ellie <3 libraries

sooooo much!

TLA 2008 – General Session II with Transforming Libraries Panel April 23, 2008

Join Stephen Abram, Joe Janes, Karen Schneider, and Roy Tennant as they debate and discuss the latest and most contentious issues in Libraryland. As our library community takes up the challenge of Transforming Texas Libraries, this general session will be like no other: entertaining, enlightening, energizing, and (most importantly) all about the future of libraries and what we, as a professional community, need to do to control our destiny.
Stephen Abram, president, Special Libraries Association, and vice president of innovation, SirsiDynix; Joseph Janes, associate professor, Information School, University of Washington (Seattle); Karen Schneider, research and development consultant, College Center for Automation (Tallahassee, FL); and Roy Tennant, senior program officer, OCLC.

The session was designed as a conversation between the panelists with Roy Tennant as the moderator. He threw out a few provocative questions to start things off.

What keeps you awake at night? It could be a major challenge, something that worries you or a real opportunity that you get excited about.

Karen talked about the reemergence of reference. The kind of reference where you walk to the desk and ask for the population of Alaska is gone, but reference is becoming a specialized tool. Students won’t go to the library as the first place, but they do when they have a specialized need or when they get stumped.

Joe said that the “what’s the capital of Bolivia” ready reference kind of stuff is not over, but it’s such a small fraction of what they’ll turn to us for. If that’s what you convey to people that’s what you specialize in then they won’t come to you when they get stuck. [Excellent point!]

Your expertise is far better used when people get stuck, when they’re spending 45 minutes and getting nowhere, when they’re trying to accomplish something important. He would rather see us positioned as a conduit to the much larger institutions that we represent.

What keeps him awake is that we seem to love to fight about what is a librarian, how do we prepare people, who is, who isn’t. It has to be addressed because it’s always changing, so he’s ok with the conversation, but the temperature of that conversation has risen, and people want to lock that down. The worst time to do that is when everything is up in the air. Absolutely we have to keep having the conversation, and keep doing the same things, but it’s damaging to our profession that we’re crapping on the new graduates. We’re building a wonderful wealth of dinosaur literature. [Dinosaur in the sense that the dinosaurs didn’t die from climate change, they died from failing to adapt.]

Abram worries whether our colleagues are capable of making the changes that are coming. There are tons of people who don’t have a Facebook account but have very strong opinions about it. [They made the argument that how can you have an opinion if you don’t try it for yourself. I would offer that that isn’t the best argument. A glaring example might be heavy drug use. I’m pretty sure not very many people are going to tell me I can’t have an opinion on that without first trying it myself. But a much tamer example might be collection development. We select materials all the time based on what others have said about the item without reading every page ourselves. I personally think having a Facebook page is kind of like putting up a flyer at a local coffee shop – it certainly can’t hurt, but if none of your constituents go to that coffee shop, maybe your library doesn’t need to be doing that. You can certainly make an informed decision without signing up for an account.]

Karen said we are not an evidence driven profession. Someone will say “Our users don’t use Facebook, oh but we block it.” There’s a dogma about tools, about what people do and don’t do, but most of it is not evidence based. [I definitely agree that I would like to see more user surveys – even of the most informal nature.]

Abram – “You were so successful at getting kids not to smoke and drink by banning it.” [I could be wrong, but I don’t think most places are blocking Facebook because they think it’s bad for kids. They’re blocking it because people are hogging the computers. There may be other/better ways to handle the problem, but I think this was a misrepresentation of what’s going on.]

Janes said that when teachers say you can’t use Wikipedia we need to take those teachers aside in the faculty lounge. It’s about how to learn how to use the tool. [Yes! I’m huge on using the bottom of the page in Wikipedia to find articles and websites.]

If you don’t like Wikipedia, fix it. “Like my dad says – if you don’t vote you can’t bitch.”

Karen thinks Wikipedia should have been ours for the taking. Janes agreed, there’s more of us than there are of them.

[I think this argument gives librarians a little too much credit. Wikipedia is not something that can be “fixed.” It is what it is and as such is constantly evolving. Librarians taking over as stewards won’t change the fact that Colbert can ask people to change the numbers on the population of elephants and they’ll do it en mass. Librarian involvement would not change any of the inherent “flaws” of the tool. And there are more of them than there are of us. And they’re much more technologically savvy.]

The next discussion question was: If you could change one thing what would it be?

Abram would change the big picture confidence of our colleagues, give them the confidence to think way bigger, advocacy skills in a much more coordinated manner.

