. That we as librarians can argue about how many checkouts an eBook can have, the proprietary nature of devices, and the ramifications of a licensed collection but the greater issue is how our end users take in information. In addressing the different types of learners, the answer moves from simple text to embedded video to interactive experiences. It’s not simply a matter of text on a device, but the context in which that text or other multimedia is presented.

In leaving that session, I began to wonder. Can we imagine what our collections will look like in twenty years? Ten? Even five? Will the Kindle or HarperCollins or DRM matter? Over time, will the market (meaning consumers) move away from locked down devices, away from licensing content, and from all but the lightest of file security measures? Based on how the music market changed, I would say yes. So how do we meet them at that end? What is our role in getting there?

In bringing out these two points, this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the other presentations (although some were certainly better than others). The conversations I had with people I knew from their Twitter or blogs or Facebook were pretty awesome as well as the new people I met at the conference itself. It reinforces that social aspect that I think works to make for a better library community as whole; we just don’t get enough face to face time that builds stronger social bonds. It’s a shame, really, because this would be a good time for such kinds of meetings. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical in regards to online interactions and their new role in people’s social lives, but I digress.

I hope that my fellow conference attendees left with their own questions. I’m keeping my eye out for their tweets and posts. And I certainly look forward to seeing everyone again at another conference, hopefully before CIL 2012.

CIL bound

For the next couple of days, I’ll be in Washington DC crashing the 2011 Computers In Libraries conference. I’ve been looking forward to this for awhile since I get to see a lot of the librarians who I know through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
Right now I’m on a train heading south, the rising sun shining through the Amtrak Quiet Car like a blinding headlight. When I can look out the window, it’s a reminder as to all the sections of Philadelphia has. Rich, poor, middle class, industrial parks, abandoned lots, playgrounds and parks come and go as the train lurches forward across the landscape.
I’m writing this on my iPad which I’ve never posted from before; so, any errors will be blamed on it. You can follow me at CIL on Twitter through the link in the right sidebar.
Alright, time to watch the world go by.