Monday, August 25, 2008

Texas is the place

I've been meaning to write a little something ever since I got back from the US about Austin, Texas. To my great surprise on my recent trip I found myself agreeing to spend a few days in Austin after the ALA conference with Fiona. I had never been to Texas, and had never intended to go to Texas (apart from in my fantasy road trip of the American south, where a friend and I would travel through the south stopping at every two bit diner and eating peach pie. It would be the only time I would want to carry a gun). But Fiona was going, and I've spent enough time travelling by myself to know that I much prefer company. And so I found myself flying in to Austin.

Oh lordy. Austin is so cool. I know, it surprised the hell out of me too, but it's wonderful. I fell in love with our hotel within minutes (if you're ever in Austin I cannot recomend this place highly enough) and the area where we stayed was covered in vintage shops, shops full of mexican souveniers, and wonderful food places. Across the road from the hotel was a winnebago (I think? I'm not really up on my caravan brands) that was converted into a cupcake stand, that was open till 10:30 every night. Now THAT's cool.

We spent just four short days in Austin, and one of those was spent heading further south to San Antonio, where the Alamo failed to impress. We found ourselves in a Texan goth club of a Wednesday night, where the few girls on the dance floor were dancing with hola hoops, and it was beautiful. We watched 1.5 million bats fly out from beneath a bridge to go hunting. And we ate - oh lord how we ate. Oh, and drank. All these people had warned me about terrible food in America, but in Austin every meal was fantastic. I brought home some peach and habenero jam, which goes awfully well on bagels and on crackers with a sharp chedder.

So my tourist advice is: if you're in the area, do not miss Austin. The massive South by Southwest (SXSW) festival is held there every year, a festival where musos and film buffs and computer geeks all get together in the one place - really, how cool is that?! I'm currently trying to find a way to convince all my friends that it's worth saving up for a trip to Austin. Fingers crossed.

Oh, I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the kind people of American Airlines for letting me fly their plane on the way back to LA. Who says airport security has been tightened?!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Way overdue post part 1: ALA Saturday

And so begins a series of posts relating to the ALA Annual in Anaheim (is that ALAAinA?) in June / July - apologies for the overdue-ness, but...y'know how it is. Most of these were at least written at the time.

I'm sure there were other things that happened on Saturday 28th June, but as far as I'm concerned there was only one thing - I presented a paper at ALA!

I think I've made it clear that it wasn't just me. Andrew and Fiona were my co-presenters, and if it weren't for Andrew making early overtures to NMRT, it wouldn't have happened. So when I say 'I' I don't mean to take credit, but rather to personalise the experience.

To be honest, the reality was quite prosaic. It's not like we were in a massive arena or anything - it was your usual nondescript hotel function room, and I'm a bit embarressed to admit that there were only about 30 people in the room. Kevin Dudeney and Jennefer Nicholson turned up to support the home team, which was great as the last time I'd seen Jennefer was in 2005 when she left ALIA, when I was working on NLS2006. I really appreciated the familiar faces.

The presentation went well. Loida warmed up the crows with a great overview of new grad movements around the world, giving the Aussies the credit we deserve for punching somewhat above our weight. Loida had obviously put a lot of work into her research, and it was great to hear about the range of activities occurring.

So we're up - Andrew, me, Fiona. I think we did well. I think I did well - certainly better than the last paper I presented which was quite wooden. I was more relaxed with this one, partly because I was more familiar with the content (last time I presented I was presenting on behalf of a writer who couldn't be there - while I was familiar with the topic I didn't write the words myself, and it showed, I think). And, really, I can talk about NLS for hours, so proud I am of the work we all did.

We had a couple of questions, which meant the audience was listening - always a plus! I'm sure they weren't offended that we snuck out before the NMRT membership meeting.

So - I've presented at ALA! Now it's time to update my resume...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Don't panic

I feel like Arthur Dent.

