Apologies in advance because this isn’t really about libraries as much as about conferencing. Maybe more of an etiquette post than anything.
I skipped April. Not on purpose. I was supposed to go to TXLA and came down with a weird lingering flu. I’m usually a “push through the pain” person but not enough to get on an airplane with a fever and potentially make other people sick. No one needs that. So I missed TXLA which was a huge bummer. They were incredibly understanding about it. And then there was a week of school vacation where I teach so I decided to hunker down in MA and get well and make sure I could make it to the Rural Libraries conference in Michigan. Upstate Michigan. The UP, where it was still frozen enough so that the ferries we were supposed to take to Mackinac Island were possibly not running. So now I was in a situation where I was rarin’ to go but the conference might not happen at all.
My main contact, Shannon White from the Library of Michigan, did an amazing job with a very difficult situation. She gave low-drama email updates (to me but also all attendees) as we got news from the ferry and told me what the timeframe was in case we’d have to cancel. When I arrived in St. Ignace (via Michael Stephens’ place, so great to see him) the weather was terrible and the flight we were supposed to take was cancelled. Many people including us were stuck there overnight when we would have preferred to be at the conference venue, the Grand Hotel. I was put up in a decent hotel and fed dinner and we discussed jockeying for ferry positions the next morning. I had warned everyone in advance of even taking this speaking gig that I was not a morning person and someone graciously got up early and got a timestamped ferry ticket for me for later in the day. This was a huge deal.
The Grand Hotel is one of those places that is fancy but also deeply committed to service. All of their 385 rooms are different. When I finally got to the hotel at about 1 pm on the day I was speaking, I was put in a crazy-looking suite that overlooked the water. Which was terrific except that there was a crew of hotel-opener people (the hotel officially opened the day after the conference closed) that was going over the front of the place with leaf-blowers and lawn tools and who knows what else. I moved my room to an equally quirky suite on the back of the hotel where I rested after a day and a half of on-again-off-again travel.
My talk about the 21st Century Digital Divide was done in an oddly-shaped room without the benefit of slides. I’ve talked about it elsewhere (short form: people who could not see or hear me talked through it) but it was a suboptimal setup which we all tried to make the best of. I got a lot of positive feedback from the state library folks despite some of the shortcomings and they made a special reminder announcement before the next keynote about not carrying on conversations while people were speaking. I heard it was great, I was asleep. My workshop the next day about maintaining conference momentum went really well and, again, I got great support from the organizers as well as the hotel when I decided I needed last-minute handouts.
All in all, despite a situation where there were a lot of things that were out of people’s control, the conference was memorably great for me personally and I think for a lot (most?) of the attendees as well. As much as people made joking “Never again!” comments, there was something about working together in unusual settings through various kinds of adversity that brings people closer together. I felt well-taken care of and appreciated as well as well-compensated. And, personally, I had a great time. The people I talked to all felt the same. Thanks, Library of Michigan.
A few links for people who like that sort of thing
I am doing a new thing this year. Well I’m doing a few new things overall, like learning ukulele, but one big thing professionally. I’ve decided to try to do a few webinars, both attending and presenting, to see how they go. In the past I’ve sort of skipped webinars on principle. I find the software difficult and it’s challenging for me to talk about good technology when using bad technology. I’m also just not that good at presenting to an unseen audience. However last year I was invited to do a lighting talk of a sort and I enjoyed it; it was even pretty low tech, using Skype to connect. There was a lot of back and forth on Twitter and good feedback/questions which was different from the last webinars I did several years ago where I wasn’t even sure people were tuning in at all. I’ve also noticed there have been a few one-day events that have gotten people talking that I might like to attend. So I’ve been exploring. Who knows, next thing you know I may start reading ebooks….
So, this is a long way of saying that I’ll be presenting with a bunch of other great librarians at the Nebraska Library Commission’s Big Talk for Small Libraries conference this Tuesday. You can see the schedule here (be aware it’s all in Central Time) and read the FAQ here. With eight speakers who are all people who work in small libraries, over 300 attendees, and a homegrown back channel, I think it will be an interesting day. Free as in beer. I think it will be a good time.
