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Future? Libraries? What Now? – After the ALA Summit on the Future of Libraries

*** This post was originally published in ACRL TechConnect on May 21, 2014.***

I attended the ALA Summit on the Future of Libraries a few weeks ago.

[Let’s give it a minute for that to sink in.]

ALA President Barbara Stripling at the ALA Summit on the Future of Libraries at the Library of Congress

ALA President Barbara Stripling at the ALA Summit on the Future of Libraries at the Library of Congress. (Photo by the author)

Yes, that was that controversial Summit that was much talked about on Twitter with the #libfuturesummit hashtag. This Summit and other summits with a similar theme close to one another in timing – “The Future of Libraries Survival Summit” hosted by Information Today Inc. and “The Future of Libraries: Do We Have Five Years to Live?” hosted by Ken Heycock Associates Inc. and Dysart & Jones Associates – seemed to have brought out the sentiment that Andy Woodworth aptly named ‘Library Future Fatigue.’ It was impressive experience to see how active librarians – both ALA members and non-members – were in providing real-time comments and feedback about these summits while I was at one of those in person. I thought ALA is lucky to have such engaged members and librarians to work with.

A few days ago, ALA released the official Summit report.1 The report captured all the talks and many table discussions in great detail. In this post, I will focus on some of my thoughts and take-aways prompted by the talks and the table discussion at the Summit.

A. The Draw

Here is an interesting fact. The invitation to this Summit sat in my Inbox for over a month because from the email subject I thought it was just another advertisement for a fee-based webinar or workshop. It was only after I had gotten another email from the ALA office asking about the previous e-mail that I realized that it was something different.

What drew me to this Summit were: (a) I have never been at a formal event organized just for a discussion about the future of libraries, (b) the event were to include a good number of people outside of the libraries, and (c) the overall size of the Summit would be kept relatively small.

For those curious, the Summit had 51 attendees plus 6 speakers, a dozen discussion table facilitators, all of whom fit into the Members’ Room in the Library of Congress. Out of those 51 attendees, 9 of them were from the non-library sector such as Knight Foundation, PBS, Rosen Publishing, and Aspen Institute. 33 attendees ranged from academic librarians to public, school, federal, corporate librarians, library consultants, museum and archive folks, an LIS professor, and library vendors. And then there were 3 ALA presidents (current, past, and president-elect) and 6 officers from ALA. You can see the list of participants here.

B. Two Words (or Phrases)

At the beginning of the Summit, the participants were asked to come up with two words or short phrases that capture what they think about libraries “from now on.” We wrote these on the ribbons and put right under our name tags. Then we were encouraged to keep or change them as we move through the Summit.

My two phrases were “Capital and Labor” and “Peer-to-Peer.” I kept those two until the end of the Summit and didn’t change. I picked “Capital and Labor” because recently I have been thinking more about the socioeconomic background behind the expansion of post-secondary education (i.e. higher ed) and how it affects the changes in higher education and academic libraries.2 And of course, the fact that Thomas Picketty’s book, Capital in the 21st Century, was being reviewed and discussed all over in the mass media contributed to that choice of the words as well. In my opinion, libraries “from now on” will be closely driven by the demands of the capital and the labor market and asked to support more and more of the peer-to-peer learning activities that have become widespread with the advent of the Internet.

Other phrases and words I saw from other participants included “From infrastructure to engagement,” “Sanctuary for learning,” “Universally accessible,” “Nimble and Flexible,” “From Missionary to Mercenary,” “Ideas into Action,” and “Here, Now.” The official report also lists some of the words that were most used by participants. If you choose your two words or phrases that capture what you think about libraries “from now on,” what would those be?

C. The Set-up

The Summit organizers have filled the room with multiple round tables, and the first day morning, afternoon, and the second day morning, participants sat at the table according to the table number assigned on the back of their name badges. This was a good method that enabled participants to have discussion with different groups of people throughout the Summit.

As the Summit agenda shows, the Summit program started with a talk by a speaker. After that, participants were asked to personally reflect on the talk and then have a table discussion. This discussion was captured on the large poster-size papers by facilitators and collected by the event organizers. The papers on which we were asked to write our personal reflections were also collected in the same way along with all our ribbons on which we wrote those two words or phrases. These were probably used to produce the official Summit report.

One thing I liked about the set-up was that every participant sat at a round table including speakers and all three ALA presidents (past, president, president-elect). Throughout the Summit, I had a chance to talk to Lorcan Dempsey from OCLC, Corinne Hill, the director of Chattanooga Public Library, Courtney Young, the ALA president-elect, and Thomas Frey, a well-known futurist at DaVinci Institute, which was neat.

Also, what struck me most during the Summit was that those who were outside of the library took the guiding questions and the following discussion much more seriously than those of us who are inside the library world. Maybe indeed we librarians are suffering from ‘library future fatigue.’ And/or maybe outsiders have more trust in libraries as institutions than we librarians do because they are less familiar with our daily struggles and challenges in the library operation. Either way, the Summit seemed to have given them an opportunity to seriously consider the future of libraries. The desired impact of this would be more policymakers, thought leaders, and industry leaders who are well informed about today’s libraries and will articulate, support, and promote the significant work libraries do to the benefit of the society in their own areas.

D. Talks, Table Discussion, and Some of My Thoughts and Take-aways

These were the talks given during the two days of the Summit:

  • “How to Think Like a Freak” – Stephen Dubner, Journalist
  • “What Are Libraries Good For?” – Joel Garreau, Journalist
  • “Education in the Future: Anywhere, Anytime” – Dr. Renu Khator, Chancellor and President at the University of Houston
  • “From an Internet of Things to a Library of Things” – Thomas Frey, Futurist
  • A Table Discussion of Choice:
    • Open – group decides the topic to discuss
    • Empowering individuals and families
    • Promoting literacy, particularly in children and youth
    • Building communities the library serves
    • Protecting and empowering access to information
    • Advancing research and scholarship at all levels
    • Preserving and/or creating cultural heritage
    • Supporting economic development and good government
  • “What Happened at the Summit?” – Joan Frye Williams, Library consultant

(0) Official Report, Liveblogging Posts, and Tweets

As I mentioned earlier, ALA released the 15-page official report of the Summit, which provides the detailed description of each talk and table discussion. Carolyn Foote, a school librarian and one of the Summit participants, also live-blogged all of the these talks in detail. I highly recommend reading her notes on Day 1, Day 2, and Closing in addition to the official report. The tweets from the Summit participants with the official hashtag, #libfuturesummit, will also give you an idea of what participants found exciting at the Summit.