In addition to the Don Watson book I'm reading, I've also been reading The salmon of doubt, a collection of the miscellaneous writings of Douglas Adams. I'm really feeling for his frustrations around the U.S. and tea.

I'm a tea drinker. I like my tea black, with no sugar, the better to taste the flavours of the leaf. In fact I would go so far as to consider myself a bit of a tea snob. My ideal weekend starts with a very large pot of my own blend of loose leaf teas, taken over an hour with the weekend paper.

Today I was thwarted, constantly, in my attempts to get a decent cup of tea.

First, the complimentary continental breakfast at my hotel. Now, I'm not staying at a fancy hotel, so I wasn't expecting much, but it really was woeful, and the tea was hideous. It didn't count, really. So, no tea (to speak of).

Then Fiona and I headed over to the massive (again with the big) Hilton hotel, where our fellow presenter Andrew is staying. On the way we passed a 7-11. I decided I might be able to buy some tea bags, but the only option they had was Lipton. Again, doesn't count. No tea.

We get to the Hilton, and my spirit soars - they have a Starbucks, and it's a well kept secret that Starbucks actually has very good tea - they stock a brand called Tazo which you used to be able to buy at the DJs food hall, but not any more. They do a gorgeous range of interesting flavours, and have an earl grey so strong that the bag itself is stained yellow with bergamot. So "yay! Tazo tea!" thinks I, and joins the long queue.

Once I reach the head of the queue and ask for a cup of tea, they tell me they're out of tea.

Now, the weird thing is that they had teabags for sale on the shelf. They have always served only bag tea, so I'm not quite sure how they could be out of tea and still have tea, but nonetheless, I hadn't yet had my morning cup of tea and so was unable to argue. I did, however, have the sense to purchase said box of tea, thinking that any self respecting hotel has a kettle in the room, I'll make my own.

So up to the 7th floor of the Hilton we go, to find that Andrew's room is well stocked with tea, filter coffee, and a drip filter machine. But no kettle. That's right - they give you tea bags, but nothing to make just plain hot water. Maybe they expect you just to suck on the bags, an idea I did briefly consider. But instead I used the drip filter machine to have coffee-flavoured tea. It was still better than the crap I was offered at breakfast.

My hotel room also only has these drip filter machines, but the free breakfast did include free non-coffee-flavoured hot water, so I might head down tomorrow just for the water, and then have a good cup of tea in my hotel room. Which sounds like a good way to start the day of our presentation.

Wish me luck!

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Sydney librarian at ALA - part 1

I arrived in LA this morning, to attend the ALA Annual Conference. I should warn you that I didn't sleep on the flight thanks to the guy next to me who decided to get drunk on his duty free vodka, and I haven't slept since I got here, and I just had a large, warm lunch. If I stop making sense or if this entry decends into zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz it means I've fallen asleep.

First up, the obvious - this place is massive. Like, everthing about everything is massive. Looking at LA from the plane, everything was in a grid and everything was the same and it was huge! All the houses looked the same - it was like I was flying over some of Sydney's more charming areas, you know the ones, Blackett and the like. Except that they covered all of Sydney...

I caught an airport shuttle to my hotel in Anaheim, which involved travelling along huge, wide roads that ran below or above other huge, wide roads. I was left with an overwhelming sense of concrete.

Anaheim is...hard to navigate around. It's in a grid pattern, but the blocks are really large and every street looks the same and is lined with palm trees, and there are no directional markers. I've gotten turned around many times already, and I've only ventured from the hotel once. Everything is either a hotel or a family restaurant - I don't think anyone lives here. If I look across the road I can see the rollercoasters and other rides at Disneyland, which makes me all conflicted - one part of me is all "Ew! Horrible tacky theme parks! Full of children and tourists!" and the other part of me, the part that remembers how much I wanted to go to America when I was growing up, says "I cannot believe I'm here. And I cannot believe the thing that got me here was being a librarian."

