Friday, June 30, 2006

ALA - Assessment preconference

The most valuable thing for me, as I had already predicted, was the day long pre-conference on assessment. This nicely covered different aspects of library assessment. When I asked Lisa Hinchliffe how much overlap there was going to be with the Library Assessment conference in Charlottesville, VA in September, she said almost none.

The introduction was given by Fred Heath of University of Texas - Austin Libraries. He was one of the developers of LibQual and was able to give us the background of ServQual, the theory behind it, and how LibQual grew out of that. The perceptions of our users are important - their perceptions of their needs and how the feel their institution provides for this need. I now understood why it was important that this can't be done by a single institution alone. Results from numerous institutions need to be gathered, so you can see how your institution rates compared to others. It was interesting to hear all this from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Dave Baca from the University of Arizona had just defended his PhD thesis on using interviews for assessment purposes and was able to tell us the ins and outs of working with interviews. The hardest and most tedious part of the process is the coding of the responses, but it provides a wealth of in-depth information. This process can also be used for focus groups.

Lisa Hinchliffe from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was engaging and informative, as usual. She talked about collecting and using instruction data to improve library instruction.

The most practically useful presentation for me was the one on developing surveys. David Consiglio from Bryn Mawr College gave good suggestions on how to plan, create, test and implement a survey. I was intrigued by some of the simple guidelines he gave in creating good survey questions. It was fund to look at the various assessment surveys we got that day and throughout the conference and find what could have been improved.

Usability testing was covered by Brian Quigley from Univ. of California Berkeley Engineering Library. None of the information was new, but a good refresher on what usability testing should be like. It was interesting to see some of the user specific idiosyncrasies on their site. Since this is for the engineering library, they listed the acronyms for all of the different engineering departments. The rest of us might not know them, but they do, and for outsiders they provided the full name in a mouse-over, but it kept the home page clean and manageable.

Peggy Johnson from the University of Minnesota told us about assessing collections. She mostly talked about the different statistics one can gather to make collection development decisions and that LibQual will always show that some (mostly faculty) think we don't have enough.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Best ideas from ALA

1. Ongoing training - We could survey employees for what they would like to learn about and have regular training sessions. Bring in people from other institutions, if necessary (could be from down the road), and use inhouse knowledge. U of M has formalized this into their Instructor College. We should also keep an eye on what they are doing and there could be sessions we could attend too.

2. Coordinate library surveys - Survey fatigue happens when people are asked to respond to too many surveys, so we should do some planning on what we want to find out from which people and how often we will do this. If we are targeting teaching faculty, we should look at the best time to reach them.

3. Good teaching methods used on me –
a. The ACRL President’s Program on Information Literacy was presented with a lot of humor and goofy “interludes” between semi-serious presentations. We laughed a lot, but we were engaged and I think it made us think more about the issues.
b. Google was handing out prizes in it’s booth, but only after you took a quiz on Google services and checked your answers with Google employees that were each demonstrating some aspect of Google. The quiz was hard, but I really did learn more about what they have to offer.

