Friday at the OLA Super Conference 2008

After being exhausted from trying to handle two days at my first OLA Super Conference (1, 2) I decided that one day was enough this year.

So I braved the Toronto snow storm on Friday and made my way down to the Metro Convention Centre.

Session 1009 – Google: The New Library Vendor
This session was given by Greg Sennema from Wilfred Laurier. The OCULA blog gives a good description of the talk. I saw his session about WordPress last year and again he put together a very solid presentation. Having a keen interest in all things Google, I must admit I already knew about some of the topics he touched on such as iGoogle and Custom Search Engines. However, his main point in showing some of the new tools Google is creating was to ask the question about how they will effect the services libraries provide in the short and long-term. A thought provoking idea he mentioned was whether projects like Google Books (scanning all of the books in libraries like the University of Michigan, etc.) will replace the traditional delivery of ILL. While the full-text of copyrighted books are not being provided to the public through Google Books, you can imagine that in the future that various universities that are part of the Google Books project may come together to provide full-text access to each others’ user communities, thereby making all the staff time and cost of traditional ILL irrelevant. I’m sure the copyright-owner lobbyists may have an objection or two to this however.

Session 1100 – Slow in the age of speed
This presentation by Carl Honore, author of “In Praise Of Slow“, inspired me to try and make more time to nap in my office. I’ll report back on how my supervisor feels about this effort to be more productive.

Session 1204 – The Kids Are Alright, Or are They?
Any session named after a Who song has to be good. The content of this very interesting talk is summarized well on the OCULA blog. I’m already an avowed Mohawk Library fanboy so it was interesting see and hear from two of the schools’ main librarians. I think the lovely (and award winning) Jennifer commented on my post back in the day. They talked about how educators, library people, etc. are inundated with the idea that today’s students (millenials, etc.) have all these specific characteristics (naturally tech-savy, able to do their homework while listening to their iPods, have differently wired brains, spend all their time in Second Life, etc.) so we must change the ways we instruct and interact with them. They talked about how these claims did not always square with their experiences at the reference desk. I know how they feel. Seeing students struggle with Microsoft Office documents that open inside WebCT and not knowing how to print them, I question the theory that because a kid plays World Of Warcraft all day that he somehow becomes a savant at how various software systems interact.

The speakers did a great job at peaking behind some of the research the Mark Prensky’s of the world use to back up their claims and showing the lack of solid scholarship at the heart of much of it. I knew I recognized that name when they mentioned it and I remembered that I did a copyright request for the use of some of his materials. Hopefully the department I did the request for isn’t basing all their plans on Prensky’s work.

All in all, an excellent example of evidenced based librarianship. Check out the blog they created for their research: http://kidsarealright.wordpress.com/

Session 1318 – Scholar’s Portage. Avoiding the Waterfall: Leveraging Social Networking Tools And Scholars Portal Data
Come 3:45pm on a snowy day, the third day of the conference, people are naturally getting a little tired. Add to this a session that some people may consider a little on the ‘dry’ side and it added up to a sparsely attended event. Luckily I dig ‘dry’ and throw in a cute librarian who’s really into music giving the presentation so I found the session very worthwhile. While it has very little effect on my duties I am always curious about what exactly Scholars Portal is and what the future plans are for this joint effort of Ontario’s universities. The speakers gave some interesting insights into what they do now and were open about their thinking process in trying to decide how to evolve their services in a way that truly is a benefit to their users and not just Library 2.0 applications for the sake of Library 2.0. As usual I’m doing a lousy job of describing the session so here is:

Conclusion
All in all it was another very well organized event with interesting speakers and topics. My only complaint was the lack of a free pen in my conference package. Also I can’t really be seen carrying around a bag covered in butterflies so I had to give the conference bag away to my Mom. I also forgot to see if Access Copyright was giving away free mints again this year. There’s always next year.