The conference - which hasn't even started yet - is so, so huge. Shuttle buses at the airport were labelled with "Welcome ALA delegates!" - this is LAX, not some little regional airport. I got in the non-ALA branded shuttle, and it turned out that everyone else in the shuttle was going to ALA. In fact it feels like everyone in town is going. It's a very strange feeling. I got a glimpse at the trade exhibition which is still being set up and I believe I really truly did stand there gaping for a while.

So I've registered, and have all my bits and pieces and paperwork. I was going to go over it all now and pull out sessions I want to see, but I have an increasing urge to sleep, and I suspect that lying on the bed reading a conference program probably won't do much to liven me up.

There are two things I want to achieve at this event. The first is to make it through our presentation with my reputations intact (i.e., not have it changed to "blithering idiot") and hopefully some sense of pride of having done it. The second is to reconnect with the libarian I want to be. The last few months have been a bit, how should I say, task-based at work, and I feel like I'm losing connection with my greater librarian mojo. At the end of this event I want to be proud of being a librarian again, rather than just stressed at how much work I have to do.

One last thing before the sandman takes me - I've been reading Don Watson's latest book American journeys in preparation for the trip, and cos I love his writing. I highly recommend it. That's all - it's just great.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Leaving on a jet plane...

I'm off to ALA Annual in just over one week! Finally, something to write about other than the fact that I got a distinction in my first unit of the MBA (I know, I know, thanks for the flowers, couldn't have done it without you all not hassling me at all about the fact that I've not blogged in ages, really appreciate it...). Oh, and the abstract I submitted for NLS4 got accepted, which is super cool but I'm not even really going to think about it till after ALA.

So, ALA! Now, this is going to sound all colonial of me,'s kinda scary! For starters, it's MASSIVE! Last year there were 22,000 delegates. Isn't that just an insane number? How does one organise an event for that many people?

Second, it's not very user friendly (this may feed in to the above question). As a first timer, I'm supposedly meant to have some kind of contact before the event from an ALA Ambassador, which is a great idea, except that it hasn't happened. The programme...I really have some problems with the programme. There's all these streams, which is fine, except they all run at different times and they're in different venues (there are, after all, LOTS of people) and there doesn't seem to be a nice table that tells you what's on where. So I really have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm a bit of a seasoned conferencer (this will be number 11!)

Third, it's in America, which I've kind of been conditioned to be scared of in the last few years. I'm going to be fingerprinted before I'm allowed in. That's freaky. And it's in LA, which is also a bit scary.

But, much more than that it's exciting. I'm speaking! At ALA! And after it's all over Fiona and I are heading to Texas to stay in what looks like just about the hippest hotel around. They serve the room serve breakfast in bento boxes. I'm not sure I'm cool enough to stay there, but maybe I can wing it.

And there will be a couple of familir faces - Gill Hallam and Kevin Dudeney are both heading over, and I'll try to refrain from hugging them in excitement when I manage to find them amongst the 22,000 (I mean, I know them and all, but not THAT well).

So, wriggling like a puppy, I have 8 more sleeps. The paper is pretty much done, I've got a brand spanking new suitcase (thank you Myer mid-year sale), I'm ready to go. I promise to write about it. I don't promise to make sense.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The OPAC is dead - long live the OPAC

Last week I went to a presentation by Jane Burke, of Serial Solutions and ProQuest, on the current state and future of the OPAC. Now, I've read heaps of blogs where people blog about talks or conferences that they attended, and I've never really done it - this has been more a personal musings-type blog. But the point of all this was to try new things, so here goes.

First up, I loved Jane's stated goal at the beginning of the presentation, which was to "make [us] mad". Granted, I didn't really end up mad, but it was a noble goal nonetheless. I've been mad about this issue before attending this talk - I've been mad that we've not had better OPACs, and mad that we keep making decisions to stay with the same old kind of software. I'm mad that we still think that our customers care what the measurements of the book are ("no, I want the 15cm version, not the 20cm one!") and that we're still using software that is designed for librarians, not customers. So Jane didn't make me mad about this stuff because I was already there.