(1) Redefining a Problem

The most fascinating story in the talk by Dubner was Kobe, the hot dog eating contest champion from Japan. The secret of his success in the eating contest was rethinking the accepted but unchallenged artificial limits and redefining the problem, said Dubner. In Kobe’s case, he redefined the problem from ‘How can I eat more hotdogs?’ to ‘How can I eat one hotdog faster?’ and then removed artificial limits – widely accepted but unchallenged conventions – such as when you eat a hot dog you hold it in the hand and eat it from the top to the bottom. He experimented with breaking the hotdog into two pieces to feed himself faster with two hands. He further refined his technique by eating the frankfurter and the bun separately to make the eating even speedier.

So where can libraries apply this lesson? One thing I can think of is the problem of the low attendance of some library programs. What if we ask what barriers we can remove instead of asking what kind of program will draw more people? Chattanooga Public Library did exactly this. Recently, they targeted the parents who would want to attend the library’s author talk and created an event that would specifically address the child care issue. The library scheduled a evening story time for kids and fun activities for tween and teens at the same time as the author talk. Then they asked parents to come to the library with the children, have their children participate in the library’s children’s programs, and enjoy themselves at the library’s author talk without worrying about the children.

Another library service that I came to learn about at my table was the Zip Books service by the Yolo county library in California. What if libraries ask what the fastest to way to deliver a book that the library doesn’t have to a patron’s door would be instead of asking how quickly the cataloging department can catalog a newly acquired book to get it ready for circulation? The Yolo county library Zip Books service came from that kind of redefinition of a problem. When a library user requests a book the library doesn’t have but meets certain requirements, the Yolo County Library purchases the book from a bookseller and have it shipped directly to the patron’s home without processing the book. Cataloging and processing is done when the book is returned to the library after the first use.

(2) What Can Happen to Higher Education

My favorite talk during the Summit was by Dr. Khator because she had deep insight in higher education and I have been working at university libraries for a long time. The two most interesting observations she made were the possibility of (a) the decoupling of the content development and the content delivery and (b) the decoupling of teaching and credentialing in higher education.

The upside of (a) is that some wonderful class a world-class scholar created may be taught by other instructors at places where the person who originally developed the class is not available. The downside of (a) is, of course, the possibility of it being used as the cookie-cutter type lowest baseline for quality control in higher education – University of Phoenix mentioned as an example of this by one of the participants at my table – instead of college and university students being exposed to the classes developed and taught by their institutions’ own individual faculty members.

I have to admit that (b) was a completely mind-blowing idea to me. Imagine colleges and universities with no credentialing authority. Your degree will no longer be tied to a particular institution to which you were admitted and graduate from. Just consider the impact of what this may entail if it ever becomes realized. If both (a) and (b) take place at the same time, the impact would be even more significant. What kind of role could an academic library play in such a scenario?

(3) Futurizing Libraries

Joe Garreau observed that nowadays what drives the need for a physical trip is more and more a face-to-face contact than anything else. Then he pointed out that as technology allows more people to tele-work, people are flocking to smaller cities where they can have a more meaningful contact with the community. If this is indeed the case, libraries that make their space a catalyst for a face-to-face contact in a community will prosper. Last speaker, Thomas Frey, spoke mostly about the Internet of Things (IoT).

While I think that IoT is an important trend to note, for sure, what I most liked about Frey’s talk was his statement that the vision of future we have today will change the decisions we make (towards that future). After the talk by Garreau, I had a chance to ask him a question about his somewhat idealized vision of the future, in which people live and work in a small but closely connected community in a society that is highly technological and collaborative. He called this ‘human evolution’.

But in my opinion, the reality that we see today in my opinion is not so idyllic.3 The current economy is highly volatile. It no longer offers job security, consistently reduces the number of jobs, and returns either stagnant or decreasing amount of income for those whose skills are not in high demand in the era of digital revolution.4 As a result, today’s college students, who are preparing to become tomorrow’s knowledge workers, are perceiving their education and their lives after quite differently than their parents did.5

Garreau’s answer to my question was that this concern of mine may be coming from a kind of techno-determinism. While this may be a fair critique, I felt that his portrayal of the human evolution may be just as techno-deterministic. (To be fair, he mentioned that he does not make predictions and this is one of the future scenarios he sees.)

Regarding the topic of the Internet of Things (IoT), which was the main topic of Frey’s talk, the privacy and the proper protection of the massive amount of data – which will result from the very many sensors that makes IoT possible – will be the real barrier to implementing the IoT on a large scale. After his talk, I had a chance to briefly chat with him about this. (There was no Q&A because Frey’s talk went over the time allotted). He mentioned the possibility of some kind of an international gathering similar to the scale of the Geneva Conventions to address the issue. While the likelihood of that is hard to assess, the idea seemed appropriate to the problem in question.

(4) What If…?

One of the slides from Thoams Frey's Talk at the ALA Summit. (Photo by the author)

One of the slides from Thomas Frey’s Talk at the ALA Summit. (Photo by the author)

Some of the shiny things shown at the talk, whose value for library users may appear dubious and distant, however, prompted Eli Neiburger at Ann Arbor District Library to question which useful service libraries can offer to provide the public with significant benefit now. He wondered what it would be like if many libraries ran a Tor exit node to help the privacy and anonymity of the web traffic, for example.

For those who are unfamiliar, Tor (the Onion Router) is “free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.” Tor is not foolproof, but it is still the best tool for privacy and anonymity on the Web.

Eli’s idea is a truly wild one because there are so many libraries in the US and the public’s privacy in the US is in such a precarious state.6 Running a Tor exit node is not a walk in the park as this post by someone who actually set up a Tor exit node on a hosted virtual server in Germany attests. But libraries have been a serious and dedicated advocate for privacy for people’s intellectual freedom for a long time and have a strong network of alliance. There is also the useful guidelines and tips that Tor provides in their website.

Just pause a minute and imagine what kind of impact such a project by libraries may have to the privacy of the public. What if?

