ALA Midwinter 2014 After Action Report

I should start off with a confession: I have been bored with library issues for awhile.

It’s not that there isn’t anything interesting going on in the library world, just it’s not interesting to me. Or it involves the act of dragging old bones in new graves on topics that I feel have been talked to death (eBooks and libraries, for example). Or, most recently, if I can succinctly add my input to a conversation on something like Twitter or Tumblr, I do it there. When others have better insight or commentary on topics, it’s much more satisfying to share their posts or articles.

And, let’s face it: there are far fewer librarians writing these days online, most conspicuously in blogs. I remember the leading advice of 2006 being to start a blog to get noticed online; now, if I heard a professor say that to their students, I would tell the students to flee. Even the Annoyed Librarian has been relegated to writing about last week’s news that was sent (I guess they can’t be bothered to find it) to them or “interesting” comments in previous entries. For myself, it’s slim picking for content or commentary without sounding like I’m recycling previous entries.

In attending ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, I was hoping for rebirth, rejuvenation, and other “re” words that signify the rekindling of interest.

I was not disappointed.

Granted, since I’m not a member of ALA and therefore not on any committees, roundtables, or interest groups, that makes my schedule completely free for lunches and dinner with drinks anytime. My only “official” obligation was attending the EveryLibrary board meeting which was in full compliance of the “drinks anytime” portion. (More on that later.) In spending time with friends, both old and new, and sharing a meal or a drink, I found (for lack of a better phrase) my mojo again.

You see, the aspect that brought me back from my ennui to put fingers to my keyboard was the people. The best conversations I had during my time came from conversations either one-on-one or in small groups that lasted longer than a half hour. These were the times when people (myself included) let loose, spoke frankly, shared ourselves, and had meaningful and thoughtful discussions. The online librarian world is rich in many ways, but it is but a simple façade for the living, breathing people behind the internet avatars and nom de plumes. 

My takeaway from ALA Midwinter was not a million ideas, but a handful of good ones. Really good ones. The reasonable, totally possible worthy of attention kind. (I can’t help it, I’m a bit of an idea snob.) Also, as an ongoing advisor to EveryLibrary on their social media strategy, it renewed my commitment to the organization in attending the annual board meeting. It gave me the insight into what I see as their big picture: that they are an organization that nimble enough to work at the local level for library ballot matters as well as on issues of national library importance. I won’t mince my words that as a political action committee (a dread PAC) they need our financial help to accomplish that. (You can donate here.) I hope I can count on your support for this worthy cause.

For the naysayers, the few words I have for you right now is that denying the reality of the impact of the ballot box on public and school library funding is ‘the earth is flat’ madness. The political reality demands a breed of librarians who are willing to step into the issue based forums and persuade others to vote in favor of library issues. To act otherwise is just plain folly.

But, as I fondly reflect on the events of the last few days, it came down to a matter time. There was never enough time. I didn’t even catch a glimpse of people I’ve grown to know over the years. Even at some of the social events I attended, for the most part I didn’t spend more than five minutes with anyone. It was “hello, how are you, what are you up to” before the flow of socializing carried us away from each other. Perhaps this is a sign of my shifting social priorities as I grow older, but what I really wanted was the chance to sit, visit, and have those longer and more in depth conversations.

Over the course of three days, I drove into Philadelphia in the hopes of finding my passion for the profession again. I am happily renewed in my faith, in the direction and the people who make up libraryland. I don’t know if this will translate into more posts on here, but there are certainly things afoot behind the scenes here.

It’s good to be back.

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.

Raiders of the Conference ARC

jones-and-the-idol

This librarian related story about conferences and ARCs (Advance Reading Copy, for those not familiar) blew up on the blogosphere and Twitter to the point where it got its own hashtag (#ARCgate). You can read the blog post that started it all on Kelly Jensen’s blog, Stacked. It’s good background material for this post so you may want to take a few minutes to go through it. For the lazy or those in a hurry, I’ll sum it up.

Kelly, a librarian and YA book blogger, attended the most recent ALA annual conference last week. She had multiple commitments to various committees that held meetings there in addition to giving a session presentation. After attempting to navigate the exhibit hall crowd on both Friday evening and Saturday, on Sunday she went back to meet with publicists as well as get some ARCs that publishers give away as part of their book promotion strategy. The majority of the books she was interested in were not there after being given away over the last day and a half. She was able to get the publicist to send her copies of the ones she was interested in. Otherwise, she did leave the conference with 23 books (according to her post conference blog entry detailing the books she got at the conference. I’m not sure how many books are being sent to her by publicists as she did not elaborate so I don’t know how many books in total).

