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Some weeks ago–never mind how long precisely–having few or no committee appointments, and nothing particular to obligate me professionally, I thought I would fly about a little to see the librarian-y side of the world.

This was my first time to Seattle and my *very first* ALA conference experience, so I had no idea what to expect. I’d made my schedule early, double-, triple-, and even quintuple-booking myself for many time slots, certain that I’d get to see everything I wanted to see, connect with every committee I’d ever dreamed of connecting with, introduce myself to all of my personal library heroes, and come out of it refreshed, inspired, and ready to take on the world.

And then I caught a cold. (Although, thankfully, Delta didn’t charge me extra for it.)

So what follows is my account of ALAMW13, which is bound to be influenced by our sponsors: Dayquil, Kleenex, and Zicam. Turn on your bias checkers.

My primary interests are getting involved with LITA and the Distance Learning Section of ACRL. I was happy that everyone seemed OK with me crashing their committee meetings, and no one seemed to be creeped out when I told them that I’d been following them online since I was but a wee student assistant. I sat in on the LITA instructional technologies committee meeting, where we talked about, among other things, the various ways we’re supporting both distance and traditional learners. Here I heard from some librarians at the University of Arizona what they’re doing with their open-source Guide on the Side project, which looks like an amazing way to produce authentic, interactive, tool-specific tutorials that work with the actual, live, tools, not screenshots or video screencasts that become outdated. (The GOTS project was recently recognized for being awesome, and rightly so.) We also talked about the concept of digital badges and gamification in library instruction, a chorus that seemed to echo in various discussions I had throughout the conference. Essentially, digital badges are a way of keeping track of a student’s competency in various domains or skills, just like merit badges kept track of a boy scout’s mastery of things like “fire building” and “orienteering.” A digital badge system used in a library instruction context might keep track of a student’s mastery of information literacy competencies, and they could earn badges like “website evaluation,” “reference management,” etc. This model of skills tracking would help libraries embed IL learning outcomes across the curriculum.

The DLS instruction committee is working on–and I volunteered to help with–creating a “toolkit” of instructional technologies for others to use when selecting a tool that will meet their individual needs. I haven’t seen many notes on the project yet, but it sounds like we’re going to test drive a bunch of technologies and put them into a searchable database or wiki, describing what it is each tool does, how easy they are to implement and use, where they fall on the free-and-open/expensive-and-closed spectrum, etc. It sounds like it will be really useful for folks who might not have a lot of time to figure out which technology will work for them. Other discussions with DLS folks revealed that many are struggling with similar things as we are here: streaming video is one big thing many are currently trying to get a handle on, as well as embedding things like course reserves and library chat in the LMS.

I don’t know if you want to call this a theme (maybe a motif?), but I heard two speakers specifically discuss the miasma theory, both in the context of challenging the faulty ideas that are entrenched in a culture. Steven Bell and authorSteven Johnson (who’s a dead-ringer for Matthew Crawley, don’t you think?) each related the story of 18th and 19th century medicine to the modern story of higher education and libraries. Bell challenged the notion that higher education will exist forever (or even for another five years) in its current form, and that a failure to innovate and retool ourselves for the new higher ed paradigms will secure libraries’ spot in the dustbin of history. Johnson told the story of 19th century physicians disproving the miasma theory as an example what he calls a “slow hunch,” that, rather than arriving fully-formed in a “eureka moment,” some ideas take time, data, persistence, and cooperation to formulate. Libraries, he says, are wonderful cultivators of slow hunches. Very interesting ideas, all, and they got me thinking: is there a “miasma theory” here on campus? Are there any faulty ideas about the nature of how education is done at Wake Forest that might be potentially destructive, and, if so, what part can the library play in cultivating the slow hunch to clear out those faulty ideas?