October 24, 2014

Collaboration, Innovation, & the Next Generation | ALA 2013 Report

Total attendance topped 26,000 at the annual conference of the American Library Association (ALA) in Chicago, June 28–July 2. Attendance was higher than in 2011 and 2012, which both attracted about 20,000.

“I was shocked at the number of librarians at the conference this year…. I couldn’t get through the aisles,” said Lana Adlawan, library supervisor at Sacramento Public Library, CA.

ALA’s move to condense programming into fewer, closer locations meant more people on-site. The combination (more attendees and fewer venues) led to welcome high traffic on the exhibit floor and a sense of intensity, several vendors and librarians told LJ. But not everyone was a fan. “The cut ALA made in the number of programs [it] would support was palpable to me. I felt as though there was little to choose from,” reported Stephanie Chase, director of library programs and services, Seattle Public Library.

ALA is always the place to announce new initiatives in librarianship. On the vendor side, Freegal/Library Ideas detailed a new streaming video service, and OverDrive said its would soon be available, joining the existing offerings from Midwest Tape and Recorded Books. Debuting at the conference was a crowd-funding campaign to develop the next generation of LibraryBox. ALA itself launched several new projects at the meeting, including ala.org/liberty, which offers a toolkit and resources for libraries to convene community discussions on privacy, and a preview version of Digital Learn, a free online resource for librarians teaching digital literacy.

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Teaming up

The integration of library services from various vendors was a theme at the conference. EBSCO expanded its partnership with Innovative Interfaces, which features catalog functionality within the EBSCO Discovery Service. ReadersFirst announced that it will soon issue a buying guide for libraries choosing ebook vendors. OverDrive launched its phase 2 application programming interface (API), which helps achieve some of ReadersFirst’s goals, such as handling authentication, checkouts, and holds through an institution’s integrated library system (ILS). A major partnership between NoveList and 3M Library Systems will offer readers’ advisory (RA) on self-checkout slips.

LibraryReads, a librarian-led and multiple publisher-funded initiative to create a nationwide list of library staff book selections, even pulled in vendor Edelweiss to handle the back end, as well as the American Booksellers Association for advice gleaned from running the IndieNext list. The Chicago Public Library is teaming with Aarhus Public Library in Denmark and design firm IDEO to develop a new plan for library programming and a new conference at which to present it. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is financing the project with a cool $1 million. Taking collaboration to the next level, the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, also with support from the Gates Foundation, will convene leaders from the library field, business executives, officials from various levels of government, community development visionaries, and education experts to create a common vision for public libraries. They will begin with a working group gathering this August.

Sacramento’s Adlawan found this theme in the ALA programs, too, noting “lots of sessions on partnerships.”

The business of ALA

ALA’s fiscal condition was a concern, despite recent passage of an automatic mechanism pegging member dues to the Consumer Price Index, which should increase revenue. Furloughs for staff and a ten percent salary cut for some ALA managers were among the responses to outgoing treasurer James Neal’s report. He emphasized a projected deficit of $1.9 million and reported a continuing decline in ALA revenue, especially from shortfalls in ALA publishing, which is currently being out­performed by the recently acquired Neal-Schuman operation. Membership numbers have also dropped.

In his parting message to the ALA Council, Neal called on ALA to implement budget reductions more strategically and less opportunistically and rethink financial relationships and interdependencies, especially between ALA and its divisions. He urged ALA to invest in new revenue opportunities, products, and markets and to consider outsourcing and “sunsetting” projects that no longer advance ALA’s mission. Neal recommended development of a new plan for working electronically; management of the number, scope, continuity, and impact of new projects; regular risk assessment; and increased staff compensation annually. “This is an issue of fairness and an issue of effective recruitment and retention,” said Neal.

ALA is looking at continuing education online and electronic publishing as new sources of revenue. In the meantime, to achieve a balanced budget, the Budget Analysis & Review Committee’s (BARC) recommendations included reducing staff by ten percent (through attrition), eliminating staff development funds, and cutting senior management salaries by ten percent.

