Professional Development

Author Archive


Wednesday, July 6, 2016 4:27 pm

ALA Annual marked the end of my year as president of LITA, which was a rewarding experience, even if it did lead to a number of Thomas @ ALA posts that were almost entirely about process and policy.

And this is another of them (lucky you!).

TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (or breakfast or dinner). You’d better believe it: I had one of each this trip. ALA for me started a day earlier than normal because the presidents and vice presidents of ALA and the separate divisions held a Thursday night meeting (free dinner!) to discuss ALA’s divisional structure, potential restructuring as membership numbers continue to shrink, and what the future holds for all professional membership organizations (it isn’t just us, it isn’t just a trend – it’s the new normal. ALA reported a May-to-May bump in members, but that’s largely from a one-time influx of library donors). A very informal group was given permission to think completely outside the box, stir up hornets’ nests, and rip off 25-year old bandaids to consider how ALA might be structured in the future to maintain and strengthen its place in the information world’s landscape. There’s interesting potential there, so we’ll see what happens.

My free lunch on Saturday was with my cohort – all the presidents in the same year as me. This was partly a debriefing on our presidential years, partly a strategy discussion, partly a check in on the first year of ALA’s “Libraries Transform” initiative.

And Sunday was the divisional presidents breakfast (at 7:30). Don’t be fooled by the name – at least five people from every division attend along with core ALA staff. All told, it’s about a 55-person meeting that, again, focused on strategy and making membership more attractive and useful to a generation of librarians that are increasingly being pulled elsewhere.

Those non-free meals aside, I spent my time chairing two LITA Governing Board meetings, largely focused on our own early work on a new strategic plan; meeting with LITA committee chairs and with the LITA 50th Anniversary Task Force, and waving the presidential flag at a few other LITA events.

My one actual “Why we go to conference in the first place” moment was hosting the LITA awards ceremony and president’s program. I had the pleasure to introduce Safiya Noble, who gave an illuminating and quite moving talk about the subjective aspects of search engine algorithms and how they disenfranchise and delegitimize at-risk communities. Dr. Noble referenced her own work from 2013, noting that a Google search for “Black girls” returned almost entirely pornography; more recent examples included a search for “Unprofessional hair” that returned images of African-American women; and an example from just last month on the stark differences between searching “three black teenagers” and “three white teenagers”. It’s worth noting that Google tends to tweak their algorithms to improve search results when incidents like these go public, but that might just prove that it’s a fixable (and ultimately preventable) problem. While Google and other search engines apply algorithms to raw web content, this meshes very closely with the growing awareness among librarians that the naming and description of things that are intrinsic to cataloging are not objective and neutral.

So that was my conference. And can I just say, this is the only Orlando I want to see again for a long, long time.

Tony Orlando and Dawn

International Data Privacy Day

Thursday, January 28, 2016 10:07 am

Happy International Data Privacy Day!

January 28 is an international holiday* focused on raising awareness about the importance of online data privacy. This year, the Electronic Freedom Frontier is emphasizing the need to protect student privacy, most notably in a Google Apps for Education environment (which includes us). Google has been especially criticized for how they handle data from K-12 students, but it’s worth reviewing what they say for college students also and anyone else who uses Google apps.

If you haven’t done so, it’s worth a few minutes of your time to run through the Google Privacy Checkup. This will present options for what profile information other people can see about you, what settings apply to Google sites like Photos and You Tube, and whether Google will use what they know about your interest to tailor ads for you (you can turn off that tailoring, but not the ads themselves – at least not without something like AdBlock Plus).

Google has grown into a massive set of applications that know a lot about you. To their credit, the My Account site does a pretty good job of offering and explaining options for how that data gets collected and used. has also posted some information for Data Privacy Day. Their message boils down to: update your software. Time and again, malware that mines your private data gets in through security holes in outdated software that have already been patched in the current version. In other words, if you’re currently ignoring an alert to upgrade to Firefox 44, you should upgrade to Firefox 44.

Some other good places to check privacy settings:

Anyone who knows the Apple ecosystem, feel free to add comments for iTunes, etc.

