ala dc – the rest of the story

It was simply foolish of me to think I could do a play-by-play of this enormous conference. I quickly realized what a tiring feat attending an entire ALA conference can be.  I arrived Thursday to attend a Friday all-day preconference and stayed on through the closing sessions Tuesday, including the Library Advocacy Day rally on Capitol Hill.  It wasn’t that I woke each morning at 6am to catch the metro, but more the greater amount of walking, intense thinking, and extended mingling with large groups of people than this introvert usually would experience in a given day. So, while what follows is a lot more to go through in one sitting, I will try to cover just the highlights, giving you a good idea of what a technical services academic librarian might be thinking about these days.

The preconference:  I think there probably ought to be a session at the next conference that helps people come up with original titles for these sessions. They all seem to follow the tired formula phrases like “Taming the fill in the blank library problem [and] fill in the blank wild animal” or use that really terrible Herding Cats metaphor often given to describe stubborn personnel or other things beyond our control.  Perhaps I could start with a study of the frequency of these titles — I personally have attended two “Taming…” preconferences that were not explicitly part of a series. Anyway, this one was on e-resource license negotiations. There was good discussion, good presenters and the opportunity to go through a practical license example as a group. All in all, very useful.

The multiple overlapping main conference sessions that were heavily attended included various takes on the topics of weeding (or if you prefer, deaccessioning), e-books, collaboration, and data driven decision-making.

Ebooks and Usage

About e-books and about usage data, the big takeaways are that e-books lag in functionality and usage data than their e-journal cousins.  Most folks seemed to think the solution would be for them to move to resemble the e-journal model in accessibility and of course in standardization (COUNTER compliance) of usage data.  I like the perspective response to whether e-books have been worth it, by countering with the question of whether print books were worth it (see 80/20 phenomenon in collection development, (Leimkuhler, 1969)). But the argument can’t be resolved on use alone.  As the deaccessioning debate makes clear, there are bigger more fundamental issues to address with respect to the value of electronic resources or even entire concept of the digital library.

Deaccessioning and the Digital Library

One of the more memorable and heavily attended main sessions, Multiple Formats and Multiple Copies in a Digital Age: Acceptance, Tolerance, Elimination (ALCTS – CMDS, RUSA – CODES), approached the topic of deaccessioning and seemed a perfect follow-up to the conversation my library began just before I left. This group of presenters was more than approaching the topic, however.  They experienced, for better or worse, the deaccessioning process, including deduping print with online formats. They reminded and reassured the audience of the library’s long reformatting history (e.g. newspapers, microfilm, audio/video) and offered simultaneously visionary and tangible paths for the future of libraries. Some of these ideas included that in 10-20 years most print collections will be special collections; that in fact, “collection” will no longer be a useful term – preferring rather the term network or cloud library; and the mindset that if it is not indexed on the web, its existence will be hard to prove.  We are certainly experiencing bits of all of this already.

Some useful advice included forging agreements with partner libraries, aggressively pushing electronic browsing for all collections, and — as I, an alum of a University with a strong Engineering program, have been saying all along – push Engineering schools to develop e-readers [and more!] that are better suited for the needs of networked libraries.


Consortial licensing was touched on in the preconference and ‘memorandums of understanding’ were proposed in the deaccessioning discussion. Another opportunity I had to delve into the realm of collaboration and communication came in a round table discussion with Technical Services Managers in Academic Libraries Interest Group Program (ALCTS).  We discussed many of the ways each of our organizations is trying to manage communication. Many of us are creating wikis with similar underuse by the rest of our staff.  Many of us are having regular face to face meetings with similar under-participation by the rest of our staff.  But, two big takeaways I did appreciate:

1)      successful implementation of any development effort involves identifying ‘expert users’, specifically individuals who are both good with people and good with technology, and…

2)      the utter importance of organization (hey this is what we do best right?)

One library credited the success of its wiki to the well-organized effort of the Department Head with the responsibility of keeping it well-structured and  up to date.  This echoes a consistent theme I heard: “pick one thing and do it well”.  That goes for development and communication, eh?

I was also anticipating a session by LLAMA/LOMS addressing my research interest in interorganizational communication. I had a good experience last annual in Chicago at a session from this same group.  This year, the session was Communication at the Crossroads: The Theory and Practice of Connecting Effectively Within and Without the Organization.  Sadly, the presenters kind of failed – or their presentations failed — to communicate on many levels.  Presenting lesson #1:  If you’re going renegade and not using a PowerPoint:

1)      you’d better be a dynamite verbal communicator, esp. in a large setting (in other words: don’t read from your material), and…

2)       at the very least, don’t leave the former presenter’s PowerPoint slide up while you’re talking.

The first presenter (with PowerPoint) basically gave the 10 minutes version of Organizational Communication Theory 101.  Interesting, but underdeveloped and disconnected from the practical concerns of those in the room.   It also focused more on the sender-receiver side of communication theory overall. Only with the brief mention of making decisions in context (Schein) and reducing anxiety (Van Maanen) did it touch on my MLS preferred construct of addressing communication gaps (see Dervin).

The second presenter talked about how much she loves being a manager and her practical advice could be summarized with “you have to talk to your staff”.  True – and sad there actually is enough a need to have to point that out.  But she made some good points, like reminding us that work doesn’t get done through the org chart. That what is really needed to fill in the gaps (there you go) are behavioral charts, because it’s not so much what you know these days as who you know – and she meant that in the least nepotistic way possible. I think.

Another large point brought up, but inadequately addressed was the issue of multimodal communication.  It reminded me of the work of Nancy Baym – a communications professor that our library’s Development Committee brought into a panel discussion. Baym points to research testing the prevailing assumption that electronic communication negates face to face communication or worse erodes our relational closeness. The research, she argues, actually suggests that we use each in context of the communication need and that multi-modal communication may even be an indicator of increased relational closeness or satisfaction.

So, I suppose sometimes the value of session comes in what is left out because it presents opportunities to expand one’s own research.   In addition to what I’ve mention expanding upon above, other random thoughts that sparked some potential for further reflection include the pick something, do it well philosophy; don’t fear transparency; and remembering that good organization is the key to so many successes.

Baym, N. K. (2009). A Call for Grounding in the Face of Blurred Boundaries Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14 (3), 720-723

Dervin, B. (May 2005). Sense-making studies. The Sensemaking Methodology Site.

Leimkuhler, F.F. (1969). Some behavioral patterns of library users: the 80/20 rule.  Wilson Library Bulletin, 43. 458-61.

Shein, E. (2004). Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Van Maanen, J. (1979). People-processing: Strategies of organizational socialization. Organizational Dynamics, 7 (1), 18-36.

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