ALA Annual 2011 was held in New Orleans. I arrived Friday, June 24th at 4:00 p.m. and departed Tuesday, June 28th at 6:30 a.m. While there, I attended 3 business meetings, 4 discussion groups, 4 panel presentations, a vendor-hosted luncheon, and battledecks 2011 (PowerPoint Karaoke). Below, I present highlights of each event, in chronological order.
1. RUSA RSS/MARS Virtual Reference Committee Meeting, 8am-10am, Saturday, June 25th.
- I attended as a member of the Virtual Reference Tutorial Subcommittee. As a member of the subcommittee, I reported on our progress. We have established guiding principles for revision of the Virtual Reference Adventure Tutorial bequeathed to RUSA in 2006. Those principles are: (1) retain the basic structure; (2) refocus from full-featured platforms to IM chat; (3) update content; (4) maintain a professional, yet accessible tone. Thus far the subcommittee has developed draft revisions of two of the tutorials modules.
- I volunteered to serve as secretary du jour. I submitted the minutes to the committee co-chairs on Monday, July 4th.
- The main business item for the meeting was finalizing plans for the committee's program to be held Monday, June 27th at 8am.
- In addition, the committee began brainstorming topics for its program at ALA Annual 2012. Among the topics put forward were: gadgets for virtual reference, free tools for virtual refernence, taking virtual reference to where the users are, and tablets for virtual reference.
2. RUSA MARS Hot Topics in Virtual Reference Discussion Forum "How are we measuring up? Using new technologies to schedule, standardize, and assess reference services." Saturday, June 25, 10:30am-Noon - panelists: Joyce Champan from NCSU, Andy Huse, Barbara Lewis, Lily Todorinova, and Matthew Torrence from University of South Florida, & Ken Simon from Loyola Marymount.
- Joyce Champman described an open-source tool called Suma that she and her colleagues at NCSU are developing to help staff in reference services assess their services. Suma is designed for tablets so that reference staff can use it for a variety of data gathering functions including taking head counts. The interface helps staff gather data that is stored centrally. It also provides a means to view and manage the data. Joyce posted her slides on slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/JoyceChapman/introducing-suma-an-opensource-tablet-application-for-library-assessment-assessment-forum-ala-2011
- Andy Huse, Barbara Lewis, Lily Todorinova, and Matthew Torrence detailed the steps involved in making a recent decision to dramatically reduce staffing at the University of South Florida Library's main reference desk. They compiled data from a variety of sources and used the combined picture to identify several hours that would be staffed with one employee rather than one. They also decided to stop staffing the desk on Saturdays. They explained that there have been almost no negative comments from patrons in response to these changes. There talk was based on a journal article Lily Todorinova, Barbara Lewis, Andy Huse, and Matt Torrence. "Making Decisions: Using Electronic Data Collection to Re-Envision Reference Services at the USF Tampa Libraries" Public Services Quarterly 7.1 (2011): 34.
- Ken Simon described Loyola Marymount Library's use of the reference transaction recording software Gimlet. He explained that Gimlet is a subscription-based, web-hosted tool designed by one of the people who created LibStats. His institution pays ~$10/month. Gimlet is similar to LibStats but includes the ability to tag, the ability to flag transactions for follow-up or e-mail, and has more sophisticated reporting options. Ken and his colleagues initially tried to tag questions according to the topic of the question. That did not prove sustainable. Instead, they moved to tagging questions to describe the sources used. Ken's PowerPoint is online at connect.ala.org/files/Gimlet%20Eye_0.pptx
3. Academic Librarian Lightning Round: Innovative New Roles, Saturday, June 25, 1:30-3:00
This session featured twelve five minute presentations by academic librarians (for details see http://connect.ala.org/node/137113). Each presentation described a program or project in which academic librarians are providing non-traditional services. Among my favorite presentations were:
- A librarian describing her work as an academic advisor. She has found this very rewarding and believes that librarians can make excellent advisors because they have no academic turf to protect. Her involvement as an advisor has helped her make many connections on campus.
- A librarian at Florida State Libraries describing some of their efforts to help undergraduates succeed. These efforts include extening service to 1am and hosting an undergraduate research symposium.
- A librarian from Wake Forest describing her involvement in a 5K race to help raise funds for the libraries. The race has become extremely popular.
4. RUSA MARS Virtual Reference Discussion Forum: "Mobile goes both ways: Using the iPad for Virtual Reference." featuring kickoff speaker Stephanie Graves from SIU Carbondale.
I was vice-chair (I became chair on July 1) of the Virtual Reference Discussion Group's Planning Committee and helped plan this session. Stephanie Graves described SIU Carbondale Libraries' use of 3 ipads for roaming reference. They received a $1,000 grant for purchasing the iPads and also purchased a keyboard and apple care protection. They use a single iTunes account for all three iPads and strive to keep them identical in every way. Stephanie updates the iPads monthly and as patches come out. They manage check-out via pen and paper and store the iPads in a locked desk drawer.
