Sunday, March 15, 2009

ACRL - Post the Second

Friday night's keynote speaker was Sherman Alexie. I don't think I can even begin to summarize how wonderful he was. It's hard to take someone who is so about words, so deep in words and who has such a command of words ,and try to replicate them yourself in words. Suffice to say, he's a brilliant speaker, jumping between traditional speechy bits, poetry He spoke a lot about perceptions - how people look at librarians and have a certain set of beliefs, just as they look at Native Americans and have another set as well. He's a bit rambling as a speaker, punctuating ideas with poems and other asides. He's fluid, self-deprecating, and hilarious. I didn't take notes (this is not the sort of thing you could really write down), but the one bit that really stood out for me is when he answered a question about why he lives in Seattle. He said he loved a nomad woman (her family moved around a lot). He met his wife in Spokane and she couldn't stand living there. She would only marry him on the condition that they wouldn't live in Spokane. He got to choose out of a select list of cities where she would live and he picked Seattle. She got him to Seattle, but he was keeping her there.

On Saturday I went to a number of really good sessions. The first was a presentation by the library and IT staff at Bowdoin college on how they fostered communication and collaboration between the two departments. They took a very chill, almost friendly approach. The two groups spent a lot of time just getting to know each other and learning how to communicate with each other. The two departments have very different cultures and ways of working together, so it was essential that they take the time learn about each other so one culture wouldn't be "superior" and alienate the other. It was sort of a "touch-feely" approach, but they've been so successful in developing projects and aligning their goals that you have to think that this is certainly worth a shot (worse case scenario, you just wind up having a lot of group lunches!).

After that was a fascinating look at the OhioLINK collection analysis project. Working with OCLC Research, the consorta analyzed their monograph holdings with a view towards using this data to encourage collaboarative collection development in the future. By presenting clear data on how many copies the system has and how often they circulate, they hope to reduce unncesssary duplication and to encourage a diverse collection. Also in these tough economic times, if you can get away with not purchasing a title in favor of another, that's worth it. The conference got the first look at a wealth of data, which was presented in a very clear and coherant way (a true skill, I'm starting to realize). They took the holdings from each library, collected it onto single OCLC records (to facilitate analysis). Data for collections were broken down in really interesting way. Universities often wanted to see their entire collection, then administrative units, then individual branches, and even unique collections within branches! This clearly took a lot of effort, but I think it presented a really rich picture of the individual holdings in a instiution.

Two ideas stood out for me in this presentation. The first was how the collections spread out around subject. Law seemed to be the most heavily duplicated subject (due to accreditation requirements - each library is required to have the same set titles). Computer Science, perhaps not surprisingly, had a ridcidulous obsolescence rate. Titles in that subject need to be immediately cataloged and get out on the shelf, since they will be used the most when they're new and then checkouts gradually fade away. The second concept was the most surprising. I did learn in LIS 500 that 80 percent of your checkouts come from 20 percent of your collection (there is a core collection of the most popular or pertient items, which certainly shifts and changes over time). However, the analysis done here suggested that 80 percent of the checkout came from only 6 percent of the collection. The group will look at language (they noted that most foreign checkouts not in Spanish could be attributed to the foreign language departments of universities who use the same materials over and over), age of items, and will also look at publisher type to see if a suggestive pattern emerges.

A less enlightening statitical lecture focused on the recent ALA-LSSCP email survey. I thought the presentation would focus more on the actual proficiencies thatthe certification will require or sees as necessary in the library world. Rather it was a lightening fast array of charts, numbers, and more charts. The data was pretty rich, but rather complex and I'm not sure I walked away with a real understanding of anything (other than there are different skill sets in public and academic libraries, but that wasn't all that surprising). However, I did note the idea that support staff, in this survey, tended to give a higher value of importance to their tasks than MLIS staff or library directors. Why is there this break in perception? Clearly staff workers are proud of the work that they do. But why isn't that perception shared? Should it be shared?

Okay, this post is already overdue and already too long. More later (since Ira Glass is about to come on!)

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