Threads of Conversation at ALA

The best part of ALA for me this year was the tried and true “networking with colleagues” thing. I’ve attended many ALAs, from my first experience in Chicago in 1995 where everything seemed so huge and librarianship was just oh so new to me, through forays in New Orleans, San Francisco (twice, and yes, one time I actually left my heart there) to a sweaty few days in Orlando, where I spent a tad more time with Mickey and Spiderman than I did with librarians and vendors.

This ALA was all about conversations. I was fortuante to have sit downs with colleagues I believe to be the voices of the future of libraries, and I was amazed at how our threads of conversation wove an intricate and synchronous view of what’s to come.

First up was the Blogger’s Roundtable, a session I put together with Brian Kenney from Library Journal, bringing together some newer strong voices in LIS blogging. I won’t say much here because you’ll get to read about it in LJ very soon and these folks covered it very well already:

But these folks, along with the others present, blew me away with their insight, dedication to LIS issues and passion about libraries. I was truly in the presence of folks that will make a big difference in our profession.

Other threads appeared as I sat down to breakfast, lunch, drinks and dinner with various people in various hotels, dining establishments and bars. Here’s what I kept on my mental toteboard as the big issues facing us in the future incarnations of libraries.

(I also bumped into Ted Allen from Queer Eye. We talked recipes, haircuts and about Denton, TX where the Fab 5 recently shot a show. He asked “What’s ALA?)

User Created Content

There is a movement toward everyday people being the authors of their own content and media. Tools such as Apple’s Garageband, iMovie and more (and their PC counterparts) make everyone a creator of digital content. Podcasting is one means of adding content to the great pool of stuff out there.

Podcasting is changing as it grows. Some folks have noticed a slow down amongst early adoptors and maybe the time and technology commitment is different than typing blog entries.

I wonder have many libraries jumped on the podcast bandwagon? There’s David Free’s podacst work, and the NEW NEW The voice of LIS podcasting, Greg Schwartz, recently wrote: “Oh, my apologies for the lack of audio lovin’. I’m just tired and don’t have much to comment on at the moment. I haven’t forgotten about you.” Greg, I understand.

Folks, however, and I mean just plain FOLKS are generating loads of podcasts and more. Apple iTunes just rolled out a new version and embraced user content by offering folks a way to throw their programs in the great big podcast pool: podcasts of all types, topics and lengths abound.

Here’s where it gets interesting: over lunch, Jenny and I hit on this and she mentioned her belief that user created content will be more important and maybe libraries can help folks do just that. DING DING. That’s when my thoughts/reading about user-centered libraries and the future of content fell into place. Heck yeah, let’s give our users a place to generate their own podcasts..and “vid-casts” and “hologram-casts” and whatever other types of “casts” come along.

At Purdue, I did the blog workshops in a place called the Digital Learning Collaboratory. The mission of the DLC is “to support and facilitate integrated learning of information and technology literacy for Purdue University students.” Students can create all types of digital content on some pretty spiffy PCS and Macs!

Charlotte-Mecklenberg Library has the Virtual Village where folks can do all sorts of editing, creation and exploration with assistance from staff.

These are models for the future. Look closely at these libraries and others that provide access to state of the art technology as a means of creating user-defined content. This is a far cry from “Can I plug in my USB drive?”

Games and Learning

Jenny has written so much about this, as well as other folks so here is my very small two cents: I also believe libraries that are looking at offering circulating games and hosting tournaments are miles ahead of those that can’t see beyond noise and dancing in the library as well as the simple fact that the students in school today are not the ones that were in grade school or junior high with me back in the 70s!

Read “Got Game” now. I’ll wait.

I love to read Will Richardson’s stuff because he points it out so eloquently: new tech and transitioned tech (such as blogs, podcasting and, in a round about way, gaming) is part of looking at education as collaboration, sharing and creation. He also looks seriously at the issues surrounding such a change in education. Read this post about an educator told not to include students in his podcasts to see what I mean. I would have loved to be generating podcasts (and solving puzzles and reading within games) when I was in school. (I did, however, blow up the Death Star every chance I got at the arcade down the street).