Thomas – Hither and Yon

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 3:40 pm
Geographically, the weighted average location of Midwinter is a field northwest of Springfield, Missouri.

Histogram of TPD’s attendance at Midwinter. Geographically, the weighted average location of my Midwinter is a field northwest of Springfield, Missouri.


I’ve done so much travel recently, I must be just about as developed as Charles Atlas, but only professionally developed, which looks a little different on the outside. I’ll summarize, as each of these meetings had one or two “price of admission” moments.

I’ve also had oddly charmed weather karma, as noted below.

LITA Forum, November in Minneapolis

Light jacket weather.

LITA had one of its best forums in years, and it was great to see good attendance for such good programs. [The 2016 Forum will be great also and you should all come! Its secret location will be revealed Real Soon Now.]

There were two sessions in particular I wanted to highlight. One of the keynotes was from Mark Matienzo, Director of Technology at the Digital Public Library of America. No one quite knew what was coming, but his talk, To Hell With Good Intentions: Linked Data, Community, and the Power to Name was a surprising and eye-opening look at social just aspects of metadata. I’d rather not even try to summarize—the session was recorded and will be posted within a week or two—but just to describe the major theme: The act of naming something has a power dynamic which, through maliciousness, ignorance, or indifference, can have a harmful effect on the people being named. This includes naming conventions like call numbers, controlled vocabularies, and authority files. I really invite you to watch this one when the LITA office can get it posted (they’re incredibly busy people).

The hands-down funniest session I can remember at any meeting was Does Anyone Even Click on That? by Bill Dueber from the University of Michigan. Aside from being outrageous and a little in-your-face—and energizing—it talked about some important points. Our capacity to do software development, web design, and UX studies (and bug fixes) is always a bottleneck in developing library services. Bill talked about assessment-based analysis of development priorities so that you can eventually say, “We’re going to fix problems A, B, and C, but problem D would take up more resources than it’s worth, so we’re just not going to fix it.” It’s an eye-opening response to a problem that otherwise just piles more and more to-do items on top of overworked tech staff.

CNI, Washington in December

Shirtsleeves and lunch outside.

This meeting has just plain outgrown its schedule, and there’s no way to see everything you’d like in the 26 hours from start to finish. Tim P. has posted about it. I’ll just say that he wanted to take in as much as he could about space planning and I wanted to hit the sessions on public and collaborative tech. We kept sitting together because there was a distinct theme of “space planning for public collaboration spaces.”

Aside from that, the winner for me was a session titles How Much Does $17 Billion Buy? Four presenters from UCLA tackled this question: journal publishers ask us to pay for published versions of an article even when open access pre-prints are freely available. Ostensibly, we should do this because the journal’s professional publishing staff add value to the final version in the form of proofreading, graphics, citation checking, etc, and this value is worth the subscription cost. So, does that hold true?


This early report on research compared over a million articles by University of California authors that appear in both the OA physics repository and in commercial journals. Many details on how to do the harvesting, matching, and text comparison (fun for coding geeks). The big takeaway is that there is very little difference between the OA and published version of most of these articles.

However, there’s some sample bias here, that the researcher acknowledge and are working to correct. 96% of the articles they could retrieve from commercial publishers came from just one (Elsevier), and a disproportionate number of those came from one journal, Physics Letters B. This journal’s purpose is rapid turnaround of current research reports, so they emphasize speed over meticulous proof reading.

But still. If you’re paying a gazillion dollars for journals (or $17B for the University of California system), having essentially identical versions available for free might make you think about alternatives.

ALA Midwinter, Boston in January

One day of heavy rain and wind, but mostly unseasonably mild.

A little rummaging around in the twin disorders of my memory and ALA’s web site turns up this fact: this was my 25th Midwinter. From sea to shining sea, from the sun of San Antonio and San Diego to the day-long twilight of winter in Seattle, to some really impressive blizzards, and the fun of re-routing around earthquake damaged buildings and highways in L.A.

