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After ALA

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    I have joined the low-residency MFA program at Miami University, where Hoa Nguyen and Laura Van Prooyen are the poetry mentors.  These poets join the experimental-minded poetry faculty in Miami’s residential MFA program, Keith Tuma, Cathy Wagner, and cris cheek for an intimate poetics program well-versed in the history of experimental poetry and performance. […]

I went to ALA this year for the first time. I used to be an academic and I’ve been to many conferences, given many papers, etc., even large conferences like AWP and MLA.  ALA was the biggest conference I’ve ever been to, but I can’t say that it was the most useful. I met some interesting people (hi) and picked up some free books for my library (thank you, presses who didn’t want to take all their books with them at 1:45 on Monday).  Otherwise, it was a 5 day conference that took place at multiple hotels, a conference center the size of an airport, and an exhibit center that rivaled the BookExpo (an event just for publishers/booksellers). It was huge! The sheer volume of information to parse meant I was walking around in a stupor, privately thinking “Is this important?  How does this apply to my library?” and most of the time the answer was “No and it doesn’t.” My library is like a mix of a public, a school, and a small academic library, which means many things don’t quite fit it. However, I did take away some ideas:

  • Sticky notes as informal poll: One of the poster sessions was about using a big board space with sticky notes where students could post their anonymous comments or responses to questions (maybe, “What book would you most like to see in the library?” Or, “Do you think the library should acquire gaming systems?”). The colorful sticky note responses are pretty and allow for greater flexibility than a SurveyMonkey poll (my usual method– which I’m not throwing out, but which may come in handy for some things while the sticky notes solution is handy for others). I can see this working next to the copy machine, which is one of the highest-use places in the library and one where students are frequently waiting around with nothing to do. Plus, the teens do this in an episode of Degrassi. If it’s on Degrassi, it must be awesome. [Sidenote: why don’t more Americas/YA people watch Degrassi? It’s so much better than Gossip Girl.]
  • Graphic novels, on the shelves and in the classroom: In many k-12 schools, lack of funding has threatened arts literacy. Visual literacy is essential for processing information, as much of communication (and marketing) is visual, not lingual. Our school doesn’t have this problem– in fact, a fine arts course is required– but heck, there’s no such thing as too much visual literacy, and graphic novels are a great way to reintroduce that to a curriculum that focuses on “things that the College Board tests.” (Actually, the College Board does test visual literacy, such as the ability to read charts or interpret political cartoons.) We also have a lot of international students for whom graphic novels might improve literacy in the more traditional sense.  I acquired a few graphic novels last year, mostly by Neil Gaiman since my knowledge of graphic literature isn’t very wide-ranging, but after touring the exhibits and listening to some suggestions I feel more empowered to choose graphic novels for the library and maybe assign one in my literature class.
  • Most of the technology I would love to acquire for our small archives is too expensive, and no one rents it. I would love to transfer our archives to a web portal where alumni could access yearbooks, photographs, etc., but I don’t want to spend $10k+ to do it. Maybe at some future date alumni could put together the money to get a nice scanner, but for now, a $50 flatbed is probably the best we can do.
  • Book recycling. We currently get rid of weeded/donated books in this fashion: sell new books to Books-A-Million, donate newish books to other schools or arts organizations in our area, and recycle old/damaged (weeded) books. Well, there are businesses that can do all this for me! Hooray! Better World Books is probably where I’m going for this, although there were many options.

Other things I picked up at the conference:

  • Librarians and New Orleansers (?) are very nice.
  • Old male exhibitors can be nice, but most of them are condescending jerks. I’m a 32 year old woman, but I look a bit younger. However, I have two masters degrees and part of a PhD and I am the sole purse-strings-holder of my library, which has a substantial budget. So it does not make me want to spend money with your business when you treat me like a stupid little girl who can’t possibly afford your product. Moreover, most librarians are women and many librarians are young women, so it’s not a good sales tactic to be sexist or ageist.
  • Librarians are kinda stuck in a rut when it comes to acquisitions. The Big 6 publishers are where it’s at, and if it’s not there, they can’t (or won’t) buy it. There are industries that cater to librarians never having to think for themselves or on behalf of their collections– businesses that completely take over your collection development. Since I have a small library, I don’t really get why librarians would allow collection development to slip from their control (it’s the most fun part!), nor do I understand why some librarians are so dead-set against small presses. But I will blog about this more in a separate post.
  • Libraries have a lot of big ideas for ebooks, but I don’t really understand what they are or how I can act on them, even after attending multiple panel sessions about them. Big question mark.
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3 Comments

  1. Jessica Olin says:

    As I think I mentioned on Twitter, you had the exact same reaction this year that I had last year. My one useful take-away was something I haven’t yet been able to act on – not completely. It was about bridging the gap between local hs & public libraries and my library. I had fun there, but think it’s main role in my professional life was to recharge my librarian batteries.

    (Also, didn’t you get the impression that a lot of the sessions were being run because people wanted them in their tenure folders?)

  2. Andrew says:

    Congrats on attending your first ALA Annual Conference. It can be very overwhelming, but it sounds like you did find some useful ideas. I wanted to comment on the archival scanning. You probably don’t need one of the very high end scanners unless you have a large collection or items that are of a large format. We have digitized a number of items using a regular Epson scanner at Defiance College. I also bought an OpticBook scanner (cost around $300) to digitize our yearbooks.

    • Thanks for the second opinion on the scanners, Andrew. I just love those super scanners– used to use one at Internet Archive and it was so easy to use and made such nice scans. But yeah, for $500 we could get a flatbed scanner, a photo/negative scanner, and an external hard drive to save it all on.

      @ Jessica – I don’t know– was that what the panels were about? I thought it was weird that so few of the panelists seemed like experienced speakers/conference presenters. Oh well. I did feel like my librarian batteries were recharged. As with the school libraries conference, I felt like some of the information would have been more useful if I wasn’t just out of library school. One thing I felt like I got a quick education in was professionalization. Committees and roundtables and acronyms, oh my! We didn’t get a lot of that in library school, which is fine because most local school and small public libraries probably don’t need that larger structure.

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