Jane made the point that we talk about how the world of information is "changing", but that it's actually already changed - we are already in our digital world, it's no longer the future. So where's our jetpack, then? I don't mean to be facetious, but where is our revolutionary, 2.0-style catalogue?

ProQuest commissioned some research into the ways people are approaching libraries - and Jane had a few of her own observations. These were:

  • We tell ourselves that customers used to want to come to the libraries, but now they don't because they can get "everything" online. But Jane asked whether customers ever wanted to come to libraries - did they have a choice? I know there have been many that have appreciated the library environment, but on the whole - does it not make sense that the rapid uptake of remote access suggests that our customers never really wanted to come to us in the first place?
  • Libraries have not been good at branding their online resources - too often customers are using our products and services without knowing it. We may have to get a bit more aggressive about this.
  • The ProQuest research suggested that students, in particular, tend to compartmentalise their lives online, so they'll do research in databases and they'll socialise in facebook and Second Life. But there won't be much crossover. I liked this point, because it made me feel better about having never stepped into Second Life.

Much of Jane's focus was on software, but at the beginning she spoke quite generally. She asked us what percentage of our acquisitions budgets go to print resources - it's less than 50% for most libraries now, right? - and then asked us to consider what percentage of our workflow is based around print resources. Speaking for my library, it's way more than 50%. Jane pointed out that "librarians are very worried about keeping up with all the things they need to do", so she suggested a revolutionary idea - stop doing some of it!

Again, I know this sounds like I'm being facetious, but it's a valid point. Jane was trying to get us to question which of our services and resources are highly valued by our customers, and then consider what we can stop doing. I think that most libraries have moved away from the "just in case" model of collection development, but perhaps we're still stuck there when it comes to our services - we seem to think we need to offer lots and lots of services just in case someone wants to use them. And maybe we don't - maybe it's okay for us to say "sorry, we don't do that anymore. Here is the alternative."

One of Jane's suggestions was that libraries ditch "bibliographic instruction". Now, I know I'm wading into dangerous territory here, and I did consider not mentioning this - my brief stint in academic libraries taught me this is rather core to what they do. So I'll say that I'm not able form an opinion on this one - but Jane's suggestion was that instead of bibliographic instruction, libraries deliver marketing pitches. There was an audience member who questioned whether she was saying that information literacy wasn't important, but Jane countered by saying that it's like financial literacy - people only want it once they have some money. So her angle was that we should make the library very, very accessible in the first instance, and then when the customers have some information already, they might then want to know more about what to do with it.

So, back to the software. Jane's problems with the current library management systems is that they are essentially inventories, very well suited to a large print stock. And they give the customers way more information than they want. There is an important word there - "want". I know this isn't a new idea (as Andrew rather succinctly puts it, "we should fix our services to meet our users needs") but we really do have to look at what our customers want, rather than what we think they need.

So, Jane's recipe for a halfway decent catalogue:

  • Get federated searching, and make it the first thing your customers see. She acknowledges that it's not the answer to everything, but it's become a necessary tool. And remember that second bit - here's a good example of this in practice.
  • Use visualisation. This could be the old EBSCO visual search (which they ditched a few months back) or something like a tag cloud.
  • Use post-search clustering rather than pre-search limits. For those readers who are at my level, what this means is stop asking people upfront if they want books, journals, articles, etc., but after the search is done have a way they can then click on the 50 articles they retrieved.

I'll be honest with you now - my library will be moving to a new LMS this year, and the decision on the software was made before I started. I'm a little disappointed about that. I feel as though we're making a safe selection, and perhaps not allowing ourselves to evaluate some of the more innovative tools on the market. Now, if we had the opportunity to do so, we may well decide to go with the system we have chosen, but our next chance to do this process of evaluation isn't going to be for a long time. My boss was receptive to the idea of questioning our decision, but at the same time we need to be realistic - we need new software, we need it now, and substantial work has already gone into this process. We're not prepared to start again.