(5) Leadership and Sustainability

For the “Table Discussion of Choice” session, I opted for the “Open” table because I was curious in what other topics people were interested. Two discussions at this session were most memorable to me. One was the great advice I got from Corinne Hill regarding leading people. A while ago, I read her interview, in which she commented that “the staff are just getting comfortable with making decisions.” In my role as a relatively new manager, I also found empowering my team members to be more autonomous decision makers a challenge. Corinne particularly cautioned that leaders should be very careful about not being over-critical when the staff takes an initiative but makes a bad decision. Being over-critical in that case can discourage the staff from trying to make their own decisions in their expertise areas, she said. Hearing her description of how she relies on the different types of strengths in her staff to move her library in the direction of innovation was also illuminating to me. (Lorcan Dempsey who was also at our table mentioned “Birkman Quadrants” in relation to Corinne’s description, a set of useful theoretical constructs. He also brought up the term ‘Normcore’ at another session. I forgot the exact context of that term, but the term was interesting that I wrote it down.) We also talked for a while about the current LIS education and how it is not sufficiently aligned with the skills needed in everyday library operation.

The other interesting discussion started with the question about the sustainability of the future libraries by Amy Garmer from Aspen Institute. (She has been working on a library-related project with various policy makers, and PLA has a program related to this project at the upcoming 2014 ALA Annual Conference if you are interested.) One thought that always comes to my mind whenever I think about the future of libraries is that while in the past the difference between small and large libraries was mostly quantitative in terms of how many books and other resources were available, in the present and future, the difference is and will be more qualitative. What New York Public Libraries offers for their patrons, a whole suite of digital library products from the NYPL Labs for example, cannot be easily replicated by a small rural library. Needless to say, this has a significant implication for the core mission of the library, which is equalizing the public’s access to information and knowledge. What can we do to close that gap? Or perhaps will different types of libraries have different strategies for the future, as Lorcan Dempsey asked at our table discussion? These two things are not incompatible to be worked out at the same time.

(6) Nimble and Media-Savvy

In her Summit summary, Joanne Frye Williams, who moved around to observe discussions at all tables during the Summit, mentioned that one of the themes that surfaced was thinking about a library as a developing enterprise rather than a stable organization. This means that the modus operandi of a library should become more nimble and flexible to keep the library in the same pace of the change that its community goes through.

Another thread of discussion among the Summit participants was that not all library supporters have to be the active users of the library services. As long as those supporters know that the presence and the service of libraries makes their communities strong, libraries are in a good place. Often libraries make the mistake of trying to reach all of their potential patrons to convert them into active library users. While this is admirable, it is not always practical or beneficial to the library operation. More needed and useful is a well-managed strategic media relations that will effectively publicize the library’s services and programs and its benefits and impact to its community. (On a related note, one journalist who was at the Summit mentioned how she noticed the recent coverage about libraries changing its direction from “Are libraries going to be extinct?” to “No, libraries are not going to be extinct. And do you know libraries offer way more than books such as … ?”, which is fantastic.)

E. What Now? Library Futurizing vs. Library Grounding

What all the discussion at the Summit reminded me was that ultimately the time and efforts we spend on trying to foresee what the future holds for us and on raising concerns about the future may be better directed at refining the positive vision for the desirable future for libraries and taking well-calculated and decisive actions towards the realization of that vision.

Technology is just a tool. It can be used to free people to engage in more meaningful work and creative pursuits. Or it can be used to generate a large number of the unemployed, who have to struggle to make the ends meet and to retool themselves with fast-changing skills that the labor market demands, along with those in the top 1 or 0.1 % of very rich people. And we have the power to influence and determine which path we should and would be on by what we do now.

Certainly, there are trends that we need to heed. For example, the shift of the economy that places a bigger role on entrepreneurship than ever before requires more education and support for entrepreneurship for students at universities and colleges. The growing tendency of the businesses looking for potential employees based upon their specific skill sets rather than their majors and grades has lead universities and colleges to adopt a digital badging system (such as Purdue’s Passport) or other ways for their students to record and prove the job-related skills obtained during their study.

But when we talk about the future, many of us tend to assume that there are some kind of inevitable trends that we either get or miss and that those trends will determine what our future will be. We forget that not some trends but (i) what we intend to achieve in the future and (ii) today’s actions we take to realize that intention are really what determines our future. (Also always critically reflect on whatever is trendy; you may be in for a surprise.7) The fact that people will no longer need to physically visit a library to check out books or access library resources does not automatically mean that the library in the future will cease to have a building. The question is whether we will let that be the case. Suppose we decide that we want the library to be and stay as the vibrant hub for a community’s freedom of inquiry and right to access human knowledge, no matter how much change takes place in the society. Realizing this vision ‘IS’ within our power. We only reach the future by walking through the present.

Notes

  1. Stripling, Barbara. “Report on the Summit on the Future of Libraries.” ALA Connect, May 19, 2014. http://connect.ala.org/node/223667.
  2. Kim, Bohyun. “Higher ‘Professional’ Ed, Lifelong Learning to Stay Employed, Quantified Self, and Libraries.” ACRL TechConnect Blog, March 23, 2014. http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/?p=4180.
  3. Ibid.
  4. For a short but well-written clear description of this phenomenon, see Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. Race against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution Is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. Lexington: Digital Frontier Press, 2012.
  5. Brooks, David. “The Streamlined Life.” The New York Times, May 5, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/06/opinion/brooks-the-streamlined-life.html.
  6. See Timm, Trevor. “Everyone Should Know Just How Much the Government Lied to Defend the NSA.” The Guardian, May 17, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/17/government-lies-nsa-justice-department-supreme-court.
  7. For example, see this article about what the wide adoption of 3D-printing may mean to the public. Sadowski, Jathan, and Paul Manson. “3-D Print Your Way to Freedom and Prosperity.” Al Jazeera America, May 17, 2014. http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/5/3d-printing-politics.html.

What to Do with a Professional Association (with LITA as an example)

From Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21232564@N06/2234726613/

Many of us – librarians – are members of some professional organizations. We tend to join one and pay dues every year but don’t do much about or with those organizations beyond that. But that would be probably not the best way to make use of your professional organization. In order to best utilize your organization, you need to know what it does first and see if their activities fit with your interests. So do some research to see if it is a good fit for you. Secondly, you need to figure out how the organization works, what structure it has, what is the mode of operation, etc.

  • What interest groups does it have?
  • What kind of programs does it put up at conferences?
  • What committees does it have?
  • Who belong to the organization and what do they do for the organization?
  • What is the procedure for being involved with an IG or becoming a member of a committee (and the timeline)?
  • Is there a mentoring program?
  • What are, if any, tangible benefits for being a member?
  • Is there a board?
  • What does the board do?
  • What is the relationship between the board and the members?
  • Who do I contact if I have a suggestion?

I confess that I do not know the answers to all these questions for all organizations that I am a member of. I only got to know about a few organizations a little, while I was doing things that were of interest to me. But I think that organizations need to make answers to these questions as clear and transparent as possible to current and potential members and that members should also demand that organizations do so if not.