As with the last couple of ALA meetings, I got to attend very little in the way of programming, with the exception of Top Tech Trends, which others have covered. Just remember, even though the conference published the hash tag []#alattt, this event comes from the good people of LITA.

Other than that…meetings. Eight hours on information policy, two hours on running effective meetings, a committee of committee chairs, and a committee of divisional presidents. And the five and a half hours of LITA Board meetings I presided over. And yet it all seemed like a very productive conference (okay, maybe the information policy meeting didn’t need the whole eight hours).

Thomas @ ALA

Monday, July 6, 2015 3:40 pm

You remember that scene in L.A. Story where the Wacky Weekend Weather Guy is replaced by George Plimpton intoning, “Sunny. 72. Our next weather forecast will be in four days”? That’s me at ALA through next summer. Not exciting, and not much variation.

[Day 0: At Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 6:30am, deprived of sleep, food, and caffeine. Not really conference related, but I had to do it, so you have to hear about it.]

Day 1: Thomas meets with the LITA executive committee to discuss issues related to governance, budget, and membership; Thomas meets with the LITA financial advisory committee to discuss issues related to budget, membership, and governance; Thomas attends the LITA Open House, which touches on governance and membership; Thomas goes out to dinner with members of the LITA governing board to discuss issues related to seafood and beer; the current and incoming vice presidents entertain the table with anecdotes about their respective childhoods in south central Wisconsin and northern Wisconsin. Current LITA president reminds me that her term is up in three days.

Day 2: More of the same, only without the seafood and beer (the LITA committee of committee chairs, and the first of two LITA board meetings, where the current president reminds me her term is up in two days), punctuated by lunch with the other divisional presidents-elect and ALA president-elect Sari Feldman.

This was Sari’s chance to give us an informal sneak peek at the ALA publicity and visibility campaign now available at I think this is a very interesting campaign: it’s really ALA amping up the message that libraries are increasingly about services, and how valuable those services are. The web site has a cool video that’s worth a watch (about two minutes).

Day 3: Let’s just say I was up early enough that I had no trouble getting across the Pride Parade route. I attended the ALA Leadership breakfast, which focused on membership recruitment and retention. A couple of numbers that illustrate why this is such an issue. Since the 2008 economic implosion, the library profession has lost 60,000 positions; in the same period, enrollment in library schools has dropped by a quarter, from about 20,000 to 15,000. The median age of librarians continues to inch up, so: there are fewer current librarians; fewer future librarians; and more librarians edging toward retirement. Which is maybe why it will help to be more visible with the message that libraries provide transformative services (note to ourselves: we should also make sure that we actually provide transformative services).

Day 3.5. I did have a good meeting with an Ex Libris rep, and I did get to go to Top Tech Trends and the LITA President’s Program on Sunday afternoon, which Susan already covered. The speaker (or interviewee) at the President’s Program was Lou Rosenfeld, Information Architect. There aren’t that many people I can claim as acquaintances who literally wrote the book on the subject.

The current LITA president (who, all kidding aside, did a fantastic job this year, in trying circumstances) points out – from the stage – that her term is up in one day.

Day 4: A morning session to orient new board members and then an afternoon board meeting, at the end of which I was presented with a gavel and pronounced LITA president. I believe the now past-president’s comment was, “Bwahahaha!”

Highly productive dinner meeting with Steve Kelley and Jeff Eller at the Oakland Coliseum (A’s 7, Rockies 1).

Day 5: Up early in a coat and tie to be paraded through not one but two ceremonies, along with my cohort of new divisional presidents and many friends and well-wishers from LITA. I remind the new vice president that my term is up in 365 days and catch the red-eye home.

[Day 6: At Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 6:30am, deprived of sleep, food, and caffeine. Maybe it was all a dream! No, wait, here’s my gavel.]

TPD @ ALA Midwinter

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 10:59 am

For the record, ALA Midwinter can slog on through one of Chicago’s top five all-time snow storms. But there should be an honor roll of people who made it to LITA Happy Hour on Sunday night. With the confluence of Linus and Left Shark, it was a strange evening.