She explained that patrons approached librarians who were carrying the iPads and that this gave librarians a "cool factor." She and her colleagues have found the iPads very convenient for teaching patrons how to use the catalog in the stacks. They record stats online on the iPad too. The iPads have a 10 hr. battery life. They have also discovered several useful applications including papers, PLOS Reader, Worldcat, dropbox, and evernote. For a full list of the apps they downloaded to the iPads see their libguide: http://libguides.lib.siu.edu/ipads. Stephanie and her colleagues use the iPads to conduct virtual reference in meetings. They use libraryh3lp's webchat via Safari. They are aware of, but do not use, an app called beejive for monitoring libraryh3lp.
After Stephanie's kickoff presentation, we broke into tables for small group discussions. We then came together as a group to share key points of each small group discussion. Most participants were excited by the possibility of using iPads for reference, especially now that Apple no longer requires a credit card for creating an iTunes account. One participant mentioned that dropbox was recently hacked. Waula was suggested as an alternate.
5. MARS Virtual Reference Discussion Group Planning Commitee Meeting, Sunday, June 26, 8am-10am.
I was vice-chair of this committee until July 1st and am now the chair. Our main order of business was discussing the outcome of our program on Saturday afternoon. Our chair, Amanda Clay Powers, reported that the evaluation feedback was positive despite the technical difficulties we faced (the hotel did not provide wifi to us). We also brainstormed some potential topics for our program at Midwinter. One that we considered is video chat for reference. The committee will meet online to finalize a proposal and submit it to MARS' executive committee in time for inclusion in the program. In the past we have submitted a generic description and then finalized the topic close to the date of the event. This has enabled us to make sure our topic is current. We will explore moving up our planning to get a more detailed description in the program.
6. ACRL Distance Library Section's Discussion Group, Sunday, June 26, 10:30am-Noon
In February I received an appointment to this group. The appointment begins on July 1. I chose to join this group because I am interested in assisting Joelle Pitts, Laura Bonella, and others with efforts to enhance our services to distance patrons.
Prior to the start of the discussion, the chair, Cynthia Porter, asked me to serve as secretary for the day. I agreed to do so.
The topic of the discussion was assessment and Cynthia led it off by asking the approximately 25 members present what they are doing to assess their services to distance learners. Eastern Carolina University has implemented a robust assessment of their services. They recently sent an invitation to take LibQual to all of their distance patrons. The data shows that few are aware of their services. Another libray has assessed the impact of online information literacy classes for distance patrons. They have found that 75% of the students report using the skills and resources they learned about in their instruction in other classes. One librarian reported that she examined over 100 dissertations to assess whether or not online instruction made a difference. She found no impact.
The discussion then turned to the implications of the ACRL report on the Value of Academic Libraries. Several members expressed concern about the feasibility of demonstrating clear impact. They stated that they see it as impossible to clearly separate the influence of the library's efforts from all the other influences students receive. In response, several librarians suggested that faculty testimonials, tracking performance after receiving library instruction, and e-portfolios could help us assess our impact. One librarian stressed that high impact requires becoming highly involved in developing and delivering curricula.
7. Credo Luncheon, Sunday, June 26th, Noon-1:30
Representatives from Credo explained that Credo is exploring patron driven access for reference titles. They requested input from us to help them create a model that would appeal to a wide variety of libraries. One popular idea was to follow Elsevier's model in which libraries pay an up-front sum to gain access to a wide array of resources and then they evaluate usage data after a year and decide which products to purchase. Several of the attendees also noted that reference works might not be good candidates for p.d.a. since a use might involve only a small percent of the overall work.
8. RUSA RSS Reference Research Forum, Sunday, June 26th, 1:30-3:30. Presenters: Ana Dubnjakovic (University of South Carolina), Amanda Clay Powers (Mississippi State University Libraries), and Amy Van Scoy (PhD student at UNC's library school)
- Ana Dubnjakovic described a study in which she used NCES data to assess the relationship between gate counts at academic libraries, expenditures on electronic resources, and the number of reference transactions. Her results reveal a positive correlation between expenditures on electronic resources and the number of reference transactions. This contradicts the widely held belief that increased access to electronic resources will mean the demise of reference services.
- Amanda Clay Powers described a project in which she and her colleagues reviewed virtual reference transcripts and used the data to help with a website redesign and training program development. She used Grounded Theory to group questions and assign labels to them. One key finding was that the number of topic searches declined after they implemented EBSCO's Discovery service.
- Amy VanScoy described a study in which she investigated practictioner beleifs of librarians by interviewing 8 academic subject specialists. She used an exploratory, qualititative method called interpretive phenomenological analysis. She indentified emergent themes in the interviews and grouped them into superordinant themes. She then grouped the superordinant themes into master themes. She found that all her interviewees focused on the user and saw the users as having power. Some described their work as giving answers, others as planning for answers, and others as fixing mental models. Her interviewees use a number of active strategies for engaging users. These include persistence, creativity, intuition, and reflection. They delight in the intellectual challenge of reference and the joy of helping.