The ALA Council adopted a resolution in support of whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked revelations of widespread U.S. surveillance of electronic communication. Another passed resolution suggested that the Declaration for the Right to Libraries, developed by incoming ALA president Barbara Stripling, be given the highest ALA staff priority. The Council also asked ALA groups to refrain from public prayer during meetings; commended the Freedom To Read Foundation “for recognizing videogames as a medium worthy of First Amendment protections”; reaffirmed ALA’s commitment to basic literacy; recognized the Government Printing Office as the lead agency in preserving the digital life cycle of digital government documents; supported librarians who are sued for doing their professional duty; and recognized the contributions of libraries and staff during natural disasters.

Librarians who participated in ALA’s divisions and committees gave LJ very positive reports about the results. “I thought [the ALCTS board] had a remarkably substantial and productive meeting this year,” said Jacob Nadal, director of library and archives at Brooklyn Historical Society. “I know ALA has a reputation for a bureaucratic process that stymies good work, so as someone new to ALCTS administration, it’s great to see it becoming a matter of routine for the good work that’s done in ALCTS’s various sections to reach the board and get released to the community from one annual to the next.”

“The ALSC membership meeting this year was a standout in a new format that really opened the floor for discussion, with a short but stimulating talk about the Common Core standards and public libraries,” reported Nina Lindsay, supervising librarian for children’s services, Oakland Public Library.

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Digital access: What’s next?

Though pricing and licensing terms vary and remain unfavorable in many cases, all of the Big Five publishers (no longer the Big Six, since the merger between Penguin and Random House was completed) now work with libraries on ebook lending. A panel on “ALA, Ebooks, and Digital Content: What’s Next?” focused on the long-term preservation of ebooks and other digital content and the role of libraries in the emerging self-publishing market.

“Libraries are doing a lot of things around producing, making available, [and] disseminating digital content. It’s the library not as a consumer [of content from publishers] but as producer, creator, and disseminator,” said panel moderator Robert Wolven, Columbia University librarian and Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG) cochair.

For libraries that get involved with publishing, the payoff is not only in helping aspiring authors but in gaining a bigger voice in the terms under which the content they serve up is loaned and preserved. Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, pointed out that in an environment of loan limits, digital rights management, and content licensing, libraries must be aware of how challenging it may become to preserve digital content over which they do not have such control.

On the LITA Top Tech Trends panel, Aimee Fifarek, IT and digital initiatives deputy director for the Phoenix Public Library, noted that many states and municipalities, including the Digital Arizona Library (DAZL) project, are now following the lead of Colorado’s Douglas County Libraries, creating ebook and digital content platforms that allow the libraries to procure and manage content long-term, including perpetual licenses from small presses, local publishers, and self-published authors.

The public library as publisher does not have to create ambitious works to be successful, according to Nate Hill, assistant director of technology and digital initiatives for the Chattanooga Public Library. After a year in Chattanooga, Hill has cooled on his previous suggestion of a modified ILS that would allow patrons to write and publish ebooks on a library platform. “These days, I’d be satisfied if we had a lot of people coming in creating animated GIFs and micro pieces of ­content.”

Hill compared this sort of production to the physical items being produced in library Maker spaces. “We know that we’re going to be an entry point in this bigger ecosystem…. It’s okay for us to be a place where people go and dabble a little bit. They can fail and have their ideas and then move on to a commercial space or a business incubator,” he said.

“I noticed very few sessions at ALA 2013 that dealt with the issue of open access and third-party digital content providers and those were mostly in the realm of academic libraries concerning scholarly work. As public libraries all over are either distracted with defending relevance or buoyed to innovate through Maker cultures, there seems a missing item on the 21st-century agenda. Within everyone’s seemingly universal commitment to access, where do public libraries stand respective to shared digital content, self-publishing/born digital and the open market?” said Mary Barnett, an ALA first-timer who works for Hill as social media strategist and narrative specialist.

In academic libraries that have already adopted publishing as a central function, the next step is helping researchers within the library “to really get their stuff in a form where people can gain access to it, use it, and build on it,” said Rebecca Kennison, director of the Center for Digital Research and Scholarship at Columbia University, New York.

