Houston, wrap up

I went to several libraries when I was in Houston. Continuing with the visit06 list, here are the libraries I visited:

  • Houston Public Library, Central Branch, closed for two years as of two weeks before TLA. Damn.
  • Houston Public Library, Downtown Express branch, oddly enough in the old library building which is lovely but looks a little sparse and triage-y for a library that is going to be the main downtown branch for two years.
  • Holocaust Museum Library, quiet and clean with a lot of things to look at.
  • MFAH Hirsch Library where I met a really nice woman, a UNT student, who took me on a quickie tour of the stacks and told me all about working in a special art library.

I have nothing but high praise for the smoothly-running machine that is TLA. It’s the second largest library conference in the country — second only to ALA — and I might argue it runs even better. All of my arrangements were made, checked and double-checked well ahead of time. I hear the “speaker handlers” have a thick manual filled with checklists and procedures. There were friendly tech guys in every room making sure the IT/AV was functional. When I had a last minute schedule change and needed to stay an extra day at the hotel, it was handled literally within minutes. Minutes!

Speakers got adorable goodie bags, rides from the airport, and general good treatment. The only way I could even think to improve the experience would be 1) maybe a few fewer emails (we swapped maybe 40-50 in the months before the event) and 2) maybe some smaller gifts for speakers who are travelling distances. I hate to be ungrateful, and the purple coffee mugs really are actually attractive and functional, but they put me over my carry-on limit causing me to have to engage in a bit of subterfuge to bring them on the airplane. You know how we librarians hate subterfuge. My mother would always offer to mail me my Christmas presents, when I came home to Massachusetts from Seattle for the holidays; this was always a great part of the gift. Also big thanks to Karen Coombs and her husband Michael for coming to fetch me and putting me up in their lovely house for my last night in town. I’m always torn when I travel for work between staying at friends’ houses and staying walking distance from the Convention Center and usually wind up splitting time in some awkward way. This time it worked out well and mazel tov to Wandering Eyre on her wedding that happened that same weekend.

Now I’m on the plane and notice there is a network available called Free Public WiFi. What are the chances, do you think? This is a total tangent, but one of the skills that I think is important to being a good librarian in a technologically complex world, is being able to play the probabilities off of the possibilities and say, in this case “What are the chances that there is free public wifi on this plane?” When a patron needs to know if something in their email from CitiBank is legit, or whether downloading a shareware application will give them “a virus” we need to not just say “Well, maybe….” Sometimes the right answer isn’t a yes or a no or an encyclopedia article, but an explanation of a context, an introduction to a culture, a range of likelihoods. This goes against the typical librarian here’s-your-resource grain, but as we go from a post-industrial culture towards a pure information culture, just saying “No that email isn’t really from an eBay user.” doesn’t really solve the problem. We should be solving the problem.