Karen would put a software developer in every library, or every country, or every state. We would be able to write our own software, have incredibly great applications. [I’m a huge fan of Karen’s but I’m thinking she doesn’t really know what all goes in to software development if she thinks putting one in each state is the way to go. (See the comments – she assumed collaboration while I was assuming silos.) At the very least it usually involves teams of people… I’ll take the sentiment behind it though and say that I am so in love with the fact that many talented librarians seem to be embracing open source and excellent things are being developed.]

Abram asked, “Can we develop a user experience?” He also kept talking about how we need more meat in the game, which I think sometimes meant more substance and other times meant more people? But it was an odd turn of phrase and particularly kept turning my non-meat eating stomach.

Janes would like to be able to go into the collective mind of the profession and flip the little default switch from no to yes. [What a lovely way to phrase that!]

Karen said someone will bring up user tagging and the next person will ask how can we control that?

Abram would like to see intergenerational mentoring – young and old know equal amount of stuff that’s different. [I felt this was based on an assumption that all young librarians are tech savvy and that’s just not true.]

Janes said the directors are trying to innovate, the youngns are trying to innovate, but the people in the middle are sitting there with their arms crossed and it’s so disheartening.

Janes tells his grads that there are people who are going to beat you down, you need to figure out how to work together.

They mentioned a Wilson Bulletin from the 50’s saying not to use phone reference – if they’re too lazy to come in they don’t deserve our help. So it’s not a new thing.

Where they start is up to them, where they finish is up to you. [I agree very much with the sentiment that we should provide as many ways to contact us as possible. We can always continue the communication using a more appropriate method.]

Another topic was the idea of risk mitigated by small trials. Janes said for those of you who want to try stuff – the most important thing you can do is fail – then tell us all about it. Maricopa used bisac instead of dewey and the profession was not supportive of the trial. If they had failed it would have “proved” to everyone, but things happen iteratively. We need a few more celebrated failures in this profession. [Oh how I agree with this!!]

Federated search is going to be messy for years. Having all this stuff digital is going to be hard and a mess. Google books the search engine is going to take time to get where we want it to be. It’s going to be very difficult to predict what people are going to want these for and what they’ll do with it.

There’s a different kind of scholarship, authorship, readership, creativity. Movies, podcasts, recordings are all valid formats.

Karen said this is an exciting opportunity for us to become curators – think beyond the books. We have to see it and seize it.

There are 2 sides – designing infrastructure and putting people out there. We have so much to contribute. “Free the authorities.” Show our candy.

The idea of embedded – that everyone is part of a community. Librarians posted comments on local community blogs, engage people where they are. [I think this is a great idea for communities that have that type of public forum or local bloggers!]

Karen said it’s not the user who’s remote, we are. We need to reach out and close that gap. It can be as simple as commenting on someone’s blog. [Though there is the question of how many small rural Texas communities have anyone blogging? But we can take the idea without the methodology – comment in the local paper, local PTA meeting, wherever would be relevant for your community.]

When we see something awesome at a library, why isn’t it in 50 other by 6 months? [Good point.]

Abram suggests reorganization of structure – from hierarchical to team based. Karen doesn’t think it’s the structure. She has been in team based structures are awful and hierarchical that are very nimble. It’s the people that need to change.

Abram asked – how do we do that?

Karen said some of that is teaching the young people how to go in there and not get frustrated.

Janes said that the new people are different and they’re different in interesting ways. They’re different in the way they think, more steeped in the technology. In many important ways they’re the same. They want to do good in the world, fight for access, do reference, tell stories, it’s just that they go about it in a slightly different way.

There is hope for the younger folks.

There was a nice defense of some of the feet draggers – think about their position – they entered the profession in 70s or 80s with a perception about the world – a world and profession that wasn’t going to change very much. But their world and perspective was knocked out from under them and they find themselves in a profession they did not sign up for. It’s not a surprise that some people decide this is all bad. But some decide, “I can be a better librarian.” That’s the way to engage these people. [Here here!]

The tools are better now, so you can do what you signed up for better.

They mentioned vodcasts from Cornell about how to do research. [I would strongly recommend though that if you’re going to have some form of media giving information that you have it in text too – remembering our learning styles – just because we can do video now does not mean that it’s the way that everyone prefers to learn.]

There was a joke about forming a 12 step program for librarians.

There’s the frustration from young librarians, “Why are they treating me like a child instead of a new colleague?”