Meanwhile, Char Booth, instruction services manager and E-Learning librarian for Claremont Colleges Library, CA, called on librarians to reach out to the people developing MOOCs (massive open online courses) and make sure they are addressing questions such as what kind of content is being delivered, what types of materials are being featured, how are those materials identified, how do students have access to them, and what are the approaches to informational, digital, and other types of literacy?

Lynch, who appeared on both panels, noted the emergence of new ways to clarify identity on the Internet as a “cheerful” development. The use of author IDs and persistent digital identifiers is a “huge trend,” he said. “This kind of development—which begins to bring together a lot of historically siloed work—is going to be tremendously important.”

Protecting privacy

Gary Price, founder and editor of FullTextReports.com and LJ’s infoDOCKET, suggested on the LITA Top Tech Trends panel that librarians concerned about privacy should be aware of the privacy policies of their vendors, in order to keep their patrons informed. It may be time for libraries to take another step toward protecting patron anonymity, suggested Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. “We should be working on anonymous writing and routinely delete IP addresses to protect the privacy of people who visit library websites,” Kahle said. “IP addresses are personally identifiable. They’re toxic waste, they cause conversations with the authorities that you just don’t want to have…. Maybe we should start offering email addresses to people. Okay, it won’t be as spam-filtered as gmail, but it also won’t have a direct plug into the NSA.”

These stances resonated. “These were thoughtful debates about privacy and the role of professional ethics in the new ‘surveillance state.’ I wanted to stand up and cheer to hear librarians passionate to get back to our roots of protecting patron privacy,” said Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, coordinator for library sustainability, Mid-Hudson Library System, NY. “In the face of massive change, amazing technology, and the rush to comply, it is more important than ever to hold up this professional ethic and remind us all that we have a role to play in protecting people’s rights.”

José Aponte, director of San Diego County Library, LJ’s 2012 Library of the Year, said he was struck by Jaron Lanier’s remarks on this subject in the Auditorium Speaker Series. The author of You Are Not a Gadget said, “The difference between the library and the private info tech world is that libraries do not reveal their clients’/customers’/patrons’ confidentiality.”

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Developing diversity

The ALA conference still “has a long way to go to represent the diversity of librarians and the communities we serve,” noted Kelly McElroy, undergraduate services librarian at University of Iowa Libraries. “I heard about too many all-white panels, book lists, and groups. However, I also heard a lot of folks talking about change: ways to get more people of color, more queer people involved in the many facets of ALA. By talking about which areas on the exhibit floor were all white men, which committees held inclusive programming, and which topics just didn’t get covered at all, we share what we want to work toward.”

Some sessions took a historical look. The mission of American public libraries in the 19th century was to assimilate European immigrants into white U.S. society, according to Todd Honma, assistant professor of Asian American studies at Pitzer College, CA, and a former ALA Spectrum Scholar, at the panel “In Visibility: Race and Libraries.” That made libraries “complicit in the construction of the United States as a white republic,” said Honma. While the profession has moved on from that stance, its efforts at improvement can still be problematic, as well as insufficient. Honma concluded by asking, “Is it just that we want to insert bodies of color into already existing structures/institutions? Or do we want to transform the structures themselves?”

In her speech, author Alice Walker—whose novel The Color Purple won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as well as the National Book Award—linked librarianship to social justice. “I see the work that you do as essential for the teaching of fairness,” she told the librarians present.

Walker went on to say, “I dream of the day that young white men rise up” and fight for justice. “Is there anyone who deserves [whistleblower Bradley Manning’s] treatment?… Who are we if we let this happen? Does this matter?”

Changing practice

A panel of reference librarians advocated not only getting out from behind the reference desk but also getting out of the library and into the community altogether, via everything from pop-up libraries to participating in rotary meetings and assisting small businesses.

RA librarians from Illinois’s Schaumburg Township District Library led a panel on guerrilla marketing, encouraging RA librarians to instigate conversations and extend them rather than just reacting to requests. Using shelf talkers, cheap but clever displays (e.g., a tape outline of a dead body around a murder mystery table), and mugs or name tags that display what a librarian is reading was also suggested. RA librarians should consider starting book clubs in languages other than English and holding clubs in central areas so they can act as their own advertisement.