That having been said, here are some thoughts of mine about the organization that I have been involved for a while: LITA (Library Information Technology Association), a division of ALA (American Library Association). Andromeda Yelton, who is running for the the LITA board of directors, is interviewing many librarians involved with LITA as part of her campaign. I think it is a great project for not just those who are in the LITA leadership positions but also those who are interested in LITA and want to hear from other people’s thoughts on LITA as an organization. I am recording the video interview with Andromeda tomorrow, but I thought Andromeda’s three questions would be interesting to many others as well.  So you can check out my answers here if you prefer reading a write-up to watching a video (as I do). If you are a member of ALA and are interested in LITA, hopefully this will be useful. If your primary organization is not LITA, you can think about that other organization instead and think about how your organization does compared to LITA.

How did you get involved with LITA?

I went to the 2009 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. That was my very first ALA conference, and at that time I had zero understanding about the structure of ALA such as a division, a roundtable, a committee, an interest group (IG) etc. But while I was planning what programs to attend, LITA kept popping up. And then I happened to go to this meeting of LITA Emerging Technologies IG, and there were maybe three dozens of librarians who were very much like me, early in their career, doing technology stuff, and was somewhat confused about this new title of Emerging Technologies Librarian and the job duties of this title. We had a fantastic conversation, and I ended up volunteering to put together the resources we discussed after the program. I eventually wrote a program proposal on the topic for the next ALA Annual conference with the vice-chair of that IG at that time, Jacquelyn (Erdman) after the conference. It got accepted, and so Jacquelyn and I put together the program for the 2010 ALA Annual, “What Are Your Libraries Doing about Emerging Technologies?” which was amazingly well received. So that was my first experience of getting involved with LITA at an active level. In 2010, I also volunteered to chair the quite new Mobile Computing Interest Group because the first chair, Cody (Hanson) was steeping down. So that’s how I started being involved with LITA.

At that time, I didn’t think that I was getting involved with LITA. I was just doing things that were interesting to me. But this is just my experience. There are many different ways to be involved with LITA. For example, I have a friend who joined LITA and then e-mailed to the LITA president asking to put him on a LITA committee. He was put on a committee almost immediately and then later also became an ALA Emerging Leader sponsored by LITA. So you can do that. Not many people would think of e-mailing the LITA president with a request for a committee spot. That’s out-of-the-box thinking! Some people also start by creating an Interest Group and/or by going to the LITA Happy Hour, which is also an excellent way to be involved with LITA.

What are the strengths of LITA?

LITA is a very big group because it is a division of an even bigger organization, ALA. So there are a great number of people who deal with technology at many different levels in many different types of institutions: public libraries, academic libraries, special libraries, small libraries, large libraries, system administrators, web masters, IT department heads, metadata librarians, etc. So you are almost guaranteed to meet fascinating people whom you did not know about and they always have interesting ideas and thoughts on the current trends of library technology.

Another strength of LITA that I see is its Interest Group(IG)s. There are a great number of them, and they are highly informal and welcoming to new members. If you cannot find a LITA IG you like, you can even start one yourself with not much effort. I know that many people gravitate towards bigger programs because IG meetings don’t always post a clear agenda in advance. But that is a mistake. You are more likely to learn about things you did not expect from IG meetings than from large programs.

I also think that the simplified program proposal process for the ALA Annual conference and the LITA Forum is a huge strength of LITA. It cuts down so many levels of bureaucracy, and this only has been implemented only recently (3 years ago or so I think). You just fill out a Google Form, and you don’t have to be even associated with LITA IG or even LITA (if I am correct) as long as the proposal is relevant to library technologies. (Now wouldn’t it be dreamy if we can simplify an organization’s structure just like that too? Just thinking…) The simplified procedure attracts more qualified potential speakers, thereby enriching the programs offered from LITA at conferences.

What are the challenges for LITA?

LITA members, particularly the new members, have an amazing amount of energy. I don’t think that LITA knows how to harness this energy to the maximum benefit to itself. I understand that there are existing structural and procedural practices, but those practices may be ill-suited for gathering and implementing the creative ideas from new members. A lot of times, what confuses and intimidates new LITA members are the structure and the operation of the organization. Now that I have been active with LITA for some years, it doesn’t seem too bad to me any longer! But this is probably what happened to many who lead LITA. They are probably too familiar to notice what barriers of entry exist to new members. You get used to it. So there needs to be a strong mechanism to get input from new members inside LITA and then do something about the input. LITA really needs to do more to reach out to new members to let them know what they can use LITA for and how to do so. It has gotten better over the years but it can still be much more improved.

Also, LITA has a few high-profile programs such as Top Tech Trends. So LITA is well-known at least to ALA members. But that popularity and recognition is connected to the strength of LITA only at a very abstract level. LITA needs to change that. I was one of the two LITA-sponsored ALA Emerging Leaders in 2010-2011, and my team did a big project about what to do to give a stronger brand and identity to LITA. And I am hoping to see that some of those ideas from our team project get picked up by the LITA leadership. I am also serving on the LITA Top Tech Trends committee and working on transforming the Top Tech Trends program into a more dynamic and participatory event. So far the idea was received with enthusiasm at the committee meeting last week. So we will see.

Overall, changes have been slow, and I think LITA members are not cut out for a slow process. They deal with very fast-paced information technology every day after all. So the speed of things getting done really needs to pick up to respond to the average high energy of LITA members.

Additional thoughts – Join or Not Join

I know that many people get put off by various things when they join LITA, or any other professional organizations. They feel that the organization is not welcoming enough, don’t do much for the benefit of individual members, seem to have an awful bureaucracy, have too many unproductive committees, and even have cliques. And probably all of these are true to a degree. But those cannot be changed immediately and it won’t help you in the mean time. Besides if you are interested in library technology and an ALA member, you cannot but cross paths with LITA at some point. So you might as well make the best out of it as much as you can. And that doesn’t necessarily entail being a member.

I think it is the best if people join an organization because it is actually useful to them. If you are interested in LITA, don’t just join and wait for things to happen. Start somewhere else instead. First check out the LITA listserv, go to LITA meetings and programs, meet with people in LITA, and see if something clicks with you, your interests, and what you want to do, learn, or try. If it does, then go ahead and do those things you want to do. While doing those things, if it turns out that you cannot proceed without joining LITA, then join it. Now you have something you are doing using the organization for your benefit. Consequently the membership will be worthwhile, and the organization will also benefit from your participation. This way the connection between you and the organization will be meaningful and concrete. And down the line after doing many things that excite you, perhaps when you get to care enough about the organization itself, you can also do some work for the organization itself to improve things that you did not not like much or to create things you would have liked to see.