We now fast forward one week. After posting said blog entry, Kelly did a Google search for “ala book haul” and found a 22 minute video in which a book blogger shows off approximately 150 ARCs she got from the same conference. (The blogger’s sister appears in the video as well and got the same books, bringing the total number of books procured to roughly 300.) Needless to say, Kelly is understandably not pleased with this discovery.

In writing her post, she is calling for a different system for ARC distribution at ALA. As she is a due paying member, Kelly feels a bit cheated to have given up time and money to do things that run the organization as well as educate her peers and missed multiple chances at talking with publishing industry folks and getting some advanced copies. As a solution, Kelly is calling for exhibits only passes to be allowed only one day admission at the end of the conference. That way, people like herself can get first shot at the books and face time without as much competition.

Ok, that sums it up.

On its face, I totally understand and get the outrage factor. That $25 pass that the book blogger purchased netted her around $2,250 in books. (I’m using a conservative average value of $15 a book; at $20 a book it goes up to $3,000.) Given what both sisters got, that puts their total score in the $4,500 to $6,000 range, a 9000%+ return on their initial investment. Compared to Kelly’s $345-$460 ARC value after spending money on conference registration ($220) and association memberships (my guess is about $290 in total on the basis of her blog post detailing her memberships), there is a dramatically smaller and even negative rate of return. In pure economic terms, it’s a slam dunk case.

Alas, this is not a simply case of economics. It has turned into apparently another row between book bloggers and librarian book bloggers, an ongoing epic struggle of book lovers fighting over their mutual object of affection. In looking at it from a step back, it’s a set of opposing forces competing for the same limited resource, the coveted ARC. Publishers can only bring so many a conference or trade show, therefore competition for them is inevitable.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: go read Kelly’s post. Some see her post as an excellent way to ensure that a professional conference serves its members first on a perk that matters most to them. Others see her post as an expression of whiny entitlement in the same vein that every government worker will eventually hear, “I pay your salary, therefore you must meet all my demands”. I invite you to draw your own conclusions. I’m not inclined to share mine since I’d rather move on and focus on the meat of the matter that interests me the most.

The first question: is this “book haul” behavior typical or a fringe case? This isn’t limited to book bloggers or librarians, but it means everyone who goes: how common is this sort of greedy behavior? If it is a minority whose actions are impacting the larger whole of interested individuals, then yes, there needs to be a corrective action taken. I can agree that 150 books is pretty excessive and an unreasonable amount for any one person to take away from a conference. If enough people did that, then it would take away from others.

But if it is a fringe set (the proverbial bad apples in the bunch), then why would an organization like ALA have to completely revamp a system on the basis of the actions of a statistically insignificant few? If one person out of ten thousand fell down a flight of stairs and died each year, it would not make sense to mandate that everyone has to live in a one story house. (For the sake of comparison, your chances of dying in an automobile accident are roughly 1 in 23,000, a risk people take everyday.) To create and implement a more complex system on the basis of a tiny minority element is simply not the best use of an organization’s time and resources. Even at 1 in 1,000 incidence rate with 20,000 people attending this year’s conference, that’s only 20 people. Somebody who is better at crunching numbers would have to figure out the point at which is becomes an issue on the basis of the number of available ARCs and the number of ‘greedy’ types.

The second question: how do you quantify or measure such behaviors? I’m guessing that registration statistics are out since they are not a true measurement of those who are interested in ARCs. What’s left is recorded observations of such behavior (like the YouTube video) or reported observations from attendees. While the former is excellent in being able to be easily shared and evaluated, the latter is subject to its own human observation bias. No one taking over 100 books is going to report themselves. Those who do not get all the books they wanted are more likely to report their dissatisfaction as well as the behavior of others. It would require door checkers observing who leaves with how many books and something to measure it over a couple of days. (Consider the fact that the book blogger got her 150+ books over 3 days, not one.)

It’s not impossible to measure, but currently there is no data set for this issue. There is always personal anecdotes that could attempt to gauge the prevalence of the behavior. Corroborating stories build on each other and create a better picture as to the incidence and prevalence of the “book haul” types. Larger number of reports are harder to ignore or otherwise dismiss when you are trying to convince colleagues to take action. I realize this might sound a bit crazy to ask for data (whether in the form of stories of numbers), but it might one of the few times that there is actual ‘science’ in ‘library science’.

The third question: in presuming that there is enough data to support action, what is reasonable and fair? I’d say that Kelly’s proposed solution is a reasonable one to consider in theory, but not in practice.

