I attended my first ALA midwinter conference over the weekend. Since it was held in Boston, MIT Libraries generously sponsored one day passes for those interested in going. I chose to go on Saturday. One thing I knew about midwinter going in is that it is much more meeting focused than session focused, but I tried to do a little bit of everything including a corporate demo, an Ignite session, a featured speaker, a roundtable meeting, and of course the exhibit hall.
First thing Saturday morning was a demo of HARI discovery, a conceptual discovery approach, or a very visual way to browse resources by concepts. I love any idea that makes browsing collections easier and more visual. It sort of looks like this…
It is still being developed, but beta testing is starting this spring and then roll out later in the year. One of the things that is neat about it is that when possible it works with full text, not just the metadata. It also scalable to millions and millions of items. The hope is that it will make wading through too much information manageable. It was also said that any text could be incorporated including archival description, special collections, and image/video metadata.
After the demo I went over to the exhibits hall and starting picking up posters, bookmarks, flyers, catalogs, advanced copies of books, tote bags, pens, coasters, pins, and any other kind of swag that looked intriguing. The free stuff at ALA is legendary and it’s def. a fun time in the exhibits hall. There were also a number of pop up kind of speaker events and book signings happening all over the place.
The Ignite session was a lot of fun. It was a half hour to hear about five different projects at various public and academic libraries. A lot of it had to do with culture (adapting burning man principles to the library) and programming/services (a nap space, a gaming program, using small grants to fund lectures, art exhibits, and film series).
After lunch I went to the Nancy Pearl and Andre Dubus III speaker session. Unfortunately Nancy Pearl wasn’t able to attend and Bill Kelly from Cuyahoga County Public Library did the interview instead. I was mainly there to see Nancy Pearl, but I learned a lot about Dubus and I will probably pick up Townie or some of his father’s short stories in the future. Dubus’s insights on the writing process were interesting and he emphasized how writing everyday word by word is the most important thing aspiring writers can do, and then edit and revise like crazy.
After a couple more hours in the exhibit hall I attended the Genealogy and Local History Discussion Group (RUSA HS). This began with a discussion on the merits of the work title “Local History Librarian.” Some were for and some were against. I had no strong opinion either way, though I feel like “Reference Librarian” or “Research Specialist” or something like that, that doesn’t specify a subject makes more sense, but every place is different and should have librarians with titles that fit the needs of that specific place.
A more interesting discussion was one that revolved around how to engage with people who feel that their history doesn’t belong/isn’t welcome in local history collections. The need to be more proactive about collecting documents from groups traditionally excluded from local history collections was mentioned. It was also pointed out that having “donate days” was not enough, that library employees would have to make connections with the communities they were trying to document and if the library was looking for digital collections, should bring scanning equipment to the communities. I think it was around this conversation that the book “A Shared Authority” by Micheal Frisch came up. I added it to my to-read list.
Also discussed was the success some places have had in bringing diverse audiences into the library with events that focus on the intersection of present day concerns and history. Some examples mentioned were a panel of Civil Rights activists, a lecture on affordable housing issues, and a popular exhibit about the Beatles – but the Beatles are always crowd pleasers.
Another discussion thread focused on genealogy and how some people have noticed a “genealogy for academics” trend. The idea that academics could use some of the research methods that genealogists are expert in for other reasons is interesting.
Overall I had a great time at ALA. And I think my cat Smokie even liked some of the swag I brought home.