Shiny and new

I’m probably a few days late noticing this but the OLA has a shiny new web site (announced here).

The old web site (and the pages for each of the various divisions) was to be charitable, a little creaky from a visual appearance and information design (i.e. it was hard to find stuff I was looking for) point of view.

Now they have a content management system that provides a real nice unity of design across the site. The tabs along the left and the top of the page provide a clear path to all the content I can imagine wanting to get from the site.

The sections for the various divisions provide (e.g. OLITA) a useful calender of events right on the page and prominent promotion of their various blogs and newsletters.

The one downside is that for most people this site redesign means they will have to update their bookmarks to get to that page they tend to visit while they should be thinking up ways to improve reference service.

Library associations and 2.0

Marge: Homer, it’s very easy to criticize…
Homer:
and fun, too!

The idea of writing this post has been percolating for some time but a recent post by Meredith from Information Wants To Be Free has given me a push to put my thoughts to virtual pen. In her post she comments about how one of the tenets of the Library 2.0 movement is the effort to end the “but we’ve always done it this way” attitude. She goes on to describe that while this idea is beginning to take root in the libraries we work in (though that’s a post for another day), it’s not always the same story with the associations we belong to and represent us.

I can only speak about the organizations I am or have been a member of, but each of them vary in how much of a push they have made to use emerging technologies to communicate with and involve their members.

As a caveat I will say I didn’t bother looking for any presence of these organizations on MySpace. For one thing, I despise any web site that starts playing music when I visit it (let me decide if I need to be blasted with the new Avril Lavigne single), but the garish designs, clunky photo slide shows and endless posts of, “thanks for the add” remind me of the millions of wack looking Geocities sites created in the mid-to-late nineties. As the creator of a garish Toronto Raptors tribute page back then I’m as guilty as anyone. I find that services like Ning (see the Library 2.0 network) to be more promising.

CLA
Since they offered a cheap membership rate to students I became a member a few years ago. When it comes to print publications, I find that most editions of Feliciter have several articles of interest to me.

In terms of electronic communication, they do send out an e-mail newsletter every week or so, but from a design point of view it is in a font that is not easy to read on a computer screen and the spacing and layout scream, “I was designed for print and simply cut and pasted in to an electronic format.” (UPDATE April 20: Wow, a week later I get my first edition of a redesigned, graphic-rich version of the newsletter. I won’t assume my critique had anything to do with this…)

There is a CLA presence on Facebook. There are over 100 members there now with some ongoing discussions and Wall posts. Counter this with the state of the discussion boards found in the members only section of the CLA web site. There are a couple un-responded to posts but it is mostly a ghost town. This leads me to be even more convinced that well designed social networking tools like Facebook provide a forum for casual and serious interaction and the top-down control, silo-like structures that have been the method of choice for organizations like the CLA need some loosening up.

The only blog I have seen associated with the CLA is Re:Generations, which is dedicated to new academic librarians and those who want to “re-energize” academic librarianship. I guess I should not be surprised that it is the new and forward-looking members of the CLA who pushed to get this blog up, though the fact that it is the only one proves that some organisations embrace change at a more glacial pace.

One thing I notice on the CLA Facebook page and other library focused ones is that the pictures of the members seem to indicate that the participants seem to run counter to the overall demographic makeup of the profession. The 8Rs Canadian Library Human Resource Study found that nearly half are currently 50 years of age and older. It’s not surprising that the younger members of the profession would be quicker adopters of new technology but I hope it is also a sign that the voices of this portion of the library community is having its voice heard in their workplaces.

I’m not sure I will continue as a member of the CLA in the future. As a Library Technician a lot of their focus is not on issues that effect my day-in day-out work but I do like supporting a national voice for the profession.

OLA
I also joined the OLA when I was a student. Their magazine is heavily weighted towards public and school libraries so there are not many articles I find of interest in it. On the other hand there are several blogs (from OLA and their divisions) that make it easier for me to feel in the loop: OLA Headline Stories, InsideOCULA and InsideOLITA.