 

My Talks and Presentations at ALA Conference

Here are the presentations and talks I gave at the ALA conference 2012. This year’s ALA conference was a challenge because I was swamped with work until the last minute I left work for the conference. So I wasn’t able to write any blog post before the conference. And of course, I spent more time on polishing the slides once I got to Anaheim.  Although I was not fully prepared both physically and mentally, however, the ALA Annual Conference was, as always, invigorating and informative. I am still digesting much of what I have learned from the conference and hopefully I can summarize some of those things later to share.

In the meantime, here are the slides of the talks and presentations that I gave at the conference. Big thanks to my co-presenters, Jason Clark and Tod Colegrove. It was one of the most amazing collaboration experience I ever had. Also special thanks to the LITA Heads of Library Technology Interest Group for inviting me to serve on the panel discussing the adoption of open source software at libraries. And as always, I greatly enjoyed the lively discussion at the LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group meeting.

Here are the final slides.

“I Can Do It All By Myself”: Exploring new roles for libraries and mediating technologies in addressing the Do-It-Yourself mindset of library patrons  with Tod Colegrove and Jason Clark.

Apply or Not: ALA Emerging Leaders Program

ALA is now receiving applications for the 2012 class of the Emerging Leaders (EL) Program, and I saw many new librarians considering applying to the program in Twitter, Facebook, etc. Applying for this program requires some paperwork. You have to write an essay and get references sent. You also have to commit yourself to attending two conferences in person.

So the question is whether the program would be worth all these. As a member of the 2011 class, I have some thoughts about the program from which I just graduated. Hopefully this post will help you decide whether the program is a right fit for you or not.

What the EL program is really about

The first thing to know about the EL program before applying is that its purpose is to develop leaders “in ALA” not just anywhere.  Of course, what you get to learn from the program about leadership will be useful in other organizations. But my experience is that this program is definitely focused on helping new librarians to get familiar with the organizational structure of ALA and to get involved in ALA divisions, roundtables, or even the ALA Council. It is not a program about leadership in general.

So if possible, attend the ALA conference a few times before applying for this program. See if you are interested in becoming active in ALA. The EL program itself won’t necessarily help you determine whether you would like being involved in ALA and  which ALA division is right for you. You should know answers to these questions first. If they are YES, then apply for the program.

Remember that the EL program is not the only way to become involved and active in ALA. Often it is easy enough to find the right place to meet librarian peers in the field of yours if you stumble into a right Interest Group, Discussion Group, or Section. You can volunteer to be a chair, organize or present a program, and form a great personal network of mentors, colleagues, and friends without ever stepping your foot into the EL program.

This also means that these are things that ‘you’ still have to do whether you get into the EL program or not. The EL program may open some doors for you, but you will be the one who has to take the opportunity and make it work for you if you decide to be active in ALA.

What you get to do if selected as an EL

  • You get to choose a project you want to work on. If you get to be sponsored by any unit, division, section, or other library organization, you will be asked to work on a project from that group. Otherwise, you are free to choose the project that interests most.
  • You will meet your team members and the mentor(s) at the Midwinter and plan how you will spend the time from the Midwinter to the Annual conference to get the project done.
  • When the project is completed, you will give a poster session with other EL project teams.

How do I get sponsored?

The EL program requires you to attend two conferences in person. But you can be sponsored. To believe or not, there are many units, divisions, sections, and regional library associations that sponsor an EL candidate that meet their criteria.

This is one of the reasons why it is good to apply for the EL program after having some exposure and experience with ALA rather than being completely new to it. If you are a member of any group that sponsors an EL candidate, make sure to indicate that in the application. If there is a unit that you want to be active in, and that unit sponsors the EL program, it might be a good idea to be active in the unit first, to get to know better about what you can contribute to and what you can learn from, and then apply to the EL program expecting the sponsorship from that unit.

It is an investment for any organization to sponsor an EL program participant. So it is fair for the organization to expect you to contribute back to the organization. So think about what you want to do professionally and how it may align with what you can give it back. Try to make it a win-win situation for both you and the sponsoring organization.

The benefits of the EL program

People will have different opinions on this depending on their personal experience of the program. But for me, the best thing about the EL program was the opportunity to meet and work with peers who are extremely intelligent, talented, driven, and ambitious.  It is also an opportunity to get to know and work with colleagues in a completely different library setting and area of specialization than yours. Because of this, you will get valuable experience no matter what project you get to work on and even if the project was not of your first choice.

I want to point out that working in an EL project team is likely to be very different from working in any other project team at your workplace. You will be surrounded with high achievers, and it is likely that you won’t have a slacking and/or unreliable team member problem. Instead, you may get the experience of your brilliant idea (in your opinion) being brutally rejected for a good reason.  You may spend hours on a heated discussion without coming to any conclusion. You and your team may have to invent the project itself because the project idea is vague at best. You may learn where and at which point to make the best contribution and when not to be in the way. You might have been a leader in one way or another in all your life but soon find out that you now get the invaluable opportunity to play the role of a good follower in the group (which is just as important as the role of a leader).

So I think that the great benefit of the EL program (for me) was to work in the EL project team I was assigned to. The actual work with my team taught me more than any book, article, talk, and discussion about leading and being led effectively, harmoniously, and gracefully. (I have to warn you though that these lessons would be probably coming after you finish the project not while working on the project.)

No drawbacks?

No program lacks some drawbacks or disappointments. The ALA Emerging Leaders program has some too of course. In case you get selected, I will tell you a few that I noticed. (But bear in mind that this can be relative to my experience.)

  • You won’t be changing the world or ALA by the one project you get to work on.
  • The fact that you get to work on an EL project doesn’t give you the secret weapon to melt all the bureaucracy in ALA.
  • You may request but not hear what came out of your team’s project work as a result after a few years.
    (I hope this gets changed.)
  • You might feel still somewhat lost in ALA. (But now you are lost with some friends.)
  • You may even decide that ALA wasn’t for you. (But hey, now you know!)
  • You will now have a new question to ponder – “Have I now emerged?”

I hope this post is useful to some of you and wish the best of luck to all EL applicants!

My EL Team (M) Poster with Dre and Lauren (Pearl and Emily not present in the photo) at the 2011 ALA Annual Conference.