There was talk that we need to be dong the policy work – the advocacy book. People are in denial about reaching supervisory/management. Janes said that part of it is making that attractive. What people come in wanting to do is this profession, why should they want to do the administrative – they’re not trained for that. How do we recruit people into the field that have this breadth of interests and background and experience? [There was a mention that 65% of incoming librarians don’t want to go into management. My question to that is, not everyone can be a manager, so what % do we need to be interested?]

Karen said that we have some really interesting development going on. We need to know more about them and celebrate them a little better.

The final question was – what one thing would you want to know more about?

Abram wants to know how information becomes knowledge. How do we get better at creating those educational items? What behaviors do we want? If we understood the dynamics of learning, society would be better.

Karen wants to know where Google will be in 20 years. If they’re like most technology companies they’ll rise and they’ll fall. When will their time pass? The Google antitrust is coming.

Janes wants to know what happens. There’s a lot going on and a lot of ways this could go. He can imagine a vibrant future or a very different future where we lose. This moment is incredibly fraught and could go either way.

Abram thinks we can do it.

Karen wants to know how we get through the transition from paper to digital. There will come a time when we make that transition. [I disagree that paper will be gone forever, but I agree that more and more is online and dealing with that transition is important. Providing information digitally removes some of the physical cues about what makes something an encyclopedia article or a journal article for example.]

How willing are we to embrace a world where we don’t own what we curate?

Janes said the library isn’t the building – its every time a person engages. The idea of the library has always been bigger than the building. As the stuff becomes increasingly non physical now its just much easier to do that.

We have to be better online. The kinds of services we offer online have to be better.

The idea of bricks, clicks and tricks:

The people we see in the library are different from the ones coming in online. We need to send the message that we improve access to resources – we’ve got the tricks – like an accountant or a doctor. We can all add and subtract, but we go to the accountant for the big things. We do basic nutrition but still go to the doctor for his medical expertise.

Final thoughts:

Karen said she goes to a lot of technology conferences, librarians have enormous respect and trust – we need to tap into and take advantage of that.

Janes encouraged us to talk to library school faculty work with each other, take internship students, recruit for us.

Abram urged us to develop a new culture of openness. Librarians need to learn when we study something to death that death was not our original goal.

I thought this ended on a wonderful note and had many wonderful notes throughout, but did tend to be repeatedly disparaging. There was a running joke about presenting a session on how libraries should go back to the good old days and then locking those people in that room and getting rid of them. There was also the overall vibe of “ugh, why aren’t we all doing this already!” and “can you believe these idiots we all have to work with?”

I’m going to quote myself here because this session brought up a lot of the same emotions for me as the future of the catalog session did.

My parting thought on this session is my general personal unease with the antagonistic approach that I frequently see when proposing important changes. I think that this session was well received, but I worry they were preaching to the converted. There’s something to be said for firing up the choir, but in terms of getting new recruits I wonder if we might not catch more flies with honey. “Look at all the wonderful options we can offer our constituents!” rather than “Get with the times or die!” I will readily admit that I’m probably more sensitive than most people, but I don’t see the need to be so disparaging toward what’s come before. Librarians did the best they could with what they had and now we have some great new tools in front of us that will take some time to learn how to use. This is an exciting opportunity! Let’s share that enthusiasm and optimism and try to put aside the negativity as much as possible.

Edited to add: Starr types much faster than I do, so for more on what the panelists said, see her notes.


TLA Conference – Transforming Texas Libraries: An Update on Statewide Visioning

Members of the visioning team will update attendees on recommendations and seek feedback on the draft report. We want to learn from you. Help craft a vision that will make all Texas libraries stronger today and tomorrow.
Steve Brown, director, North Richland Hills Public Library; Peggy Rudd, director and librarian, Texas State Library and Archives Commission; Julie Todaro, dean of library services, Austin Community College.

First off for more on the Transforming Texas Libraries initiative please see the homepage and the blog. You can also read my comments on the keynote speakers.

This session was for gathering feedback from the community. It started with a brief overview of the progress so far.

The initiative started about a year ago. TLA president Steve Brown talked about wanting a process to bring Texas libraries together and to stay vibrant into the future.

What is the big question for libraries? How are we going to be relevant? How can we do new and different things?

Instead of having to play catch up to the world’s expectations, lets get ahead of the game and see what we can be like.

We’re looking at libraries in different ways, some ways are uncomfortable and some are exciting.

There was an aggressive time line to get some ideas going forward. They didn’t want a short term 6 month project that mounts a report that doesn’t get read. They see this as a living thing.