While their various discussion groups are not exactly hives of activity, I think the OLA and its various divisions are providing quality access points for those not on any official committees to sense they are still part of a vibrant organization. The activity on the OLA Facebook page is also very similar in level of activity to the CLA one.

OALT
The OALT is the organization that brings together my hard-working Library Technician brothers and sisters (well, since the 8Rs study found that 9 out of 10 paraprofessionals are women I’ll say mostly sisters).

I was a member for a short time while in school but I did not feel a strong incentive to renew. Unlike the CLA or OLA, the OALT does not have a prominent role as advocates for library issues in the broader society. Given the organisations smaller size and lack of prominence when it comes to much of the public’s discourse on library issues (want to confuse someone on the street, ask them what a library technician is) I don’t think it would be a good use of the organisations resources anyway.

I think that at its best the OALT functions as a central hub and meeting place (physically and virtually) for library technicians to discuss the issues they face in the workplace, share knowledge about various technologies and create a greater sense of camaraderie and community.

Even without being an official member I am able to be part of the OALT discussion group. This is a fairly active group with over 200 members. There have been questions from new graduates about how to land jobs, and a variety of other discussion topics. There is also a Library Technicians in Canada Facebook group created by OALT members. Again this looks like an ideal method for creating a broader community for those of us in the profession.

I find it unfortunate that there has not yet been a blog created by the OALT. Their current official method of disseminating information is a standard print newsletter with various news about the OALT and the profession. Like any volunteer organization finding staff to write, compile, publish, etc. is a tall order. Maybe asking one or two people to take all of this work on is not the best approach. Perhaps a blog where the ability to write postings is open to the broader membership is a better approach in terms of getting out information in a timely way. In 2007 I question the overall value of a publication arriving 3 times a year with some of the information fairly stale by the time it arrives on the doorstep.

Conclusion
In the day-to-day grind of our jobs, the machinations of our various library associations may not see to be a big deal but it’s important to recognize the work done by those in our profession who put in the time and effort to better support libraries, their users and their workers. But as technology transforms our libraries and shift our user’s expectations we should ensure that the organisations we join and speak for us also evaluate their structures and methods so they can take advantage of the amazing tools becoming available.

OLA – O – Ramma: Friday February 2

Super Conference ID

After getting a good night’s sleep I was ready for another day of extreme library fun at the 2007 OLA Super Conference.

Session 1104
Some might think that 9am is a little early in the morning for talking about statistical literacy but this was an informative session, if for nothing else, that it reminded me how much I am guilty of simply accepting at face value the statistical information I come across in my own life. I did have some flashbacks to my own harrowing moments in math class when they started quizzing us on percentages and absolute numbers.

They made the point that statistical literacy is years behind traditional reading and writing literacy and my own experience at the reference desk would definitely bare that out.

Session 1200
Civic guru Glen Murray spoke about his views on municipal development. Just like several other speakers he was quick to tell the group that librarians are they key to the future of civilisation. Well, maybe I’m embellishing a bit, but flattery goes a long way with this crowd.

Session 1318
While what I learned in this session could be considered part of my professional development, I will admit it was more for Library Playground. This session was about creating library blogs using WordPress and was presented by Greg Sennema from Wilfred Laurier.

After having been on my own trying to learn about WordPress it was good to see some of the questions I had clearly explained. It was very interesting to learn that Laurier took an existing blog theme and tweaked it so it looked identical to the rest of the Laurier Library web page. If I wasn’t told this I would have thought they coded the blog from scratch. This gives me a sense of what is possible with a little bit of coding knowledge.

Session 1411
My day ended with a talk from one of the leading lights of the 2.0/Social/Second Life/First-person shooter/chewy-nougat library movement.

