Who knew that I, the second-time attendee of the ALA annual conference, would be organizing and moderating a panel of a dozen librarians? But I have. Just a few days ago. And I still find the experience amazing and hard to believe because partially I found ALA hard to be involved with initially (I wrote about that here before). It was mostly due to my ignorance that I undertook the responsibility of organizing a program and agreed to be a moderator. I had no idea how much efforts would be required and how much logistics will be involved in doing so, although I am glad I was part of this program.
This program, “What is Your Library Doing about Emerging Technologies?” has originated almost accidentally at the last ALA Annual in Chicago. The LITA Emerging Technologies Interest Group meeting attracted dozens of Emerging Technologies Librarians, many of whom were young in age (considering the median age of librarians) and also new in profession. Those librarians including me, who came to the meeting, voiced confusion and challenges in this new role/position in the library profession. Since the job title was so new, the job responsibilities were not yet clear, and there was no established procedure existing for Emerging Technologies Librarians to follow in observing, evaluating, testing, and implementing emerging technologies. Also hotly discussed topics were the fact that there was no agreed-upon clear definition of emerging technologies and the lack of a library’s clear vision and organizational effectiveness in managing emerging technologies.
The way this program was planned and its proposal was submitted was unique – at least I think it is – in that the program proposal was 100 % based upon the voice and concerns of the librarians who came to the Interest Group meeting. Many times, we find conference program topics focus on chasing after the most recent trends, the most popular topics, and the most advanced technologies of the library-land. Although these programs keep us up-to-date and give us an opportunity to peek at the shiniest new programs or technologies being implemented in the leading libraries often by the experts of the fields, we get a bitter taste in the mouth when we come back to our own beloved but less-leading library and try to somehow make the shiny new awesome programs or technologies work for us. This program was definitely not one of those programs. Someone at this year’s Emerging Technology Interest Group said that the program was “complimentary” to the widely-popular LITA Top Tech Trends program (after I said “opposite”). And I think that is a very accurate observation. We need both types of programs. One that focus on where we want to go; the other that thoroughly examines where we really are.
In organizing this program, Jacquelyn Erdman, the vice-chair of the LITA Emerging Technologies Interest Group, and I, tried to be true to its origin. Rather than soliciting several presentations on the hottest items in emerging technologies or showcasing the successful cases of emerging technologies implementations, we focused on the question of what emerging technologies mean when they are discussed in the library context and why the uses of this term could be problematic. We also wanted to cover what Emerging Technologies Librarians do in the real life and what the challenges are in both managing emerging technologies and implementing them at libraries.
This turned out to be a difficult task. Our panel has become quite large in order to ensure that the discussion would reflect the general voice of Emerging Technology Librarians; we found that the use of the term “emerging technologies” often inconsistent or even contrary to its accepted definition in other fields; many Emerging Technologies Librarians belonged to public services rather than Systems/IT/Web services as was originally assumed; the foremost challenge in managing and implementing technologies as an Emerging Technology Librarian was found to be introducing and leading changes without necessary authority in an organization that is often intolerant of risks and fears changes – which is a very sensitive topic to discuss in public.
Some of the attendees of the program criticized that the program didn’t have enough depth. That is partially correct, but it was also difficult to avoid because the intention of the program was to raise the issue that have not been discussed much before, and in order to do that it was necessary to give a broad perspective on the matter of emerging technologies in libraries. But we had some very interesting discussion in this year’s interest group meeting, and I think we will be submitting a program proposal “with depth” this time around for the next year’s Annual.
Ideally, the program would have been a big informal discussion in which both panelists and attendees sit around and very informally chat, asking difficult questions and honestly discussing the challenges and problems we face at work in managing and implementing emerging technologies. I realize now, however, this is unlikely to happen in the Annual Conference. Regardless of how much of what we intended as organizers was materialized in the actual panel discussion, the program was well-received. The room was packed, and more importantly, many librarians randomly stopped me and other panelists to remark that they enjoyed the panel discussion or that they didn’t attend but heard good things from those who did so. Both types of comments made all the program participants quite happy and we swapped stories about that among ourselves.
Although I keep thinking about a hundred different ways in which I could have improved the program in retrospect(!), I am satisfied with the fact that I was part of the program that went for something quite different from typical ALA conference programs. I also sincerely thank all the librarians who initiated this discussion about emerging technologies at the last year’s Annual and hope the program helped to clear and answer some of the confusions and questions raised in the last year’s meeting.
Lastly, thanks everyone who came to this program!
(The Twitter Archive for this program is at http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/emergetech?sm=6&sd=2&sy=&em=6&ed=31&ey=&o=&l=500&from_user=&text=)