Hopefully you’re here because you want to continue the process an make it better.

We needed quick great thinking to give a framework to go forward. So they got together a steering committee. They wanted to bring in people from across the state so they made a task force, a strong group of people with new ideas with at least 50% being new to the profession. It didn’t make sense to craft a longstanding vision that wasn’t going to be fueled by the people who would have to take it forward. So there were young turks and veterans at the summit and folks from outside of library land – legislative especially. Decided it was best not to just talk to ourselves. Have to make a conscious effort to get that outside view. The summit consisted of people in work groups tackling questions. They wanted big ideas. From that process we had 6 emerging themes. [Link to the draft report]

  • User focus
  • Universal access
  • Partnerships and collaboration
  • Outreach
  • Marketing
  • Accountability and preparation

This is all available on the TLA website along with a podcast of the keynotes.

We need to stop talking about what libraries need and talk about what users need, stop talking about how to bring users in and start on how to go out to them. We’re still very much for universal access. There’s an ongoing need for partnership and collaboration between libraries and between libraries and other kinds of organizations and user communities. [Personal plug – do you know about 211? Do you let your constituents know about 211? It’s a nationwide initiative to help connect people to free information and referrals to health and human service agencies, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, disaster relief resources, and volunteer opportunities.]

The job of librarians today is to set up the candy store and let them have at it. It won’t hurt our jobs since there’s so much to organize.

There’s a need for statewide marketing.

This is the first of hopefully many feedback forums. The panel included:

Steve Brown, director, North Richland Hills Public Library and TLA president; Peggy Rudd, director and librarian, Texas State Library and Archives Commission; Julie Todaro, dean of library services, Austin Community College and Transforming Committee Chair.

Peggy Rudd told us that the transforming process begins now but will have to be handed off. How will we operationalize this? She hopes we all have a chance to read Gloria’s draft report. The question now is how is it we are going to step into this process? How is what we are going to do going to impact libraries across the state?

She’s going to talk about some of the things they’re trying at the state library. Libraries are instruments for innovation, success and self fulfilment. Our purpose is simple but profoundly important. How are we going to make that come true?

We have some of the most successful programs that are around that are statewide. We have a solid foundation to base future work but we need to continue pushing envelope. Public libraries must have a presence in the virtual world, not just a static web page with a picture. We committed – created/provided public library internet kit – website in a box toolkit. This allows these libraries to be more meaningful and more interactive. Libraries need to begin taking advantage of social networking sites, to work within the blogging sphere. That came up as a need and desire for libraries of all types, particularly public. How are we going to get many public librarians comfortable in these spaces with these new technologies? We need some training, preferably training online so it can be accessed when they’re ready.

In the area of statewide resource sharing – Texshare is the name that stands out as a brand. It has immediate name recognition among librarians, but the public is not aware. The term database means nothing, Texshare means nothing. How are we going to brand the Texshare experience – connecting people to info and materials quickly easily, take that as a brand and sell that to the public? What we need to do is connecting. We’ve got work to do in that area.

How can we market them so the public immediately recognizes a value? Compel them to reach out and grab what we make available to them?

Statewide authentication. What do we do about people who are not coming through a library? We’ve always pitched it as something available through your library. What about the people who have no library? Should we let them in at the state level or partner them with local libraries? Are we ready now to really talk about a statewide library card or statewide reciprocal borrowing card? How would that look?

What if we move it out into the world of other libraries at large?

If we’re thinking about the user, our answer is different than when we think about it as librarians. Remember it’s about the user.

They’re already rethinking ILL (at the state library). They have 3 models. The ILL implementation group is meeting to discuss a recent study.

In the area of cultural heritage and digitization of collections they’ve been lucky with grants etc. to be able to do a great deal of work. They’re testing a data collection instrument to identify historical collections, then they’ll push on public access to those resources.

How are we going to move in preservation so years from now people have the same or better access? Having access to primary resources makes students more interested.

How are we going to integrate library services so they have integrated full range access regardless of their purpose, income, location. Right now they’re working to tear down many silos so they can reach across.

Community colleges see that what access students had in high school has a huge effect on entering college.

Next up Steve Brown said there are two driving sentiments – enormous challenge to librarians looming on the horizon and change is hard. Users move more quickly than we do. He said we owe a great debt to Julie et al for pulling us together and giving us a beginning. Now how do we sustain that and take it down to a local level?