Allright, time to make dinner. In other news, I managed to break one of my own resolutions within a week of making it - I looked at my beautifully crafted abstract for NLS4 and thought to myself "I really shouldn't let this go by, I really have some ideas and perspectives to offer on this topic" - and I submitted it. No news yet as to it's success, but I hope I've done the right thing! Ah, self discipline. Such an absent friend.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Professional development OD

OMG, was my last post really at the beginning of February? I'm sorry.

So the theme of today's post is my realisation that I'm overdosing on professional development. I don't remember anyone warning me of this, but it must be common given how many overachieving librarians I know. This isn't the same as the information overload that I've ranted about before, but it's not unrelated.

Something that I've always struggled with, personally and professionally, is that I find it very, very difficult to let opportunities slip by. This has worked well for me in some cases - it was great when I had to promote an obscure and strange little library, and wasn't sure how to do so - but it also means that sometimes I grab a hold of too many things. And I'm finally admitting now that I've grabbed a hold of too many things.

I'm really enjoying my study. The first subject for my MBA, organisational behaviour, has been really interesting, and I'm 2/3 of the way through. I finished and submitted my major assignment today, which I'm really proud of, and I'm also really proud of the fact that I'm enjoying studying and I've not yet gone mad.

Work on the ALIA New Generation Advisory Committee is getting really interesting. We're getting into some meaty discussions, and we should soon be welcoming some new members. There are some big issues coming ahead, and if my application to have my term renewed is successful (it had better be!) I'll be on the committee during the IFLA conference in 2010 in Brisbane, and we're trying to find a way to make the new grad cause a big one there. So, lots of opportunities there.

Then there's the paper for ALA, and the call for papers for NLS4 closes in a few days. I have a paper idea, the abstract is almost written, all I have to do now is decide that I really want to do it...

So I happened to look at how many points all this would get me in my ALIA Professional Development scheme, and it occurred to me that I may have overdone things a little. I'm really set for the next few years with points...this may be why I'm having problems doing things like keeping up with the blogging. So today I think I'm going to make a decision - I don't think I'm going to submit my paper for NLS4. If any of the NLS4 committee are reading this, I do apologise, and I'll certainly be at the event, but I'd love to have the brain space to enjoy it as a punter, and blog about it, and even represent NGAC there, rather than spend the whole time stressing about the fact that I have a paper to present.

I'm struggling to come to terms with this. To come to terms with the idea that I may not be up to speed with the latest trends, that I may not be able to get involved in the latest debate, and that I may watch an opportunity pass by. I guess it's just not realistic to think I can grab them all, and I need to be selective, and I need to make sacrifices.

So, for the future, here's what I'd like to be doing:
  • The MBA - important, and expensive, so I need to dedicate time to it!
  • NGAC - again, I think it's important, and I do want to keep my hand in, so to speak
  • Blogging - yes folks, I really do want to be doing this, so I'm not doing all the above stuff in isolation
  • Reading other blogs - so my blog makes sense and works in context.
  • Reading more professional literature - now I'm a student again, I get access to databases. Yay!
  • Working out how NGAC can play a role in the IFLA 2010 event

What I'm not going to be doing:

  • Submitting a paper to every conference I possibly can.
  • Spend hours worrying about not having ever even looked at Second Life. By the time I get around to it it'll be gone anyway - or is it already over?
  • Feeling guilty when I don't update my blog. This is for me, right? So why punish myself?
  • Thinking I should volunteer for the Special Libraries Association. One association at a time may just be enough.
  • Volunteering beyond my NGAC role for IFLA 2010

How does that sound? Reasonable? If I'm very, very lucky, one of these days I may even have some spare time to give to an unexpected opportunity...