On FEMA trailers

(Written June 22 in New Orleans) I am having the privilege of staying in an official FEMA trailer. My cousin, whose house was damaged, but not in any major way, has a FEMA trailer, which they are using as a storage place (until they can get all parts of their house usable) and guest room. The trailer is great for me – I have a nice double bed to sleep in, my own kitchenette and a toilet sink and even a shower, if I could squeeze into it. The toilet space is equivalent to those on airplanes. The air conditioning works well, which is a must in this humidly hot climate. The FEMA guys hook the trailer up to electric, water and sewer, so it is fully functioning. For one person staying a few days, this is luxury, bet when I think of whole families trying to live here, I don’t see how they do it. There technically is room to sleep 6 – the double, one couch-bed, the kitchen table/benches can become a bed, and then there are two bunk beds tucked away in a corner. We couldn’t figure out how even a kid would get up into the upper bunk as there is no ladder or footholds. The feel is much more RV than trailer (I lived in a trailer for three years in the back woods of SE Ohio.)
But when ones home has been destroyed, this is a roof over your head – clean, cool (up north we’d be more concerned with warm), a place to get out of the elements and to store a few essential items – not much. As I drove around New Orleans, especially the devastated parts of it, I realized the sight of a FEMA trailer was a sign of hope. If a FEMA trailer was set up in someone’s yard, it meant someone was working on fixing up their house. FEMA trailers were found in front of large beautiful homes as well as small modest houses. But most of the houses in the devastated neighborhoods were just deserted. Some were boarded up, some, you could see that they had been gutted – wall studs were visible through the often broken windows. In many places there were still piles of junk – everything cleared out of the homes – furniture, rugs, clothing - everything people owned. Wonder how much they could salvage?
My cousin’s book store was a total loss – it had been in a couple of feet of water, and other than the money in the safe (which had gotten wet and needed to be laundered) everything was removed and disposed of by the haz-mat team. I keep forgetting how foul the water was – full of sewage and dead materials dangerous to everyone’s health.(Individuals were taught to wear masks, gloves, boots, etc. when cleaning out their houses.) My cousin’s store was also totally gutted, the only thing remaining was the old, somewhat rusty safe. The bookstore has new fixtures, carpet, walls, ceiling tiles, wiring – everything. My cousin is working hard getting all the new stock up on the shelves for opening on July 3 – over 10 months after the disaster. There was no use in opening it any sooner, as the med students were still in Houston.
Another interesting word around here is “compromised.” Can you imagine the nightmare of insurance claims around here? The items listed for insurance don’t need to necessarily be “ruined” or “destroyed”, but just “compromised.” So if your VCR isn’t working quite right after the storm, you can claim it as “compromised,” and get money for a new one. But other interesting things are happening. With all the repair work going on, building inspectors are coming out to look at properties, and they are not always up to code. So before the insurance company is willing to insure my cousin’s house again, they have to bring the electrical wiring up to code. In a sense this is a good thing, but they have to pay for this themselves. The garage is being rebuilt with insurance money, but much of the other things come out of their own pocket. With the incredibly high demand for building materials, the price of them has skyrocketed. I got the sense that they have spent their life savings in getting things back to normal, and are now starting to go into debt. All the paperwork and financial stress on top of all the losses is incredibly hard on people. I just saw a microcosm of it in my cousin’s house. I didn’t feel much like partying after being with them.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

American Library Association Conference in New Orleans

This was the first time there was a significant connection between the conference I was attending and its location. ALA was the first large conference theat New Orleans had tried hosting since Hurricane Katrina. I think we were all proud to be part of ALA, which chose to keep its conference in New Orleans and we all participated in whatever small way we could to help rebuild the city. This was emphasized in the opening session by ALA president Michael Gorman. Were were also greeted by New Orleans major Ray Nagin and Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. Nagin encouraged us to forget our diets and pay the New Orleans tax at the casino.

Madeline Albright as the keynote speaker was just plain awesome. She started with her appreciation of librarians and their role in the fight for the freedom of speech and access to information. She then went into the topic of her latest book
The Mighty & the Almighty, about the role religion plays in global politics. I regret not buying the book and getting her to sign it.

I liked the new format of many sessions, where the panel or presentation was quite short and was followed by poster sessions pertaining to the topic. This was much better than the mass of poster sessions in the exhibit hall about everything under the sun.

Dinner at Lance's house was delightful. All of the WMU contingent was there, even those who never did experience Lance as our dean. Luche had made a wonderful jambalaya with veggies and salad. The flan and chocolate covered strawberries disappeared quickly. I was happy to hear that their house, though affected, hadn't suffered any water damage. But the story of the Tulane library was much more sobering. Lance was a natural choice for speaking about disaster preparedness at the conference.