Monday, March 16, 2009

ACRL - Post the Second and a Half

Onwards in our recap!

After the last stats presentation, I wandered up to catch the end of the PCC/PSU presentation on information literacy programs and standards. The brainstorming rubric they presented, which focused mainly on how to locate and work with other similarly minded librarians on information literacy, could easily be used in almost any sort of interlibrary collaboration (collection development could easily be replaced, with a little tweaking). I had a chance to chat with a number of the community college librarians from the Portland area (and there are a lot!). Mainly our conversation focused on the impending cessation of the residency program at UW (my friend/cohort member Maria is now a full-time tech at PCC). Though I can understand the rationale behind the administration's choice (it's an expensive adventure for many in the program and last residency's flooding fiasco showed that they could either record or sync-up class presentations), I will still miss it and wonder how the other cohorts will get situated without it.

At this point I think I finally made it down to look at the poster sessions, many of which I recall being fascinating, but none of which I actually wrote about since my hands were full with free ice cream and a free dictionary from the amazing and friendly people at the Oxford University Press. This is why I am so happy that the entirety of the conference proceedings is stored online. Also I should mention that at times I went down to the area they titled the "Cyber Zed Shed", only to discover that the presenter was not there (I sat through two no-shows and my friend informed me of a missed third!). There were topics at this part of the conference that seemed interesting (interactive subject maps) and some that weren't (Google Docs). The big tech event for this conference seemed to be Twitter. There were a number of presentations on this 2.0 technology and I saw people throughout the event (and during Ira Glass!) tweeting.

I am of a mixed mind when it comes to Twitter. I can see the point of microblogging, it's immediacy, and it's inherent succinctness. But it also feels like another version of my Facebook Status Update and I keep wondering if I have anything that amazing to say, something so terribly pertinent and yet easily crammed into 140 characters. I'm hesitant as well when it comes to libraries entering the 2.0 space of the user. A coworker who went to one of the 2.0 technologies and libraries presentation mentioned that the presenters gave a number of great hints, such as don't try to friend students. That means entering too deeply into their personal space. Instead let them become a fan of you, which means they get all the information they need from you and they don't have to worry that you're going to see their latest beer pong photos. I think so many libraries ran headfirst into these spaces without really thinking carefully about how to do it, and it doesn't help that the platform changes on a weekly basis (Facebook, I am looking squarely at you). As 2.0 technology starts to stabilize, it will be interesting to see what rises up.

At this point on Saturday I had the energy left for two presentations. The first was on the TIDES Experience (presented by Susan Clarke). This is a fascinating collaborative online image project. This grew out of a digitization of historical/archival images in a Texas university library and grew into an interactive project that develops and supports a wide ranging education curriculum for Texas and now Mexico (kindergarten all the way through university). What was interesting here is how a grant project on digitization turned into such a wonderful and sustainable project (how they got sponsors, broadened their collections and curriculum stores etc.). And this is really something that is for the average user, not the library or archive junkie. Most of the site's hits come from Google or Yahoo. They get requests from teachers to add images to support their classroom (and have started taking teachers out into the field to collect stuff themselves. Having worked in a very traditional (albeit fantastic!) archive, I was really intrigued to see such a explosion of ideas and images from one project.

Next up was a discussion of the challenges faced by distance students (something I'm very interested in on a personal level). Presented by Capella University, this presentation was the only one I saw where the presenters work in an entirely virtual library space. In fact, until 2 years ago all of the library services at Capella were outsourced. The library staff is responsible for 26000 "learners", 80% graduate and 20% undergraduate. From the presentation it seems that the library staff does a lot of troubleshooting for technology. A successful treatment for an ongoing problem (which they track through a database of answered questions) was to have a librarian go into a course space with a help guide and to offer assistance. So many students responded to this overture and the library found their requests for help go through the roof. In an online program it's often hard to know exactly where you should go with a question. Yes, you have a list of resources, but you've probably not tried any of them yet and it's always a bit nerve wracking to know that you might wind up in the wrong space and will be send on and on trying to find the right person. While the presentation wasn't helpful to me as a learner (and not really as a professional since I don't do any reference outreach), it was still really interesting to see how the staff tackled problems and worked to establish themselves within the university. Most of us at academic libraries take it for granted that we are an inherent part of the university structure, so it was interesting to see how the library staff worked to collaborate (the word of the conference!) and make themselves known to the rest of the administration.

Sunday morning brought Ira Glass, who was totally on the escalator with me and who I tried very hard not to stare at! Once again, the room was packed. Glass began his talk entirely in the dark. Some soft background music played while he spoke about how "this is radio", about the intimacy of listening to a voice in the dark. Sadly, he was not encouraged to do his entire speech in the dark, so the lights went up and there he was, in a hoodie and with rumpled hair, two CD players, and mixing board. He spoke mostly on how to develop stories, how he arranges and presents stories to keep listeners interested. He works on a storytelling pattern that turned out to be sermon-like- action, action, action, idea, action, action, action, idea. It's about hooking people, keeping them interested, but keeping them interested in the people as well. The second I can really remember from this is that all of his tape archives are stored, just in boxes listed by show number, in a facility in New Jersey. They're not really organized or digitized (some are so old that he would have to bake them and the would only get one shot at copying them). He asked the room of librarians and archivists if anyone would be able to help him out with this and offered his email address. He shocked the room when he revealed that if he lost the archives, he wouldn't be that bothered. He feels the strength of This American Life comes in it's immediacy, in that it is so of the moment, of the now. The show isn't prepared with the long-term in mind at all, but how it will be and sound the night it's aired and 1.8 million people tune in.

The conference was a great experience. I got a sense for what it's like to walk around a hotel full of librarians instead of fencers. I learned a lot about a variety of topics and how to present. A number of panels or papers seemed so interesting when I read about them and added them to my schedule but then didn't really live up to the description, were too general to be very useful outside of broad conceptualizations, or were difficult to parse out (this is especially true when there are slide after slide of complicated graphs). It's really an art to get up on a stage with a PowerPoint and blast out in twenty minutes (you have to have ten left over for questions), a subject that you could have been studying for years. I'm hoping that the UW program, with all of the Pointecasting, will give me an opportunity to practice this in the coming years. What I found weird about being a student instead of a professional at a conference like this is that I kept wondering about my impact. I can't promise the vendors that we'll use their products. I really, really liked the project on staff information needs presented by the University of Regina, but it's not really something that falls under my job heading. But this has given me a lot of thought about projects I can do in the future and how I can start making little changes in the bit of the library when I can make an impact.

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