My 2011 ALA Conference Schedule

To believe it or not, I haven’t still finalized my ALA schedule.  The ALA Annual Conference is so big and offers so many different programs, presentations, and discussion meetings that it is hard to pick in advance exactly what schedule one will follow. Below is a list of programs that I am likely to attend plus a few programs in which I am participating.

Am I missing any great program? (It is very likely.)  If so, please let me know!

June 24, Friday

9 am -3 pm  Emerging Leaders Training

3 pm – 4 pm  Emerging Leaders Poster Session
http://connect.ala.org/node/138674
: I am doing a poster session with my colleagues in Team M of the 2011 class of Emerging Leaders. The project we have worked on for a year is “Branding LITA: A Market Identity for the 21st Century” Come check out what ideas our team came up with. If you are active and/or interested in LITA, you may drop by and throw us some ideas! More information on the project: http://connect.ala.org/node/146019

5:30 pm – 8 pm  LITA Happy Hour
Howlin’ Wolf Den, 907 S. Peters St. New Orleans, Louisiana

10 pm – Midnight  ALA Dance Party
http://connect.ala.org/node/140642
: I am planning to go only if I find some company who will focus more on drinking than dancing. So hopefully there would be non-dancing but dance-watching librarians…

June 25, Saturday

8 am – 12 pm  LITA Board of Directors Meeting
: Of course, I am not on LITA board of directors.  I am going with my Team M of the 2011 class of Emerging Leaders to present our project outcome to the LITA board of directors.  They will eventually decide what ideas and suggestions in our proposal LITA will adopt and implement for LITA branding and marketing in the future. We are going to be there probably not for an entire duration of the meeting.

So some other things I can run to when I am out of the board meeting are:

10:30 am – 12 pm LITA IG Chairs Meeting
: I am hoping to get some ideas about how to make an IG meeting more active and open to virtual participation at this meeting.  I am chairing Mobile Computing IG and  have been experimenting with an IG meeting as a venue for short presentation and informal discussion that is not restricted by the strict ALA program proposal deadline which usually requires submitting a topic almost a year in advance.  Maybe there are more ways to make an IG meeting fun and useful. We will see. I am also kind of hoping to catch up with what  some of other LITA IGs are doing. Because of time conflict, I rarely can attend more than a few LITA IG meetings.

But I may not survive too many business meetings. So I may go to:

10:30 am – 12 pm  ACRL President’s program “President’s Program: From Idea to Innovation to Implementation: How Teams Make it Happen (ACRL)

or

10:30 am – 12 pm  “The Discovery Payoff: Are discovery services increasing ROI and the library’s prominence in academic institutions .

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm ACRL New Members Discussion Group
http://connect.ala.org/node/137451
: This is an excellent place for library school students or new librarians. It’s a small group discussion and the atmosphere is very informal. You can ask any dumb questions about ALA, ACRL, academic libraries, job market, and any and everything else that budding and new librarians care about.  This year, ACRL New Members Discussion Group has a panel discussion program “Learn about Tenure: what does faculty or non-faculty status mean for new librarians?” http://connect.ala.org/node/144880

4 pm – 5:30 pm   Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Information Science
: I find it fascinating how the interests of library and information science seems to overlap somehow with the imagination of sci-fi. And of course, it helps that I read certain sci-fi authors or series quite avidly such as Olson Scott Card’s Ender series.

I will be writing a short blog post for American Libraries after attending this session.

7 pm – 9 pm Newbie & Veteran Librarian Tweet-Up
http://connect.ala.org/node/140971
: It’s a party time! Come to the Newbie & Veteran Librarian Tweet-up. It’s one of my most favorite social activities at ALA. If you are new and knows no one, this is a place to start! No invitation, no RSVP required though appreciated (http://twtvite.com/ala11twtup).  Just come and join the library crowd. Everyone fits right in.  :- )

9 pm – 11 pm Facebook After-Hours Social
https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=209816775714013
: Even more fun continues from the tweet-up to the Facebook After-Hours Social.

June 26, Sunday

8 am – 10 am  Lost in Translation: the Emerging Technology Librarian & the New Technology
http://connect.ala.org/node/137555
:  I will be serving as a panelist on this panel discussion program. This program was planned as an extension to the last year’s ALA program that I have moderated “What is Your Library Doing about Emerging Technologies?” We will talk about four common problems and issues that libraries often encounter in adopting and implementing emerging technology projects, solicit opinions and thoughts from attendees, and come up with solutions and helpful ideas together through open discussion between the panel and attendees.

10:30 am – Noon LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group Meeting
http://connect.ala.org/node/137605
:  I am chairing LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group and very excited about this meeting.  Four wonderful presentations are lined up as well as interesting discussion topics. This is not an official ALA program but you can see the presentations and discussion ideas here: http://connect.ala.org/node/142438.  If you are interested in mobile computing, you must check this out.

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm  Top Technology Trends

4 pm – 5:30 pm Where We Are, Where We Are Heading: The Presidential Task Force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content Update
http://connect.ala.org/node/138504

5:30 pm -6 pm ALA Advocacy Flash Mob and Freeze at Jackson Sq.
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=227290740618104
: You are not going to miss this. Are you? Wear the Librarian T-Shirt!

6 pm  ACRL-Health Science IG Social

7 pm  ACRL-STS Dinner

June 27, Monday

8-10am One of these will be the place I will end up with after much agony of choice:

Coffee and Conversation with Experts

Emerging Technologies Interest Group

Innovation in an Age of Limits (ACRL STS)

The Business of Social Media: How to Plunder the Treasure Trove

1:30 pm -3:30 pm Public Awareness Committee

Then flight back home!

Surprise – a Personal Brand is a By-product!

At the 2011 ALA Midwinter Meeting at San Diego, I moderated a panel discussion about personal branding sponsored by ACRL New Members Discussion Group. The program aimed at providing new and budding librarians with an opportunity to think about personal branding and have a lively information discussion with an excellent group of panelists who shared their experience and thoughts on the topic of personal branding.

I won’t summarize the discussion here as I wasn’t able to make very detailed notes. So the following is more of my own take-aways, what I have personally learned from and got to think further after the discussion. (If you are already interested in personal branding, see Further Resources at the end of this post.)

What personal branding is all about

Although a large number of new and budding librarians engage in personal branding in one or another way and some succeed brilliantly at it, many others also struggle or fail. Whether we call it a personal brand or online presence, we recognize those who are successful at having one. While personal branding may seem easy and effortless when seen from the outside, it is certainly a time-consuming endeavor that cannot be taken lightly. As a result, new librarians are often unsure about how to begin, how to keep up, and how to manage one’s own personal brand.