Libraries that Get It & Libraries that Don’t

In the conversations at ALA, i heard some wonderful stories about libraries that get it and those that that get how we must look seriously at services and how we meet users needs. For every “we are blogging and IMing and looking at how to improve our web presence” I heard, there were many more “Our director is afraid of technology” and “our board doesn’t like computers.” Guess what? If that’s your library, you are in big trouble. No names here but over a nice lunch I wanted to weep into my hummus and tabouleh for one Illinois library.

Recently, I found a link to a blog post of mine about blogging conferences for transparency and knowledge sharing. Someone posted about it on a staff blog that’s open to the world. A comment from someone else on that library’s staff was brief but very telling about the state of affairs in many libraries these days” “Sounds like a good idea, but who has the time?”

Rant begins here folks. We have the time — if we make it. What about all those processes that we spend oh so much time on that don’t really matter to our users or do not carry a lasting ROI for services. What tasks are we doing, that we have been doing for YEARS even, that don’t serve a purpose anymore. Can we streamline proccesses? Look at procedures? Stephen Abram touched on this as we had breakfast and made a brilliant point about cataloging: “Who else in the WORLD cares that a book a user wants is 17cm in size? Not the user…they just want the book!” I’d never thought of it that way. I have many moments like that talking to Abram)

At Darien Library in June, staff told me that if folks ask for a book and it’s waiting to be processed, they run back, add it to the system and get it in the hands of the users. How many libraries do this? How many have to say “It will be one to two weeks, would you like to place a hold?”

End rant.

“This IMing Thing” (or “When will you retire?”)

A librarian took me aside as I loitered outside the exhibit hall. I have a question, she said. “My director sent out an e-mail wondering if we need to inform users about how dangerous ‘this IMIng’ is…” She described a missive that made my tummy ache. She concluded: “How do I educate my staff? How do i tell them what’s happening in other libraries so we can do stuff too?”

Dear lady! The sarcastic answer is “wait for them to retire!” but that’s not a good answer. (It may be the answer that solves a lot of problems I hear about here and out and about though…sorry, but it’s true) What I might do, I explained, is came back from the conference filled with good ideas and evidence. Look at all the cool librarians who are promoting IM and its uses: Aaron, Sarah and Sherri’s great survey stuff. (Sherri – you have the makings of an article there! I’m just sayin). I would also look at “Born with the Chip” and other pieces about how our users are using IM, especially PEW and the AOL survey.

In general, though, we need to find ways to shift the thinking of the folks that might be standing in the way of newer library services and changing library services. It’s not just “IMing,” it’s the whole big picture. There are some outstanding change agents working on just that… in fact, I got to rub elbows with many of them at the Blogger’s Salon.

The Blogger’s Salon (or OCLC Gets It Big Time!)

This part isn’t actually a thread of conversation but it brings a lot of the above together. The OCLC bloggers at “It’s All Good” opened the OCLC Blue Suite to LIS Blogger’s and friends for a reception that was probably the most fascinatiing bit of ALA for ma (the Blogger’s Roundtable is tied for the top spot though).

I met bloggers I read and appreciate, bantered about some of our like issues and came away with the feeling that no matter what folks like You Know Who and his academic counterpart have to say, LIS Bloggers get it and will change the face of librarianship.

As to OCLC, meeting the authors of the Scan was a big deal for me. I was certainly starstruck as well. The fact that OCLC opened its suite’s doors to the bloggers speaks volumes. I even told them that.

The Age of the Heart

Finally, with all this talk about services and librarianship and the future, I have to mention this: we are moving toward what some folks call “The Age of the Heart” (Kusek and Leohnard in “The Future of Music” for two) and what will be a time of “experience” for people as they move through the world.

Music will rain down via wifi networks everywhere. News, info and media will as well. We will seek out spaces that delight us or provoke emotion. Will we seek out the library?

In my mind: Libraries will be headed by directors who grew up as gamers and got their degrees in new permutations of MLS programs. Librarians, I hope, will be visible and relevant and have presence. We won’t be hiding behind a reference desk or a mental wall of technophobia.

David King is posting some absolutely fascinating stuff looking at experience and the library Web site. Check it out and do some thinking on this’s going to be important.

Overall, ALA Chicago 2005 gave me much food for thought, some incredible experiences interacting with “the Blog People” and the chance to ask some people I really admire some questions. It also offered a chance to sit across from a dear librarian friend I greatly admire and just TALK. Not libraries…not tech..but the chance to get caught up and spend some time on the bigger picture: life…and the heart.

Thanks to all!