This is the beginning of a period that will be very heavy on organization business for me. By my count, I totalled over 16 hours in board meetings, board development, Deep Thinking about budgets and membership numbers, and all-around LITA and ALA strategery. Any of which I’ll be happy to share offline, but which doesn’t make for fun reading. Important takeaways: we’re looking at a generational change in the number of librarians coming into the profession and their level of participation in professional associations.

I did manage to get to LITA’s showcase for the leading edge, Top Tech Trends. For me, the eye opener was a discussion about Bluetooth Beacons. Like many new technologies, the potential here is both cool and creepy. Beacons can locate your mobile device to within inches and deliver very specifically target content. The first commercial application is to deliver promotional material to shoppers in a store, about the products they’re actually standing next to (so you get soup coupons in the soup aisle, dog food coupons in the dog food aisle, etc.). Museums are already working on content for self-guided tours. There’s an open question about how libraries can make use of this technology, though it’s easy to foresee wayfinders that take you to the right book stack, a “what’s scheduled for this room?” function, or “how do I work these projectors and lights?”, all delivered to your mobile device.

The good news is that Beacons are an opt-in technology, but they’re new enough that we probably haven’t seen the first wave of bugs, security holes, or hacks that game the system to hand over some very private data to persons unknown. So, there’s that.

And let me point out that [someone at] ALA decided to scan the conference IDs of everyone attending Top Tech Trends; the people tactually doing the scanning were employees of some external contractor who were given no information about what information was actually being stored, or who it was being shared with, and they weren’t told what to do when an attendee declined to be scanned. C’mon, ALA, we need better than that.

Monday morning, I led the LITA Town Meeting. This is our divisional bacon fest, community get-together, and discussion forum. We had a very good session with questions designed to generate ideas about possible changes to LITA’s membership and benefits and our annual National Forum. I’ll be typing those responses up for the LITA Board and a handful of committee chairs.

Now for the Blue Line back to O’Hare and back home.

Thomas Takes Left Turn at Albuquerque, Ends Up in DC

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 4:00 pm

TPD at LITA Forum and CNI

Last month (where does the time go?), I was in Albuquerque for the LITA National Forum. I can’t say strongly enough what a good, small conference this is for topics on applying technology to library projects (the 2015 Forum will be in Minneapolis, which will simplify travel – I expect to see ZSR faces there!). It packs an awful lot into 48 hours.


AnnMarie Thomas, University of St. Thomas. AnnMarie is an engineering professor who specializes in playing and making. She spoke about setting up maker spaces that are something more than just a 3D printer. One of her specialties is Squishy Circuits, an innovative way to electrical circuit design using circuits made of play dough. Fun stuff (which is the point), and a good way to foster interest in STEM topics.

Lorcan Dempsey, Thinker of Deep Thoughts, OCLC. Lorcan’s talk, “Thinking About Technology…Differently” touched on a wide range of topics: how the relationship between information and knowledge mirrors the relationship between “stuff on the web” and “linked data on the web”; the growing use [by Google et al.] of embedded metadata in web pages, and the work to boost the quality and granularity of metadata for bibliographic items; the link from the reality that Google is where people are to the need to make our content more discoverable and to mesh our workflows for things like IR submission to the workflows of our authors – not the other way around.

Kortney Ryan Ziegler, founder of Trans*h4ck. Trans*h4ck is a hackathon and tech-oriented get-together for the trans a gender non-conforming community. An interesting and eye-opening talk, including the sad fact that in many libraries, trans patrons can’t even search the word transgender in library databases because filtering software automatically flags it as pornography. Another sad part of day-to-day life is the simple act of finding a public restroom where people won’t hassle you for which door you go in; one of Trans*h4ck’s first accomplishments was YoRestrooms, a mobile web site that uses Google Maps to locate gender-safe public restrooms.

Highlights of Breakout Sessions:

Forum usually packs in about 30 breakout sessions. Of the ones I could get to, highlights included further details on OCLC’s work to expand the vocabulary for embedding bibliographic data in web pages without giving Google the whole shebang of MARC fields. Also, a great session on improving libraries’ presence on social media by A) actually participating in Twitter and Facebook rather than using them as post-only media; and B) employing SMO (Social Media Optimization). As a parallel to SEO (search engine optimization), SMO helps explain a page to Facebook or Twitter in order to improve what people see when you Like that page.