Unfortunately, the term “personal branding” has a negative connotation and gives the impression that personal branding is about having huge egos and/or simply moving up on the career ladder at the expense of others. But this is not what personal branding is about. Personal branding is about acknowledging the fact that, whether we like it or not, information about us online – regardless of its inaccuracy and incompleteness – will inevitably represent us and consciously deciding to take charge of that mass of information about us.

After all, a personal brand is no more than others’ perception of you based upon available information gleaned (nowadays more and more from the internet). In today’s world in which people google others for all sorts of purposes ranging from dating to a job interview, almost everyone has a brand whether they are aware of it or not.

The matter is whether one will consciously manage that brand and build a positive online presence for oneself or will be simply affected by it.

A personal brand is a by-product, not an end itself.

It’s a mistake to think of personal branding as an end itself. A successful personal brand is a by-product of the successful pursuit of one’s own interest, contribution, and networking in librarianship.

The best way to build a successful personal brand is therefore to pursue one’s own interest. The more practical and exciting one’s pursuit is to oneself, the more active, engaging, and passionate one would be.

Looking to connect with other budding librarians and exchange tips about the stressful job-seeking process? In need of advice from more experienced colleagues because you just got your first professional librarian position and you found yourself to be a solo-librarian? Seeking to network with other colleagues in your narrow field of specialization? Just starting to build virtual reference service at your library and would love to find out what the best practices are?

All these interests are completely practical. None of these interests seems to have anything to do with personal branding. If anything, they seem to be completely selfish in the sense that they directly come out of one’s own tangible needs.

However, if one pursues these interests with passion, successfully learning from and sharing/communicating with others and truthfully and accurately representing oneself in the process, it will be only a matter of time for the person to be known and recognized among others with similar interests.

Personal branding doesn’t mean giving up privacy.

Whatever one’s brand is – whether online or off-line, the brand is never the same as an actual person. While one should be true to oneself in interacting with others online, it is a mistake to think that our online persona can represent us one hundred percent or to think that having a personal brand implies giving up privacy entirely.

The fact that the social media allows one to share immediately almost everything with others in an instant does not mean that you must share everything with everyone nor that everything you can share is worthy of sharing with everyone.

Rather, the social media gives you the power of sharing and communicating only the things that you decide to share and communicate. One can still have a strong online presence /personal brand while remaining a private person.

A brand is what represents you, often, as X. What would be that X? A cat lover, a web services librarian, a metadata expert, a PHP maven? a interlibrary-loan specialist? Pick your own X and keep your privacy in all matters other than X.

Personal branding is what you make of it.

In the ACRL New Members Discussion Group panel discussion I moderated, I asked each panelists the following five questions.

  1. What comes to mind when you hear the term, “personal branding”?
  2. What is wrong with not being engaged in personal branding at all?
  3. How and why did you start your own personal branding? What did you do and what did you learn?
  4. How and why did you pick the personal branding channel of your choice (e.g. Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc.) and what do you think are the pros and cons of those channels?
  5. What are the values/benefits of personal branding to you?

If the tense of 3. and 4. are changed from the past to the future, these can be easily used for those who are interested in becoming more active online in the librarian community to pursue “specific” interests. Do you see the values/benefits in investing time and energy in pursuing your interests in certain social media platforms? If the answer is yes, try to answer the five above questions clearly and make your plan accordingly, keeping in mind that your personal brand is not an end itself but a by-product.

I tried to dispel some of the misconceptions about personal branding such as it is all about marketing oneself shamelessly without really deserving it or about giving up one’s own privacy. But eventually personal branding is something different for each and every individual. It is what one makes of it.

Further resources

If you are interested in the details of what was discussed in the actual panel discussion, see this live tweet archive: http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/nmdg.

At the end of this post, if you are ready to embark on your personal branding, feel free to check out this handout from the ACRL New Members Discussion Group and follow up on the further discussion with other new librarians here at ALA Connect – New Members Discussion Group.

Also check out a great write-up and thoughtful comment by Steven Bell about the panel discussion “The WHY of Your Brand” in the Library Journal.

Practically Speaking – about Streaming the LITA Board Meeting

As many librarians know by now, on Saturday January 8th at the ALA Midwinter, there was a LITA board meeting. Jason Griffey, one of the LITA board members live-streamed the event. Having not been notified of this in advance, the board voted to stop the streaming once they realized that the meeting had been being broadcast in public.

Many librarians have written thoughtful posts on this including Karen G Schneider, Michelle Boule Smith, and Meredith Farkas. I am not going to argue about ALA’s open meeting policy or the legitimacy of the reasons given by the LITA board since I simply do not know much about those matters as a relatively new member of ALA.  (Those blog posts and comments have great information about them.)  But I wished that LITA -the division that I deem to be my primary home at ALA- were the first division to stream a board meeting for the members who could not attend the conference. And I still hope it would become the case at the upcoming Annual.

I am in favor of streaming open meetings and making more programs virtually available. The reason why I love to attend a library conference is that I get to meet and hear from so many different librarians. All of them have so much energy and great ideas, which help me do my job better and enrich my thoughts on librarianship. So the more people add their thoughts and ideas to the discussion, the better the conference experience becomes. So why not invite more ALA members to join the conference in the virtual space?

I was even more surprised to see that the LITA meeting in question was not even a program. In my mind, yes, one may want to block a program since it should be ‘technically’ only available to the attendees who paid for the conference. (Actually, I will try to counter this later too.)

But a business meeting? If someone is going to sit down and watch a board meeting for three hours discussing policies and bylaws not even physically attending the meeting, I would say that that someone should be commended. When I attended my first-ever LITA board meeting as an observer on Monday, there were only two (!) people including me who were not on the LITA board. And even I (a LITA-sponsored emerging leader) didn’t stay for the whole meeting. That is a small number to be present considering that there are thousands of LITA members.

I understand that having a meeting while knowing that every word you speak is being broadcast can be extremely difficult. There may well be some people who would even avoid physically attending a meeting. And I completely sympathize with them. (I myself hate to have a webcam pointed at my face when I have an online meeting with colleagues although I like to see their faces!)

However, we live in times in which people’s attention and time are hard to come by and probably worth much more than any content online. Content is not scarce nor particularly precious. Even if a board meeting is indeed publicly broadcast, I would be shocked if that suddenly draws in hundreds of people. The LITA board may have to sacrifice their discomfort at public broadcasting whether they like it or not if getting LITA members’ feedback and ideas broadly from as many LITA members as possible is a top priority to the division.