9. ACRL Instruction Section's Current Issue Discussion: "Library instruction in tough economic times" Sunday, June 26, 4pm-5:30pm
This was perhaps the best run discussion session I have ever attended. The facilitator, Joan Petit, was outstanding at keeping the group on task and asking provocative questions to spur our thinking. The room contained several large tables each with about 8 people (a total of about 32 people). Joan began by describing the need for instruction programs to think more innovatively about how to best serve students. She noted that budget cuts and calls to prove impact represent significant challenges to the status quo. She encouraged us to think boldly and honesly.
Joan then provided each participant with a sheet for individual brainstorming. The sheet had five questions we were to spend 10-15 minutes answering individually. The questions were: (1) If money and staffing were unlimited, what would your library instruction program look like? (2) Given that we don't live in a perfect world, what from the above list is most important? (3) Do your current library program and your personal work schedule reflect these priorities? If not, why not? What are you and your library now doing that you could stop doing and perhaps approach differently? What could you say no to? (4) What would you need to do or have in order to implement your top priorities? (5) Many of us make personal and professional sacrifices in order to get our work done. What sacrifices have you made?
After we each answered these questions, each table discussed there answers among themselves. Following that, the entire room came together to share the most interesting ideas at the tables. Several librarians stressed that it is not efficient or particularly useful to provide generic one-shot instruction sessions to students when that instruction is not interesting and not provided at the point-of-need. A librarian from Arizona State University revealed that her library has stopped doing instruction for any class that does not have a heavy research component. They have developed online tutorials and guides to meet other user's needs. This idea of abandoning one-shots was not popular with all participants. Some indicated that students benefit from these because they learn to see the library as a friendly place to go for help. These librarians worry that we will miss out on opportunities to reach undergraduates if we stop visiting their classes in-person.
Other ideas presented were: (1) the need to map library instruction intelligently across curricula. (2) the need to learn to say no to requests by saying yes to something more managable. (3) The possibility of removing librarians from the reference desk to free up time for becoming embedded in curricula. (4) The need to track outcomes centrally. The University of Wisconsin's Libraries coordinates and publicizes assessment of information literacy. See http://www.library.wisc.edu/inst-services/assessment.html#infolit
There were several suggested readings for participants. These are listed at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/about/sections/is/eventsconferences/2011andigesttoughecon.cfm
10. RUSA MARS/RSS Virtual Reference Committee's program "Behind the text: Pulling back the curtain on virtual reference" Monday, June 27, 8am-10am, Moderator: Peter Bromberg (Princeton Public Library), Panelists: Kris Johnson (Ask Colorado), Lisa Ellis (Baruch College), Jen Robinson (Seattle Public Library)
As a member of the virtual reference tutorial subcommittee, I helped plan this session by contributing a number of discussion questions and helping develop some SMS poll questions. I also served as a door greeter and compiled the responses on the evaluation forms. This session was over-capacity. We had 120 chairs and 135 people in attendance. I remained outside the room throughout the presentation and encouraged indivdiuals who left early to fill out an evaluation form. Unfortunately, this role meant that I was not able to hear or see the program.
11. RUSA MARS/RSS joint executive commitee meeting, Monday, June 27, 11am-Noon.
I attended this meeting to report on the progress of the virtual reference tutorial subcommitee. I explained that we have revised two of the tutorials modules and will continue to revise modules offline until RUSA finishes its migration to Drupal.
12.The Ultimate Debate: "Library Web Scale Discovery Services: Paradigm Shift or More of the Same?" Moderator: Roy Tenant (OCLC), Panelists: Marshall Breeding (Vanderbilt), Andrea Shurr (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), Anne Prestamo (Oklahoma State University), Monday, June 27th, 1:30-3:30
Sadly, I was an hour late to this session due to very slow service at the restaurant we chose for lunch. By the time I arrived, the panelists were fielding questions. From their answers to the questions, I surmised that most of the panelists were quite positive toward webscale discovery solutions. Marshall Breeding, in particular, seemed to see them as a key way for us to improve our usefulness and relevance to our patrons. All the panelists stressed that the tools are not perfect and that it is especially vital to develop sound relevancy ranking strategies and to work carefully on the language of filtering options.
13.Battledecks 2011, Monday, June 27, 5:30pm-7pm
I'd heard about battledecks but had never attended a competition. I was amazed by the showmanship and spectacle. This competition was a battle of regional representatives and featured several well-known librarians including Lisa Hinchcliffe (ACRL President), Steven Abrams, and Jason Griffey. The idea of battledecks is quite simple: each participant is provided with 10 PowerPoint slides they have never seen before. They are given 4 minutes to get through all the slides. Each participant has a different set of slides, but has the same task: create a coherent, humorous talk based on the common theme: The future of libraries.
I was amzed at the cleverness of several of the presenters and delighted by the slides themselves. Most were abstract pictures culled from creative commons repositories. After the session, Heidi Blackburn suggested that we have a battledecks competition at the Unconference. I have floated that idea to the Unconference planning committee and they love the idea!