Thursday, October 17, 2013

30th Year Reflections/58: MLA 2013--After The Gold Rush

“Bet you didn't think I knew how to rock 'n' roll / Lord, I got the boogie-woogie right down in my very soul.” — Eric Clapton

Forgive me the mixed rock and roll metaphors by using a Neil Young song for the title of this post and a Clapton lyric to open the set, but I wanted to capture some of the spirit (and fun) I had at the Minnesota Library Association annual conference last week in St. Cloud—and their conference theme: “Libraries Rock.” It was a most excellent show! (I even came away with a conference T-shirt.)

As promised, I’m returning to my pre-conference list of expectations to give a little post-conference analysis. A week ago I stated my hopes with the sessions I’d marked out for myself from the conference schedule. Here, then, is my assessment of those sessions:

All Facts Considered: a Conversation with an NPR Librarian (Kee Malesky and Sasha Aslanian)

This promised to be a conversation between Malesky and Aslanian and it was. I was a little surprised that Sasha turned the questioning over to the audience so quickly, but I’m sure those in the audience didn’t mind a chance to pepper Kee with questions. In her opening, Malesky nodded to the Minnesota crowd with references to Senators Klobuchar and Franken, the politics of the medical device tax, and our favorite son, Garrison Keillor. And we got a flavor for some of the nuts and bolts of the operation, for example:

• a snapshot of her office and surroundings
• dealing with “cataloging emergencies
• the systematic approach to digitizing NPR’s collections (back to 1971, confronting their backlog, public availability back to 2008)
• working with IT staff on designing news and music databases (Artemis and Orpheus)
• unusual reference questions (How much water in the Great Lakes system; answer: 6.25 quadrillion gallons)
• use of experts (“Whatever fact I’m looking for, there is someone whose job it is to know that fact, and they’re waiting for us to call them.”)
• size of the library staff (fourteen, all located in Washington, DC, servicing 17 foreign bureaus and 16 domestic. Minnesota Public Radio apparently does not have a librarian on staff.)
• professional pointers (“You’re an intelligent adult. Use the advance search option whenever possible.”)
• the fact that two jobs are currently open at the NPR library (watch the applications stream in)
• words of wisdom (“Libraries and journalists are essential for a functioning democracy.”)
• the amazing internal NPR wiki
• some of the weekend personalities, e.g. Daniel Schorr, Susan Stamberg, Scott Simon. Simon once asked Kee for “a list of blonde women who are not dumb.” Simon and Sylvia Poggioli are her favorites to work with; she would not “dish” on who was the “quirkiest.”

There were a few complaints about the sound system/acoustics in the large hall. It was hard, at times, to hear the commentary. My favorite quote from Kee was this: “Have you ever been stumped? No, we’ve never been stumped. But why did you call five minutes before going on air?” This opening keynote, despite the poor acoustics, delivered what it promised, and more. While I didn’t find out what might have been Kee’s greatest challenge (I didn’t ask) or what trends she sees for the future, Kee and Sasha kicked us off in great fashion.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Libraries Respond to the Aging of America (Diantha Schull)

Schull spoke to a packed room (many of them “boomers”), indicating an interest in her topic. She started out with an overview, observing that there are no codified best practices for this demographic group, the landscape is wide open, and that this was a period of “second adulthood” or “encore careers.” One of the big surprises for me was the growth in the segment of the population that will hit the age of 100 (or more), and the growing diversity of these older segments of the population. Getting into more specifics, Schull mentioned a number of programs (e.g. Fit for Life, Life by Design, Conversation Salons, and Wise Walks) while also pointing to model programs (e.g. Multnomah, Allegheny, New Haven). Surprisingly, only 3 of 31 MLIS programs she studied had courses related to older adults. My biggest take-away: Libraries are hiding senior adult programming, it is not apparent on their websites. Libraries need to get this stuff out front like they do for children and young adults. Schull also noted that senior adults are not as far behind the technology curve as we think; many are active with gaming and social media.

As with the opening keynote, Schull met most of my expectations. She did not say anything about challenges with search technologies, and most of her presentation seemed geared to a public library setting, but there was enough here to think about programming and outreach in an academic setting.

Legislative Update (Mark Ranum and Elaine Keefe)

In some ways this was a “no brainer,” i.e. we (a small group) received (and appreciated) a thorough briefing from Keefe on the past legislative session. We were treated to an additional panelist with Sam Walseth (also a lobbyist at Capitol Hill Associates with Keefe), who gave us a look at the upcoming session. The bonding bill, transportation, education payment shift, and possibly the minimum wage will be considered in a session colored by election year activities. There were no observations on the federal shutdown, but I did throw Keefe a bit of a curve with a question about who might be at risk for reelection.