We often act as if by putting certain content online, suddenly we create this great danger of having that content exposed to ‘everyone’. Theoretically, yes, it is true that by putting something online, it will be accessible to everyone on the Internet. But the reality is that the content will be accessed only by those who ‘decide’ to give their time and attention to the particular content. Just think about how hard politicians campaign to get voters’ attention. ALA is lucky to have many members who are eager to participate online if an opportunity is given. Streaming a business meeting may be well worth the effort “and” the discomfort of the meeting attendees at a physical meeting if that will allow many eager members to participate further in ALA.

Lastly, I want to say a few things about why even ALA programs should not be ‘strictly’ restricted to those who registered for the conference. I organized and moderated a panel discussion at ACRL New Members Discussion Group (NMDG) at this year’s ALA Midwinter. The panel discussion was great success thanks to the NMDG team who diligently prepared for and organized the program virtually. Some of those members could not attend the conference, but they generously donated their time, thoughts, feedback, and ideas to the program that they could not attend over a few months’ period.

If (hypothetically) this NMDG discussion were to be streamed, I would have thought that it should be streamed to everyone or at least to all team members whether virtual or not. Actually, in the case of NMDG, all team members were virtual members until the day on which the program took place. As we benefit from our colleagues’ generosity, why shouldn’t we be able to return it in a way? Since all our labor was freely given to create a program and all panelists also served for free, why can’t it be made available freely (or at a small cost for a virtual conference registration)?

While ALA encourages all its members to participate and be actively involved in the ALA conferences, I hope it’s not ignored that those who are willing to contribute to ALA virtually should be “provided with a means to do so.”

Tweet Up & Pre-Tweet Up at 2011 ALA MW San Diego

A San Diego librarian, Dan Suchy (@danwho) and I are organizing the exciting 3rd Newbie & Veteran Librarian Tweet-up at the ALA 2011 Midwinter conference in San Diego, CA!

Dan is also organizing a Pre-Tweet Up for “Craft Beers” on Thursday Jan. 6. (Info below)

Come meet new and veteran librarians. Learn and discuss all things that librarians are interested in over great music and drinks!  Make the Saturday night a TRIFECTA of great social events!!   (RSVP below so that we have enough space~)

The 3rd ALA MW Newbie & Veteran Librarian Tweet-up

RSVP: http://twtvite.com/alamw11-tweetup

Date: 1/8 Saturday 7:30 pm – 10 pm
Location: the Basic

410 10th Ave. San Diego, California 92101
(619) 531-8869

Walking Directions to the Basic from the Convention Center

The Basic is located a 7 min. walk from the San Diego Convention Center and is in the East Village section of Downtown San Diego. Converted from a circa 1912 warehouse, Basic is left open and raw with original brick walls, high ceilings and industrial garage doors

NB. The Basic is also right around the corner from both NMRT social (Borders; 5:30-7:30pm) & After Hours Social (Rock Bottom Brewery in the Gaslamp Quarter; 10pm-2am) on the same day.


ALA MW Pre-Tweet-up for “Craft Beers”

Dan (@danwho) couldn’t wait until Saturday to start the festivities of the ALA Midwinter Conference. So join him for the Thursday Pre-Tweet Up if you arrive in San Diego early!

Dan picked a local pub that is famous for its wide variety of craft beers.

RSVP: coming soon.

Date: 1/6 Thursday 7:30 pm – 10 pm
Location: Johnny Brown’s

1220 3rd Avenue San Diego, CA 92101-4102
(619) 232-8463

Waling Directions to Johnny Brown’s from the Convention Center

LITA Mobile Computing IG Meeting at ALA Midwinter 2011

I am very excited about the LITA Mobile Computing IG Meeting at ALA Midwinter 2011. If you are interested in mobile devices and libraries, please join for the lively and informal discussion. Great presentations and discussion topics are already lined up. Bring your own topic to discuss with peers and colleagues with same interests! Add your thoughts and suggest more topics here at: http://connect.ala.org/node/121490

LITA Mobile Computing IG Meeting at ALA Midwinter 2011

When: Sun. Jan 9 1:30pm – 3:30pm (Pacific Time)

Where: SDCC 31a

Come and join us for the exciting, lively, and informal discussion about libraries and mobile devices at the 2011 ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Diego! In addition to covering the following presentations and discussion topics, we will also discuss what everyone is working on and other topics brought for discussion.

Presentations and Discussion Topics

  • “A rapid ethnographic study of the iPad on a campus bus” – Jim Hahn (University of Illinois)
    : This short presentation will describe the results of a rapid ethnographic study of 10 students using an iPad on a campus bus. Presentation will include fail-points to use as well as unexpected use. Discussion of frequently searched for terms as well as the significance of user context will be included. Tentative ideas for apps to develop as a result of student search data will be discussed.
  • “Putting the fun back in mobile websites: launching an OS book recommender” – Evviva Weinraub & Hannah Rempel (Oregon State University)
    : Building on the success of our mobile site, including a fully mobile catalog, and our well received historical walking tour, Beaver Tracks, OSU Libraries Mobile Team went looking for a fun project to work on.  Recognizing that many students (not to mention faculty, staff and our own librarians) often want diversionary reading, we began working on an open source mobile book recommender tool. We will describe how we selected the content to include in our book recommender database, some details of how the book recommender tool was built, the process of choosing a design, and a demonstration of the features of the book recommender tool.  Our planned go live date is January 7, 2011.
  • “Creating a mobile site with zero budget” – Tiffani Travis (California State University)
    : Is there a simple way to connect users to vital library info and links to mobile versions of products other than creating a full-blown mobile website? This presentation will share the experience of quickly creating a “free” mobile site using LibGuides and WordPress, both of which auto-format their sites for smart phones.
  • “Brainstorming ideas about great library-centric apps”
    : This will be a brainstorming session for library-centric mobile apps that go beyond searching the catalog or looking up building hours. How can we leverage the existence of the mobile platform to provide a truly transformative experience of the library?  Your input may be used to inform suggested development tasks for the competition and overall guidelines to the “Apps for Libraries” development competition planned by Tod Colegrove (University of Nevada, Reno).
  • “Mobile usability and assessment”
    : Has anyone done or is anyone planning to do a usability study or assessments and also the accessibility (for people with disabilities) for a library’s mobile website or apps? We will discuss also how we can measure success in regard to the mobile web (e.g. feedback, environmental scanning, survey, etc.).

Looking back at “What is Your Library Doing about Emerging Technologies?”

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=)