Not long after returning from Albuquerque, I was on my way to Washington, DC, for the CNI Fall Meeting. If LITA Forum packs a lot into 48 hours, CNI packs at least as much into 26 hours (though with breakout sessions running in 9 concurrent streams, the percentage of content you can get to has gone down).

The opening plenary was a discussion featuring Tom Cramer, Chief Technology Strategist at Stanford; James Hilton, Dean of Libraries and Vice Provost for Educational Initiatives, University of Michigan, and Michele Kimpton, CEO of Duraspace (the organization that coordinates development on DSpace and Fedora). Interesting stuff on the role of educational institutions in creating the software we want to use; sustainable software development; and the difference between simply open source software and software that is the product of open communities.

There was a good session on interoperating with Wikipedia. There’s no denying that students’ research often follows a path of Google?Wikipedia?References, so we can at least work in the Wikipedia community to improve the visibility of relevant library holdings, and in particular digital objects in our repositories. One of the presenters is the head of the Wikipedia Library Program, which among other things is working on a program of Wikipedia Visiting Scholars. Often, prolific Wikipedia editors need the kind of database and full text access we take for granted, but don’t have access to a good academic library. As visiting scholars, they can get remote access to high quality sources, and improve Wikipedia for everyone’s benefit. Rutgers and George Mason were noted as universities that have supported Wikipedia visiting scholars.

Another good session on OCLC’s efforts to articulate bibliographic information through embedded metadata.

Several sessions on patron privacy, including some sobering examples of exactly how much private information “leaks” out of web sites. Takeaways from this session are being rolled into the forthcoming ZSR privacy audit.

“What Have You Learned, Dorothy?”

New Mexico has an Official State Question: “Red or Green?” I usually answer Green. Also, green chile cheeseburgers ftw.

One-seventh of the way through the 21st century, conference hotels still routinely fail at providing adequate wi-fi. Routinely.

Embedded metadata is happening, often in subterranean ways, but it is definitely a thing. Getting books, articles, and other library goodies in on the action is going to be important.

I didn’t mention it above, but Kuali OLE is also a thing, if only just barely. The Open Library Environment is inching forward, and two schools (Lehigh and Chicago) are successfully using its first modules in production. We track this project as having the potential to provide a community developed, open source, academically oriented ILS in the (near?) future.

Thomas @ ALA Annual 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014 3:44 pm

“I want you to know that we’re on our way to Las Vegas to find the American Dream…this is a very ominous assignment-with overtones of personal danger.”
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

The show so far:

It’s hot. But it’s a dry heat, you say? Shya. At 110, hot is just hot. (“Too cold, too hot – does this guy ever dummy up about temperature?”) But with all the time everyone gets to spend waiting for a bus, a taxi, or a hotel’s promised shuttle, you get a lot of opportunities to think about the heat.

Worst. Signage. Ever. I should have arrived at LITA Top Tech Trends a polite five minutes late. Instead, I spent 45 minutes walking around, because at some point the convention center just stopped putting up signs for the South Hall. Finally, knowing I was within shouting distance, I found a long hallway with no signs at all, not even visible room numbers. Just go halfway down that hallway, turn left, and go all the way to the end of another hallway. I do find it helpful, in a cautionary way, to experience such bad user design in a non-web setting. (Toaster ovens and clock radios often provide this kind of good example of a bad example.) It reminds me of the high standards we set for ourselves and mostly meet.

In 15 years we’ve gone from convention centers without wireless to convention centers without enough wireless. Ditto hotels. Check back in 2029.

The rest of the world did something about second-hand smoke. Just saying.


For me, this conference is mostly a total immersion program for winding down LITA committee work and ramping up LITA governing board work. The to-do list for an incoming vice president is a lot of fun.

