Monday, April 11, 2011

ACRL 2011 in Philadelphia

Another great Association of College and Research Libraries conference!  It was a bit overwhelming, but I got lots of information, ideas and opportunities for networking. ACRL created a parallel virtual conference, which included some presentations that were done only virtually and will soon include all the presentation PowerPoints and I believe posters. The ACRL Conference Papers are already up. Plus I have more detailed notes on many of the presentations I attended.

I have to say my biggest "aha" moment was at the Dinner with colleagues, when two librarians from University of California San Diego talked about budget cuts forcing the closing of five of their nine libraries, one having been given a two month notice. Wow! That is intense. They are an ARL library with the same number of students as us, but 50 librarians and 250 staff, down about 10 of the former, 40 of the latter, still painful. I do like our mostly centralized library and have wondered if we ever have had the conversation about the necessity for a separate education library, but cutting over half the branches seems draconian.

Keynote speakers
The first keynote speaker was Tiffany Shlain, an interesting combination of high tech and philosopher. She established the Webby awards and is a producer of documentary films. One was The Tribe on the American Jews. We found out that the creator of Barbie was Jewish and the doll can be an interesting way to look at cultural identity. Shlain developed educational materials to go with the movie with Harvard. She has done a movie on women’s reproductive rights and her latest movie is called Connected – also with educational materials – about our interconnectedness through technology. I did not get to see the full movie, but we saw clips during her presentation, and I think she brought up lots of ideas worthy of discussion. She has instigated an unplugging day once a week in her family and in the end has hope for the human race.

Raj Patel is an economist, activist, writer, who is concerned about the world and especially food sources. He talked charmingly (as I heard later was tweeted from the audience) about the myth of liberty and freedom and our broken economy. He told of Greenspan admitting that his thinking about the economy has been wrong for the last 40 years, but that the media did not really latch on to that admission. He explained how our dollar burger is really worth about $200 in environmental costs. He talked about the huge proportion of unpaid work, especially done by women. I purchased his book, the Value of Nothing and hope to get a better handle on our complex economic issues. 

Jaron Lanier was a trip, I am glad I was well rested for his interesting take on the world. He is a Silicon Valley insider, innovator, teacher, composer, artist, and author of You are Not a Gadget. His talk was appropriately named – “The Bipolar Library: How Humanizing and Digitizing Can Both be Advanced.” I won’t even begin to try to recount his talk to us, but it made me think differently about library work. The analogy he used that most set in my mind, is that he was giving us the view from Silicon valley – like Godzilla looking down on ants and worms fighting each other. Libraries and publishers are the ants and worms. One of his main points to us was to value books, authors, intellectual property and to celebrate them, collect them, encourage decent pay for them. He asked us to look closely at the consequences of open access, so the publishing and library business does not go the way of the music industry.

The closing keynote was from Clinton Kelly, the co-host of the TV reality show What Not to Wear. This was definitely a fun ending to an intense conference, but even he had his lessons to give us librarians – and not only about our sometimes not so sharp fashion sense. Lisa Hinchliffe, one of my idols in the library world and current ACRL president, admitted that she does watch TV and finds that What Not to Wear teaches about living your life, embracing change, struggling to find your true self, and if you want to move into the future, you have to leave the past behind.  Isn’t that the point of education – growth, development and change? Kelly gave us seven steps, starting with “Admit it – how you dress sends a message to people.” His fashion tips were very general and could fit any librarian and any budget and included things like – distance yourself from the people around you that bring you down. In the question and answer period people asked mostly fashion questions including about beards and shopping at second hand stores (he was OK with that, as long as you tailor things to fit you.)

                                                        ACRL Metrics
Dianna and Carrie in front of sculpture
This is fairly new, otherwise I would be concerned that I hadn't heard of it before. ACRL Metrics is an online service that takes the data that libraries have been reporting to ACRL and NCES since 2000, and creates reports, compares statistics over time, compares you to peer and other institutions. The data set includes over 300 performance indicators and lets you combine them in various set ways as well as make custom combinations. I have wanted to see these numbers for WMU and wished we had the ability to compare ourselves to others for years
Library as Space
I found the session by the University of Wisconsin – Madison the most useful, as they had made incremental changes to their undergraduate library entrance space including information desk, reference desk, circulation, reserves, reference collection and computers. They started the process in 2008, and made most of the changes without funding. Funding did come through in 2010 and they were able to purchase new furniture, but the functional changes were the most important.

University of Michigan has also made major changes in the lobby of their undergraduate library. I heard the story of Bert’s Café a year or more ago, but this year they were able to tap the same donor – Bert, and improve the whole entrance area with comfy chairs, a less intimidating check-out & reference area, group work spaces with projection screens, news area (4 news channels on at all times) and more.

Numerous posters addressed library as space issues. One place found that when they combined reference with circulation, their reference questions dropped dramatically, because the huge circulation desk was intimidating and there was no easy way for librarians to get around to actually help a student on the floor. They ended adding a smaller desk in front of the big desk for easy access and friendlier service.

Institutional Repository
The pre-conference sponsored by Digital Commons and SPARC was valuable for my work with our ScholarWorks. I got to meet the guru of institutional repositories – Paul Royster of Univ. of Nebraska Lincoln, as well as Marisa Ramirez from Cal Poly, Marilyn Billings from U Mass Amherst, and Isaac Gillman from Pacific University in Portland. I got some insight on staffing repository work, working with electronic theses and dissertations, getting “off the beaten track” materials, publishing books, thinking of the repository as a service rather than a collection, promoting the IR, and plenty of practical tips.

Web issues
I went to a session called “No more design by committee: Strategies for building lean mean web project teams.” Turns out this was a presentation by my Journal of Web Librarianship editor Jody Fagan from James Madison, who has now published a book Web Project Management for Academic Libraries, and has cited the Web article I wrote with Maria and Pat. I think we are doing what they are suggesting – by creating small teams to work on specific Web projects. We also have a person with authority to sign off and make final decisions on projects.

Philadelphia and Longwood Gardens
Some events were outside of the convention center, plus I was staying with friends, and I did some exploring after the conference, so my travel blog contains something about Philadelphia and   Longwood Gardens. The gardens were suggested by a friend and though it was still too early to thoroughly enjoy them outside, the conservatory was incredible. I have put more pictures up on Facebook for those of you who are connected with me there.

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