Michael Stephens of Tame the Web fame gave his Best Practices for Social Software presentation. He is a very engaging speaker, and while I must admit some skepticism about the time and effort some schools are putting in to efforts like creating Second Life presences, he mentioned several points of interest to me.

A key one was the creation of Wiki’s for library staff. In my case I have created several policy and procedure manuals in Word documents. Often these documents need to be changed, adjusted etc. which is a hassle using a word processor. Also, there is occasional confusion aboutour various reference and circulation policies. Having these accessible in Wiki form would be more seamless than shuffling though various binders.

Final Notes

  • I was going to attend the OLITA annual meeting but after two days of wandering the convention centre I was beat.
  • Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough but it seems like there were viewer vendors on the exhibition floor handing out free pens.
  • I was a little disappointed there were no presentations on the topic of copyright, considering what a major topic it has been for Canadian technology watchers this year, but I am sure Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing mentioned it in his talk on Wednesday.
  • Ditto for a lack of presentations on the topic of screencasting software and techniques.

OLA – O – Ramma: Thursday February 1

Super Conference ID

I have survived my first OLA Super Conference as an official participant. I got to go as a student but we were only allowed to visit the exhibition hall and collect free pens.

I feel it was a very well run event and the sessions I attended provided a fair bit of useful information.

Session 304
This session was on finding solutions to noise and conduct problems in academic libraries. A couple key points were made. The speakers from McMaster and Guelph both pointed out that their schools have thousands of more students now than there were when the libraries were built. This had led to student frustration that there is not enough space/facilities for them to do their work. And as you would expect, the more cramped people are, the more conduct and behaviour issues are going to crop up.

Going hand-in-hand with this spike in enrollment has been the growing reliance on electronic resources for nearly every aspect of student life. This has led to greater demand for computer access in libraries and speaking in our case, there are not enough computers (or enough space to put them) to meet student demand. Now students wanting a computer to do school work will monitor other students’ computer use for any recreational computer use. We will ask these students to log-off if they are not doing school work but it is not always easy to define what constituents school work. Speaking for myself, when I am at a computer I am multi-tasking (doing work, visiting humorous sites, checking email, etc.) When I go over to a student and ask them to log-off if they are not going to do school work, they can simply re-open a Word file and pretend to be working.

The speakers key message was to get student groups envolved in discussing issues like this and provide very clear signage and ensure all staff understand the policies and enforce them consistently.

Session 400
Joan Frye Williams gave a very wide ranging talk on finding ways to improve the library user’s experience.

One point she made was that directional questions are failures. While a certain percentage of users will always ask these questions, I agree with her view that high-quality signage and layout can decrease the volume of these types of questions.

She also discussed the need for consistent and user-friendly nomenclature throughout the library. While it is necessary for us to know how to differentiate serials, magazines, journals etc. For the user, we should err on the side of using language they use every day. Hand-in-hand with simplified signage I think it is vital that this conversational terminology be used on our web sites as well.

She also mentioned that you need to keep an eye on what your school’s Wikipedia entry says about your library. I’m not sure if it is a good or bad thing, but we go unmentioned.

Session 500
This was a talk from Yahoo!’s Tomi Poutanen. He talked about the company’s so-called social search efforts. He gave a general overview of their efforts with Flikr, del.icio.us, Yahoo! answers etc. I thought I heard some people heckling him with a “Google Rules, Yahoo! Drools” chant, but I’m not sure.

Session 609
Uwe Stueckman from Lowe’s Canada discussed the concept of creating personalized communication streams. While I think most libraries are a long way from having professional customer relations management databases that can individualize the patron experience. He talked about the need to segment your audience. I have thought about how we could improve the user experience of our on-line students if they could access a personalized version of the library web page which was written and structured in a way that presented them with the type of information they need.

OCULA Annual Meeting
This was my first opportunity to experience an OCULA meeting and I must say it felt more like a comedy roast than a dry proceeding.

Report on my Friday at Super Conference to come.