I did make it to two very good programs. The LITA President’s Program featured Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code ( This non-profit organization works to address the disproportionately low number of women of color in the fields of IT, programming, web development, and related fields. Black Girls Code works in several locations in the US and a new location in South Africa, with programming for girls aged 7 to 17. It’s a pretty amazing example of what happens when you give girls (or anyone) the tools to do a job, and explicitly tell them “you can do this” (and block to too common implicit messages of “no you can’t”).

Monday morning was my one other time slot for catching a program, and almost by chance I saw Jeremy Frumkin of the University of Arizona, talking about technical solutions to address academic libaries’ online branding. Or in other words: we’re increasingly being asked to justify the money we spend, and simultaneously making ourselves invisible to usersin services like discovery and delivery of [very, very expensive] journal articles. InArizona’s case, they’re experimenting with a method that spotsPDF downloads through a campus proxy (like our EZProxy) and on the fly insertsa cover sheet to providing branding information – think “Access to this journal is provided by [Your University Library].”

A second part of this idea is maximize the amount of information a library logs in their proxy and to do more data mining there to pull out more specific answers to Who Benefits And How Much (terms like Business Intelligence and Value Proposition came up).

This is very early in the development of this service, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

And so, off to another Board meeting, then an early dinner, and a flight home that’s so hilariously early tomorrow morning, most people in this town would call it tonight.

Thomas at USETDA

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 9:44 am

The week before last, I attended (and spoke at) the US ETD Association annual conference, in Claremont, California. This is an organization that works to improve the policies and practices involved in managing electronic theses and dissertations.

ETD people tend to be strong supporters of open access, so there was a lot of discussion of the American Historical Association’s July 19 Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations, which “strongly encourages” universities to offer a six-year embargo on history PhD Dissertations. [And if your professional association says you should have that option, they’re sending a strong message that you should take that option.] Phrases describing the AHA statement at USETDA included “conservative”, “myopic”, “enforcing the status quo”, and a good old barnyard epithet starting with “bull____” (this by a historian, in the middle of his plenary talk). IMO it is at the very least a narrow, outdated view of what History PhDs might want to do in life (get tenure as history professors) and how they might accomplish that (slap a glossy binding on their warmed-over dissertation and call it a book). Mostly thoughtful comments on both sides of the issue at #AHAgate.

That plenary was the highlight of the conference for me. Char Miller, director of the Environmental Analysis Program at Pomona College, talked with great feeling about a sea change in both the nature and evaluation of undergraduate pedagogy, strongly de-emphasizing what faculty teach and emphasizing what students learn (so, measuring–and accrediting–based on outcomes rather than inputs). This makes it vital to have access to student works, including their theses. Miller talked in particular about undergraduate theses, and contrasted the situation at Pomona today with his experience: two [print] copies of his undergraduate thesis existed once, but other than a vague suggestion that one is in the Pomona archives, somewhere, no one has ever read it or could currently lay their hands on it. By contrast, one of his recent advisees called him, excited that her senior thesis has been downloaded hundreds of times.

Other highlights: what you have to consider if you’re serious about giving your ETDs (or any electronic documents) a lifespan of, say, 100 years; using a private LOCKSS network for archiving locally created content; and results of a survey of book and journal publishers that helps to refute some of the FUD propagated by people like the AHA. In an interesting bit of finger pointing, some publishers say they won’t touch a book based on an OA dissertation because libraries won’t buy them. Which really translates as: in the face of shrinking monograph budgets, a lot of libraries decline to buy based-on-dissertation books automatically on approval, because, well, they’re based on a dissertation, not because the dissertation is open access.

Oh, and Yrs Trly presented on OATD, the harvested finding tool for OA ETDs around the world.