At the Engaging the Elusive Library Non-User panel, details of the Promotoras Ambassador Program, for which Waukegan Public Library, IL, recently won the 2013 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, were shared by Elizabeth Stearns, assistant director, community services, and Carmen Patlan, community engagement and outreach manager. The program first recruited an employee respected and trusted in the community. She recruited volunteers from among Latino users of the library, trained them with talking points, and sent them out to survey. When new users come in, an ambassador meets them and walks them through navigating the library’s system.

“Overall, the best program I went to was Joan Frye Williams’s ‘Beyond Brainstorming.’ Joan has a way of giving you a delightful reality check…. We’ve got to make decisions, not just gather a bunch of awesome ideas. Joan talked about the idea that the library is no longer a factory but a laboratory; that we should expect iterative, nonlinear paths forward,” Aldrich reported enthusiastically. “All leaders in the profession needed the tips she was dealing out (rapid-fire!) about cultivating buy-in, developing a transparent process, looking beyond the familiar, prepar[ing] to be right just as much as being wrong.”

Aldrich’s enthusiasm for the first official meeting of ­the Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT), a new ALA roundtable devoted to issues surrounding sustainability, is no surprise, since she is coordinator for library sustainability at the Mid-Hudson Library System and on the SustainRT steering committee. “It was a great crew of the old guard and new, all excited about the possibilities of how to promote sustainability in the profession in order to move toward a more equitable, healthy, and economically viable society. The mission of the organization is to provide resources for the library community to support sustainability through curriculum development, collections, exhibits, events, advocacy, communication, library buildings, and space design,” she said.

“RDA is here! Accept it, learn it, and start using it soon if you haven’t already. Get ready for the next big thing: linked data, BIBFRAME, and schema.org,” said Amber Billey, catalog/metadata librarian assistant professor at the University of Vermont, Burlington.

“A tipping point seems to be occurring regarding public libraries and connected or informal learning. The [Urban Libraries Council] event…concentrated on repositioning libraries at the center of learning, which is a critical role. Libraries are going through a self-examination phase, with signs of energy and optimism, especially with regard to the Maker movement and YouMedia, as well as the community collaboration,” Pam Sandlian Smith, director at Anythink Libraries, CO, told LJ .

ULC honored 13 libraries for their partnerships with local schools and college, citizenship resources, nursing care, workforce development help, books for travelers, access to better nutrition, and disaster recovery. Howard County Library System, MD, which won LJ’s Library of the Year Award, was one honoree.

Librarians were also eager to embrace changes in publishing/reading/marketing practice. Sophie Brookover, program coordinator and social media manager for LibraryLinkNJ, copresented with Liz Burns and Kelly Jensen a panel on the emerging New Adult genre and told LJ,“There were people sitting on the floor. Somebody tweeted us a photo from outside the room because she couldn’t even get in.”

Another program focused on the impact of libraries in the community. “There was intriguing conversation at the ‘From Outputs to Outcomes: Measuring What Matters’ program about how to define what success looks like,” Aldrich reported. “It’s not just about circ numbers anymore.… How we measure, what we measure, and how we talk about stats in the future needs to change and the presenters were there helping us see how to do it better. David Singleton from [North Carolina’s] Charlotte-Mecklenburg was fantastic about the new online Summer Reading Program software they developed in-house! They have built in an advocacy tool to capture stories from patrons about how the library has changed their life as well as log their reading hours! I hope they release the software as open source so our system can use it!”

Connecting to the next generation

There was vigorous and valuable participation of the next generation of librarians, library advocates, and library patrons at the conference. “The chairs who preceded me did great work to streamline the section and encourage new leaders to come forward. Now, early career librarians are involved in all our groups, right alongside our established experts and leaders. They’re delivering really smart programs and publications, and from cocktail chatter, I can tell it’s not just a song-and-dance for ALA; they’re a very capable group that’s doing important work for their libraries,” Brooklyn Historical Society’s Nadal told LJ.