I was at the Nevada Library Association conference this week. I gave two talks, one was a fairly standard talk about things you can do with very little money and staffing to beef up your library. The other was a topic I’ve been enjoying more lately, about the ethics of Library 2.0. Slides and notes and links are here. Aaron was talking recently about this slightly on Walking Paper… now that libraries have access to what we call “2.0 tools” how can we reign in some of the playtime and help direct people towards the most useful and/or appropriate uses of new stuff?
I showed off a bunch of Nevada libraries that were using interesting tools. By and large the larger libraries had integrated some interesting cloud-based tools to help deliver content on their websites. Other smaller libraries were hit or miss, some had interestingly integrated technology, others had a blog that hadn’t been updated in a year and a half. There is a great article in this month’s Computers in Libraries
about what public libraries really are and are not using as far as technology generally [old school and new school tools]. The results are sort of what you’d think. Libraries in bigger population zones are using tech a lot — online catalogs, email contact form and website are standard — whereas small libraries are less likely to be using this. Interestingly, because of the population skew of urban vs. rural environments most people using libraries have access to OPACs and library websites, while only 80-ish% of libraries [by number] actually have these things.
It’s been making me think, this week, about what to do about the trailing 20%. The Nevada Library Association is smaller than the Vermont Library Association, it was great to get to hang around with some fellow traveler librarians.
I’ve been really lucky lately that the talks I’ve been giving have been at conferences that I’ve really enjoyed attending as well as speaking at. This past week I was in Athens, Georgia giving the closing keynote talk at the Evergreen International Conference. I was able to show up a day early and went to a full day of programs where I got to learn how the Michigan Evergreen project is doing and heard about a multi-lingual Evergreen instance in Armenia which will have documentation and catalog entries in not just three languages, but three alphabets! As you probably know, the library that I am helping automate is using Koha, not Evergreen, so I talked a little about our project and the things that make FOSS projects more similar than different.
There was a real excitement to being part of the first annual conference. People were really jazzed about Evergreen generally, and Equinox Software did a great job as one of the co-sponsors both talking about what they were doing, but keeping the conference from being a single vendor-focussed event. Karen Schneider was my main point of contact for the whole big shindig and did a wonderful job with preparation, communication and high energy on-the-ground cat herding during the conference. You can see some of the slide decks over on slideshare and I know they recorded video at many of the talks. It was so darned relaxing to be among a group of people committed both to libraries and open source projects, I almost forgot my day-to-day library job fighting with Overdrive, OCLC and Microsoft. It also fortified me for my long trip home. Here are my slides, available in the usual formats.
Thanks to all the sponsors and all the people who showed up to make this conference terrific.
I just got back from the Association of Rural and Small libraries conference where I gave a talk about using technology to solve problems in small libraries. I had a great time and I only wish I could have stayed longer because the people at that conference, they are my people. A lot of them are in rural areas with limited or no access to broadband, they have small budgets and often untrained staff and yet they’re being told that all teenagers are “born with a chip” and that technology is moving faster than any one person can keep up with, etc. It’s daunting. Being able to know what “normal” is becomes sort of important as you have to determine what’s appropriate for your library and for your staff.
I think about this specifically in terms of our library organizations and how they determine what normal is versus what end users think is normal. Not to point the finger at ALA too much but it’s not really normal in 2008 for a website redesign to take years. It’s not really normal in 2008 to speak in allcaps when you’re emailing people as the incoming president of your organization. It’s not really normal to have a link to customer service on the main page of your website be a 404. I’m aware that it’s easy to cherrypick little pecadillos like this about an organization that does a lot of things very right. However, I do believe that one of the reasons we have trouble as a profession dealing with technology is that we don’t have an internal sense of what’s right and what’s appropriate technologically-speaking making it hard for us to make informed decisions concerning what technology to purchase or implement in the face of a lot of hype and a lot of pressure.
I’m going to work today at the Kimball Library in Randolph Vermont (I fill in there sometimes) and the librarian-facing part of the Follett OPAC interface is becoming one of my favorite slides. It looks like it was designed for a Windows 95 interface, in fact it probably was, and just never revisted. It’s 2008. People can create a blog on Tumblr that’s 100% accessible and legible and nice looking in less than two minutes. Why do I have to click a 32×32 pixel image of … a raccoon mask? to circulate books. And why can’t we agree on what usable means?