My solution — and note this is my solution and mine alone — is that bloggers/non-professionals who pay the minimum amount to attend the convention be limited to one day attendance at the end of the convention. That they be allowed to attend but that their attendance is after librarians and other professionals using this convention to develop as such have the opportunity to get what it is they need and what it is they want out of their own convention. If they choose to pay the full conference amount or are themselves members of the organization, then they can have full access just as anyone else does. I don’t think this is hard and I do not think it’s at all unfair on any side of the equation. Those who would find this disagreeable are part of the problem. (Emphasis mine.)

That’s quite the discussion squelching closer. “Here is my solution. You are either with us or against us.” Nevermind how one determines the difference between a blogger or non-professional and a librarian or professional; I presume Kelly’s solution includes checking that people are from the libraries that they say they are from. (It would be logical to presume that if it is restricted to only librarians/professionals for the first few days, people will give fake information so as to continue to grab books.) Or there is some sort of qualification checking mechanism that is developed, implemented, and run by the organization. If it turns out that fellow librarians are part of the problem, then there will be some other system put into place.

I’m not certain what other solutions are being offered given how recent this development is, but I’m guessing they will embody a “members first” mentality. That’s not a bad thing, per se; we grew up hearing the motto of a credit company that told us “membership has its privileges”. Given the time, energy, and efforts of the membership to keep the wheels turning, it can be an added and advertised perk of joining the organization. In game theory terms, solutions like Kelly’s are a move to not only get to cut the cookie in half but to get first pick of the pieces. This is not the conditions for creating a fair solution in terms of the societal concept of fairness but fairness as it relates to proportional contribution. Given the general mood of neutral egalitarianism in the ALA organization, it would be an interesting fit.

Regardless of what happens, my final question is this: what do publishers think of this entire issue? Slipping into their shoes for a moment, this is an issue about who gets access to things they are giving away for free. For free. As corporate members and conference sponsors to varying degrees, they have already paid for the chance to display their wares, flown in their sales and marketing people for face-to-face time, and utilize the books as marketing and public relations tools. How does implementing an ARC giveaway system of any sort benefit the publisher?

If I was in a publishing house, a question I might ask myself is whether or not it is worthwhile to give an ARC to a casually interested librarian (free is still free, right?) versus a very interested book blogger or other non-librarian professional. I can’t imagine anyone from the industry reading anything that has been put on blogs or Twitter and really feeling too terrible about this ‘issue’. Nor can I imagine other vendors who give away swag to bring you to their booth will be ready to shed a tear.

This whole #ARCgate affair just makes the librarian profession look bad when it boils down to an argument about who gets access to free things. Conference fees and membership pay for many things, but they don’t put a dime in a publisher’s pocket when they print out those ARCs. That point cannot be lost in this mess. One could argue that their reviews drive traffic and sales, but I would say that it is a risk that publishers take on. Changing that dynamic is changing that calculated risk for them, not for librarians. It deserves consideration.

For what it’s worth, the book blogger posted about her conference experience. And she had a great time. I was originally going to post a link to her blog post, but I’d rather not have someone go from this page and be shitty to her. It would not be the professional thing to do.

Update: I redacted the name of the book blogger. I debated

on including her name but since I went over and found a couple of unkind comments on her blog I dropped it.

I’m certainly glad at least two people took “professionalism” into their own hands and set her straight. I do hope some other more supportive people would send her a message and be a bit more constructive. For a profession that touts the value of education, it certainly doesn’t seem interested in providing one in this case.

Circulating Ideas & Upcoming Speaking Engagements

My interview with the Circulating Ideas podcast came out today. I had a wicked good time talking with Steve during the interview and felt like I could have talked for another hour. It was a nice enjoyable interview/conversation and I’m thankful to Steve for asking me to participate. As you can see from the show notes, we hit a wide range of topics. I hope you take a listen to my interview as well as the other great people Steve has talked to in previous episodes.

I’d also like to take a moment to say that I’ll be speaking at Computers in Libraries 2012 next month. I’m part of a group of speakers entitled “Ebook Trends: Info Pro Perspectives” with Sarah Houghton and Michael Porter. Given the latest actions by Penguin books, this should be a jolly ole time for the audience. I’m looking forward to it and I am working hard to hold my own in the company of such excellent speakers. Hope to see 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!

North by Northeastern Pennsylvania

I just want to thank Brian Fulton and my graduate school classmate Sheli McHugh for inviting me to speak to their Spring workshop yesterday. After driving up the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike under weather conditions mimicking the end of the first Ghostbusters movie (lots of lightning, some wind, and a little rain for ninety minutes straight), the weather was gorgeous yesterday at Misericordia University.