BTW, the slides for my presentation are at My major points:

  • Making ETDs discoverable is an essential component of the ETD publication process (else, why bother?).
  • The ETD discovery tools we rely on either point to for-pay closed access ETDs when free, open access copies are avaialble, or have major user interface issues. This makes open access ETDs less discoverable than they should be, at a time when academic libraries are making incredible investments of time, energy, and money into increasing the discoverability of almost every other type of scholarly literature. OATD attempts to address these concerns, and is also intended to follow a community-driven enhancement path (other ETD search services a take-it-or-leave-it vendor solutions).
  • OATD harvests metadata from repositories using the OAI-PMH standard. OAI-PMH has major advantages over Googlebot-style web crawling for distributing metadata: it is more precise, puts less of a load on servers, and is already built in to all major repository platforms. I gave a very brief, very non-technical overview of OAI-PMH and how it makes a collection’s metadata avaialble.
  • In addition to harvested metadata, OATD uses a very lightweight web crawler to pull full text files. These are used to show highlight search terms in context and to pull sample images into search results.
  • A tool for sharing high-quality metadata really benefits from having high-quality metadata to work with. Improviing metadata quality and sharing it via OAI-PMH takes a little attention to detail, but pays off by better articulating what is in your collection and how it can be used, and by anticipating questions a researcher is likely to need answers to. (I was told I sounded like a cataloger, which I will take as a compliment.)

Thomas at ALA – Part II: The Revenge

Friday, July 5, 2013 9:58 am

Some less-than-stellar ALA programs reminded me of a couple catch-phrases from an old music ed. professor. First, “a good example of a bad example”. Or in other words, some guaranteed ways to make people walk out of your program in droves:

  • Don’t have or follow an agenda
  • Don’t alert the incoming crowd to the fact that your session was mis-identified in the program and is not sponsored by LITA (Library and Information Technology Assn.), but by LIRT (Library Instruction Round Table).
  • Don’t ask a couple hundred people seated in an auditorium to spontaneously break up for small group exercises.
  • If you’re a vendor, do not give a sales pitch, and do not bad-mouth your competitors (ever. Evv. Verrr.).

And the other catch phrase: “There is no excuse for a media glitch.” Or in other words, if your presentation relies on technology, make sure it’s working. Make sure it continues to work after the audience comes in and takes their share of the wireless bandwidth. And make sure you have static slides on standby if it doesn’t work.

Thanks for letting me vent.

The gem of the last day of conference was a LLAMA session on surviving after a library disaster. Librarians spoke about how they got back to normal(-ish) operations following an earthquake that knocked 27,000 books to the floor (damaging about 5% of them), broke compact shelving units, and caused some structural damage to the building; a tornado that ripped the walls off a remote storage facility; a vandallism/arson attack that destroyed library staff offices and triggered the sprinkler system, with result damage to collections; and the post-Hurricane Sandy disaster in Queens, New York.

Major lessons: no disaster plan will anticipate everything, so flexibility is key. Staff morale benefits from little things ilke coffee and cupcakes. In an earthquake, an old library wing built in the 1950s may have heavy damage, while a newer wing built in the 1990s will survive better (sound familiar?). And make sure you’re up to date on required maintenance for compact shelving units. Oh, and do we have enough book trucks to hold 27,000 volumes for triage and rough re-sorting?

Thomas at ALA – The Show So Far

Saturday, June 29, 2013 11:15 pm

After a friendly conversation with a very patient lady at the ALA registration desk, it turned out that the reason they had no record of my registration was…I hadn’t actually remembered to register. So that’s a shining start to the conference.

Friday afternoon I went to LITA 101, a gentle introduction to ALA’s coolest little division. [Ever use technology in your work? Then you should join LITA.] I spent the session assuring prospective authors that, yes, LITA has a place for them to publish, whether they’re working up an article, a book, or something in between. Saturday morning was taken up with committee meetings: one with a committee of committee chairs discussing how to lead a discussion (I’ll let you reflect on how “meta” that is); and one where in fact we talked through how to support authors working on that “something in between” publication. I think LITA will be able to put some interesting options out for people with something clever to share about how they implement technology in their libraries.

Saturday afternoon included a program by the LITA Mobile Interest Group titled “We Went Mobile, Now What”. Presenters included a librarian from Portland State University who discussed the usability testing process for getting their mobile web site up and running; and two librarians from Oregon State University talking about the process of replacing their original, now five-year-old, mobile site with a new responsive design for mobile and desktop computers. An important lesson: you can bribe undergraduates with coffee in exchange for feedback.

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