Sacramento’s Adlawan was impressed by another packed session, hosted by Sacramento PL, called, “We Are the Champions: 20s–30s Library Advocacy.” The panel explained the Alt+Library programming and virtual Friends group model and offered concrete tips for bringing new adults into the ­library.

Many librarians told LJ their best learning and networking experiences happened off-program. Kelly McElroy had great conversations “in the Zine Pavilion in the exhibit hall, at socials and meet-ups, and in committee meetings.” Connecting in person to followers she already knew from Twitter or Tumblr was a big part of that. “The interplay between online and [in real life] is just a lovely part of ALA. When I got home, one of my nonlibrarian friends said he got really into following the #ala2013 tag because it was so interesting.” To facilitate those informal conversations and meetings, “It’s worth making your own damn badge ribbons,” McElroy explained. “I only had three ribbons on my badge, each created by an independent group. People asked me about each one all weekend long.”

Brookover said she was more able to connect in person at this ALA than ever before. “[C]onversation starters and ignite sessions are powerful and really useful,” she said. For regular program items, “you have to submit far in advance…sometimes those topics wind up getting resolved in our minds ahead of the actual conference,” she said. More informal sessions with shorter lead times are “a lot more up-to-date and attract people who have already been discussing the topic via social media….”

“My biggest observation at ALA 2013 was the value of learning from our peers in different branches of the profession, something that doesn’t happen at specialized conferences,” reported Daniel Ransom, librarian for research and electronic resources, Holy Names University, San Francisco. “If you get out of your own specialized silo, you come away with a lot of new and exciting ideas.”


Matt Enis is Associate Editor, Technology, and Meredith Schwartz is Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ. Molly McArdle is Assistant Editor and Henrietta Thornton-Verma is Editor, LJ Reviews

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Comments

  1. I am sorry to see that the ALA Council adopted a resolution in support of Edward Snowden. Regardless of the NSA actions, what Snowden did was not only illgegal, but was akin to espionage and to being a traitor. I suspect there will be individuals who will lose their life either as the direct or indirect result of his actions. I will think long and hard about allowing any of my staff to attend an ALA function. The very freedom that ALA proports to support is jeopardized by the actions of Snowden and his like.

  2. Fact Check says:

    It’s misleading, at best, to say Council adopted that resolution. The following day Council had second thoughts and referred the resolution (and several others) to the Intellectual Freedom and Legislation committees, which brought back a substitute resolution that the Council then approved. More on the reasoning and the text of the final resolution at http://www.ala.org/aboutala/sites/ala.org.aboutala/files/content/governance/council/council_documents/2013_annual_council_docs/cd_20_3_COL%20report%20FINAL.pdf.

    This article needs fact checking throughout. Was Twitter used as the primary source?

    • Meredith Schwartz Meredith Schwartz says:

      Unless something is specifically cited as a Tweet, Twitter was not used as a source. This article is a summary created for the print issue of LJ’s total online ALA coverage, which was posted as many different articles. The news about the resolution is explained in longer form in one of them here: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/07/shows-events/ala/ala-annual-features-high-traffic-energy-ala-annual-2013/, including your point about the substitution of another resolution on the topic for the one originally proposed. In the print version, we did not have room to get into that level of detail, and therefore only gave the end result.

      For Council coverage specifically, the primary sources were notes taken by John Berry III; online posts by Pam Hickson-Stevenson, Ohio Chapter Councilor, and ALA NMRT Councilor Susan L. Jennings; and subsequent reports by ALA.

  3. Josh Dale says:

    I had to click through three times to get to see what Mr. “Fact Check” and Ms. Schwartz were talking about regarding Mr. Snowden. Regardless of what this article was created for, it is an online article posted a few days ago, so bracketing a correction of some sort wouldn’t be that difficult.
    ALA’s initial views about Mr. Snowden is not surprising, considering they honored Mr. Aaron Swartz. http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2013/03/rep-lofgren-presents-american-library-association-madison-award-aaron-swartz