The topic of my talk was “Advocacy & You” which was a misnomer from the start; it really should be “Advocacy is You”. It was my first time using Prezi, an excellent alternative to the loathsome PowerPoint platform. Having rehearsed my talk for over a week (the lessons of Pres4Lib are finally paying off!), I felt very confident about how the talk went and at ease in going over everything I wanted to present. I really hope the attendees took away an idea or two from my talk; I’ll be waiting to hear back from the comments sheets to get feedback on what things stay, what things need sharpening up, and what things need to go.

Afterwards, Sheli and Brian took me to the Albright Memorial (Scranton Public) Library fundraiser. I have to say that these people know how to throw a fundraiser. Live music, food, and a band on a blocked off street? It was a great vibe and an excellent way to end the day. The library itself is gorgeous albeit crammed for additional collection space. Stained glass windows, dark stained woodwork, and marble floors and columns made me ask if it had been a church a couple of times (the answer is still no). With a plastic wristband and drinking Yuengling out of a deep plastic cup, we mingled with Sheli’s old coworkers and other people attached to the library. There were hundreds of people in attendance and I could not help but think about how amazing a fundraiser it was. I certainly hope it bulked up their coffers for the rest of the year, especially as the Pennsylvania budget shakes out.

In getting home today, I wanted to thank Brian and Sheli again as well as the Pennsylvania librarians and trustees (yes, this workshop had trustees at it) who attended. It was a great trip and a good start to the Memorial Day weekend.

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.

Blatant Berry Bottom Line

In leafing through the issue of Library Journal from earlier this month, the latest John Berry article made me sit up in my seat. Entitled “Half Way to ALA”, he discusses the true cost of conference attendance in terms of dollars and (more importantly, in my estimation) professional advancement.

As to the first part, the financial estimates that Mr. Berry tosses out ring true to me. Even in taking transportation out of the equation (Boston and Washington DC, the locations of the past Midwinter and Annual, are within driving distance for me), the sum total of hotels, meals, and other expenses puts it easily well over $1,500 for an attendee. While some of my friends have worked out ways to save money by sharing rooms or seeking alternative housing venues, the other costs still remain the same and leave it hovering around $1,000 to attend. Not exactly small change by any stretch of the imagination.

The more important and salient point that Mr. Berry references in his piece is that of the cost of professional development to younger librarians. The statement made by Mr. Berry is that the conference is attended by those who get the least use out of it: directors, top management, and others who are well established and well compensated through their position. It creates a ‘generation gap’ in which the new librarians are generally shut out of the professional development opportunities that would benefit them the most in their nascent career. I can’t illustrate it in terms other than horticultural: when you plant something new, you take care to make it grow. You give it water, ensure that it gets the right amount of sun, fertilize the soil to provide essential nutrients, and protect it from predation and temperature extremes. This is no different than the ideal treatment for our up and coming librarians in providing them with the professional development and networking opportunities in order to create a stronger and smarter profession.

This is not meant as a vilification of the older generation of librarians. I’m certain that there are some that would consider the benefits of compensated attendance as a perk of their position and their work to reach such a place. Nor is there an easy answer for providing the financial support that would be necessary to allow young librarians. You’d have to be living under a rock for the last year to not know about the current state of library budgets. This puts some library vendors in the same boat with us as their revenues are partially married to our own expenditures.

The question that this post leaves in my head is this: what are the options that remain for younger librarians to attend conferences? In attending ALA annual this year, I heard a raffle over the convention loudspeaker giving away trips to the conference next year. That sounds nice, but it doesn’t specifically address young or new librarians. I know ALA has a list of travel grants and scholarships, but that helps a handful of librarians (and I see one of the travel grants is not available due to lack of donors). Not exactly overwhelming, but I have not given the subject a rigorous inquiry.

The thought did cross my mind: what would it take to someone to sponsor someone like myself to attend a conference? Could I wear one of those NASCAR jumpsuits and sell advertising space on it? Could I sell sidebar space on my blog? Endorsement deals? Booth appearances? Appear in advertisements? What would it take for someone to put up the money that would pay the way to attend?

I’d wonder what people thought about ‘selling out’ (either for me or themselves) and what would be an offer they couldn’t refuse. I’m not sure what would be the line for librarians. I have a feeling there is a strict adherence to objectivity even when none is called for. I’d like to hear from people on this, so please leave a comment with your thoughts.

(And if anyone is looking to sponsor a librarian, I’m all ears for your offer. I think I’d look decent in one of those NASCAR jumpsuits.)