ARLDapalooza (Meeting and Poster Session)

The business meeting of the division, including revisions to the bylaws, was swiftly dealt with. This left us more time to chat and enjoy the poster session. I’ll admit to being a bit distracted at this point (after a delicious lunch and time in the exhibit hall). I scanned the posters (kudos to those who prepared them) and got a glimpse of their interests. It was a good time to chat with colleagues (and also enjoy the beautiful fall air).

Future Focused—Trends Impacting Library Services: the Minitex Perspective (Valerie Horton)

This may have been my “home run” session of the day or conference (to mix baseball with rock music). Valerie was a whirlwind as she addressed various trends and spectrums (e.g. physical/virtual, individual focus/community focus, collection library/creation library). And she was very quotable and provocative.

• On describing the exponential expansion of information: “If you want to be afraid, now is the time.”
• On the authoritative nature of libraries/librarians/information versus the non-authoritative nature of mash-ups, crowd-sourcing, randomly created/organized information, etc.: “We’ve already lost. We cannot be the ‘heavy hand.’”
• On the march of technology: “Old technologies never die; they just find their niche.”
• On libraries and books: “If books are everywhere, why go to libraries?”
• On our own skill set: “Digital publishing is the next library skill.”
• This follow-up question: “Is the creation library our next great mission?”
• And this contextual observation: “The library story is a local story.”

There are more quotes, I’m sure. I was surprised by her observation that we are past the explosive growth of e-books; I’m not so sure. In the end, she gave us a picture of an anytime, anywhere library staff (mobile, embedded), enabling community research experts, local digitization and local publication. What will not change is access for all, in multiple formats, with abiding concerns for fair use, intellectual property, intellectual freedom, and privacy rights. We live and work in an individual place that is also a community place. I did not come away with a specific sense on how all this will translate into legislative action, but a roadmap was given all the same. These are exciting and interesting times.

MLA Membership Meeting

As with the division meeting, the membership meeting went smoothly. The amendments to the bylaws were approved; and there was some discussion and slight tweaking of the legislative platform, but no food fights.

What Is This Thing Called Digital Humanities? (Bahnemann, Oberg, Schell)

This early morning second day session sparked a number of things for me to think about, especially with geo-tagging/GIS. As I listened to the panel, ideas kept spilling out, some related to collections I curate and others to my own research: linking GIS data with a biographical study I did of early Swedish-American ministers; digitally mapping Swedish immigrant settlements; more aggressive use of Omeka for digital exhibitions; geo-tagging scans from our postcard collection, medieval manuscripts, and cuneiform; crowd-sourcing our papyri fragments; even mapping locations in the Sherlock Holmes stories. This session delivered the goods in unexpected ways.

A Rock Band Needs a Roadie: Using Guide on the Side for Tutorials (Hootman, Lee)

This session did the least for me, not because of anything in the delivery, but because it became apparent that the kind of tutorial we might need for archives and special collections could not be met (at least at first blush) by “Guide on the Side.” It seems geared more toward tie-ins with periodical indexes or other research tools, but not in a more comprehensive approach to working with archives and special collections materials. I might explore this a little more, but I’m not sure this open source software will fit the bill.

Surviving the Public: Customer Service the Unshelved Way (Ambaum, Barnes)

Ambaum and Barnes gave me just what I needed: comic relief and a pick-me-up. Well done!

Rocked and Rolled: Lessons From Closing the U of M Library School

Others might offer comments on my session. I’ll simply note that thunder and lightning erupted during my presentation. It was nice of the divine (or Mother Nature) to add the special effects, all too appropriate to the topic at hand.

Off-Label Uses for Books (McKean)

I’ll admit that by this point my mind was mush and I was winding down from my presentation. I found a quiet seat in the back of the hall and soaked it all in.

Thanks to the program committee, MLA leadership, and everyone else involved in the conference. It was a great two days! My expectations were met or exceeded. You can recap the conference (or experience it vicariously/virtually, if you didn’t have the chance to attend) by following the Twitter feed, hashtag #mnlib13. Rock on!

1 comment:

Sara Ring said...

Hi Tim -

Thanks for the excellent post-MLA write-up! I'll be linking to it (along with a few others) in the October MLA Roundup newsletter. Also, wish I could have attended your Lessons From Closing the U of M Library School at the conference (was moderating a session at the same time). Looking forward to reading the book at some point in the future!

Sara Ring
Chair, Communications Committee
Minnesota Library Association