He found it easy to play the role of outside agitator, but now how to carry it on. He said that the incoming president is focusing on one Texas, one card, no barriers.

Change is not an easy thing, it doesn’t happen overnight. We need to keep pushing and keep it in the air til it becomes something they expect. About 80% of the cities and towns in Texas are smaller than the population of this conference. It’s very hard to tear yourself away from day to day concerns and look ahead.

They’re working with the idea of putting together toolkits that give people the working pieces. He said they want feedback more than talking, so he passed it over to Julie.

Julie talked about the need for repackaging so rather than the content she’s going to talk about the process. We had an agenda and she pointed to item 4b – events scheduled so far. She’ll be traveling and speaking about how you might do this in your environment. She mentioned they’ll be offering a very short edited down version of the keynote which was a discussion between 2 futurists.

Some of the options include:

  • elevator speech – 5 minutes
  • dinner speech – 30 minutes – to take and deliver to excite them about the fact that there’s some wonderful things going on out there and you need to have the discussion
  • workshop – plan to do with staff
  • webcast – less than an hour
  • video, ppt, handouts, discussion questions

They want to make it flat so that you can do it at any time, or synchronous.

There will be publications – handouts, press releases, discussion questions, articles with rationale, why should you as well as steps. Take handouts to district meetings.

The online toolkit is the structure to this entire event.

They’re also doing a poll of Texas – like a Gallup poll – of people who both use and don’t use libraries – constituents. [Constituents was the term proposed by the keynote speakers to talk about all the people the library serves. I like it.]

They’ll continue to update the blog as well as utilize the wiki system within TLA to provide content and feedback.

Then the floor was open to comments with the following questions as guidelines:

Which of these things is interesting to you? Who else do we need to talk to? [I made a note to myself here – there was a sign up list of who to talk to up at the summit and I would love to see that list online somewhere.]

Start today by using that content from Gloria (the draft report). Also think about how you might transform your own environment.

3rd – how you might use a piece of the repackaging.

An audience member encouraged the face to face structure. Another agreed, yes, we need face to face, we won’t do it just online.

Another suggestion was that perhaps next year the Texas Library Journal’s theme should be the transforming process.

The panel added that the 6 themes will also be the 6 programming themes for next year’s conference.

Partnerships – need to talk to others who share our ideals and would be happy to help us transform.

Harrington – 94 libraries, easy time changing because they’re always changing and growing.

Another plug for branding across the state.

The PR committee is actively involved in the poll they’ll be doing.

We’ve had a couple of statewide campaigns.

Will be doing RFPs and will work with a marketing company.

Why can’t we use the driver’s license as the statewide card? Cuts both ways – way too much info on one card and what about people who can’t get DLs?

Some of the past campaigns:

“Get the facts ask a librarian” – focused on environment and people

“read for your life” – outcomes based

Someone from a community college said that developmental learning is very front and center.

No time for MySpace.

Initiated several new programs with youth that have been successful

Another person said they don’t have the talent, the money to hire the talent, or the time to learn.

Transforming is to give you an idea of where you need to go.

Using other people’s energy – e.g. high school kids coming in and getting trained from local Apple Co.

Technology Petting Zoo – need to do something to increase the comfort level – ATRT will likely do this next conference. [I’m working on getting one together at my college too.]

We need to share ownership of library – invite the constituents into our system.

Question – how far is this going to go?

That’s on the agenda. The idea is that kits will be organized by what is realistic based on your size and constituents. Should give you ideas of what you can do within the resources you already have. Identify something you can do immediately. Really looking at things that are doable almost immediately, that’s the way they’re trying to steer people. Remember to use your TLA colleagues and library students.

The very nature of this technology is that it’s ephemeral. Transforming is not about “let’s all get on the technology bandwagon,” it’s about how can we change. Our constituents are changing, resources are changing. We need to address the basics. Helping people look at what they need to change and how.

Julie would be happy if in small areas people came in to talk about change and found out the databases were there. Would be thrilled if people knew what we have now and how we can enrich their lives.

Another person mentioned the viagra model – getting vendors to market directly to patrons.

Gloria said they have been in discussion with some database providers, the vendors had this idea already. Ebsco is planning to.

I think the most important take away from this session was the idea that we’re talking about looking at libraries and what they can be. People think transform and think 2.0, but it doesn’t have to be about technology. Focusing on our constituents and asking them what they want is a big and important change that doesn’t require any technology. The same is true for forming partnerships with other organizations and reaching out into the community. It’s about what we should be doing, not what tools we should be using to do it.