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Archive for the ‘ALA’ Category

Of course it has taken me almost a month to write anything significant about my ALA experience. So many thoughts were percolating through my head the whole long weekend, and it probably goes without saying that much of it isn’t quite as vivid now, after the new semester has started and my normal life has been passing at a rapid clip for the last few weeks.

The extra weeks did give some of those thoughts time to…er, ferment (?), however. And one of those things has to do with the role and position of library students within the greater world of librarianship. As a copyeditor for and a frequent reader of Library Student Journal, I obviously think students have plenty to contribute to the field: innovative ideas, worthwhile research, insight from our previous careers. In fact, it never occurred to me that library students’ contributions might not be taken seriously. In my undergraduate experience, it was common that a professor would acknowledge the intellectual contributions of us younguns, even in published work. We were often considered collaborators, and I expected that would be doubly true as a graduate student.

Now, I haven’t experienced any of the faculty in my program denigrating students’ opinions and contributions. In fact, I think the Simmons GSLIS program does a great job bringing students into the decision-making process and allowing us to have significant responsibility and input in the program. Although even in a place where student involvement is a priority, it sometimes seems more like lip service.

One of the events I chose to attend at ALA Midwinter was a meeting of the ACRL Task Force on Positioning the 21st Century Library in the Competitive Academy (I would include a link, but any interesting information on the ALA site is password protected). It sounded right up my alley: I want to work in academic libraries, and I love to read about the changes happening within institutions of higher eduction (or, as they say, IHEs). And as someone who hopes to be working in those 21st century libraries, I figured it might be a cool thing to get involved in, or at least pay attention to.

One thing I noticed when I walked in is that almost everyone on the task force is…well…older. The roster shows that most of them are library directors or deans. Now obviously, people who’ve been part of ALA for a long time, and have been in libraries for a long time, are more likely to be involved in ALA and to be part of these groups (actually, I don’t really know how one gets involved in ACRL task forces and the like; do you have to be an ALA veteran?). But I was surprised that a group dedicated to contemplating the future of the academic library didn’t think to involve the people who will actually be working in them.

During the course of their discussion, a few of the younguns in the room piped up with some of their thoughts, and several of them noted that it IS important to look to the future librarians in the organization if you’re going to be talking about, well, the future. And everyone on that task force nodded and said “oh yes yes harrumph it’s very important.” And yet, I felt that any actual contemplation of what those younger librarians (one of whom was a library school student) said wasn’t really happening. It felt like the aforementioned lip service. “Oh of course our young people have great things to say, now let’s get back to the important conversation we were having over here.”

Maybe I’m being unfair. After all, this was just my perception, and subjective perception is, well, subjective. But the ACRL task force meeting wasn’t the only place I felt that my opinions were being disregarded. I’ll be paying attention to this task force, and while I hope that they will introduce some comments, opinions, and insights from the next group of librarians to enter the academic libraries, I’m not holding my breath.

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I decided to come down to ALA Midwinter before I knew that Midwinter is primarily a business meeting, where ALA Committees take care of all their Very Important Business. I wondered if perhaps I shouldn’t come, but was told that it’s actually good for newbies like myself to go to Midwinter, because it’s easier to meet people and you can find out what all these committees do and what you want to get involved with, because Getting Involved is also Very Important. So I jumped on the train (which is my new favorite mode of transport, by the way) and made my way down to Philadelphia very early on Friday morning.

Only to discover that the first event I really wanted to attend on Friday started at 7.30 at night: the New Member Round Table meet and greet event. It made sense to do something like that first, so I could figure out what was going on and what I should do here. However, the meet and greet was mostly kind of awkward. I mean, I hope I don’t offend the librarians out there who might be reading this, but librarians can be a little socially awkward, shy…weird, if you will. I think I’m allowed to say that, because I fall into the socially awkward category myself, but these people Friday night made me feel outgoing. I chatted up a few people, and then decided to leave to have dinner with my friend and go see a movie. Early the next morning there was an orientation session for New Members, so I figured that would be more useful than attempting to carry on conversations with a bunch of odd ducks. Hee.

(Really…I don’t mean to offend. I am a shy, weird, awkward person myself, so clearly, I chose the right profession. Heh.)

The orientation the next morning was useful: lots of helpful hints about sitting in on committee meetings and making your way through the exhibitions and joining various round tables and groups and all kinds of other information that made me feel much more comfortable about heading out into the vast halls of the Philadelphia Convention Center. However, they had no coffee. An 8 am session should always, always, always have coffee. I hope someone important is reading this! Coffee is important. So by the time the session ended at 10, I needed caffeine right quick. I rushed out and wandered around downtown Philly in a desperate search in which all the coffee shops seemed to be hiding from me before finally finding a Starbucks where (whoo!) I got 50 cent coffee because I had my own mug. Sweet. And I found a stand on the street that sold the most delicious egg and bacon sandwich, so I was ready to face the day.

I went to a discussion group on tagging in the OPAC, which is a major topic of interest for me. The discussion group was good, although I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know. However, it was interesting to hear how people had implemented tags into their own OPACS, and had time to formulate some thoughts for a “report” (nothing so formal, really) I’m putting together for my boss on implementing social software features into our OPAC at work (mostly on LibraryThing for Libraries). So after that discussion group, I was feeling pretty good, and fired up, and all excited about that library stuff.

Then…oh bad choices. I decided to sit down somewhere and try to figure out some problems I’ve been having with Rails and MySQL. I got frustrated. I got upset. I couldn’t figure anything out. I started to realize how exhausted I was. I missed the beginning of the Literature in English discussion group I wanted to go to. I couldn’t find anywhere to take a nap (obviously). I went to a talk on evaluating emerging technologies and practically fell asleep in the back, and that’s when I decided that my Saturday was over and it was time to go home.

I was determined that I wouldn’t let myself get all frustrated today, and so far so good. I came to the conference later and sat in on a task force meeting on positioning academic libraries within institutions to remain competitive, which gave me a nice glimpse of the kinds of work people do within ALA. Librarians really like committees and task forces and reports and round tables, I think.

At 3 I have to head over to Drexel for a Progressive Librarians’ Guild meeting on student chapters, which should be interesting.

And oh yeah, I figured out my Rails/MySQL problem. That eliminates a lot of the frustration/exhaustion/anger thing.

I’m heading back to Boston tomorrow, after an early morning town hall meeting for the Library Information Technology Association (the committee/group/whatever I think I want to join). Hopefully, my Rails problems will be taken care of and I will actually be able to get work done on the train. Or maybe I’ll just sleep and look forward to being home. Conferences are tiring.

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