I attended the 2016 American Theological Library Association Conference June 14-19 in Long Beach, CA. The location was great and I enjoyed cool temperatures, ocean breezes, and a water view from my hotel room!

Before the conference began, I attended a pre-conference excursion to the Getty Center. In addition to getting to see the Getty art collections, gardens, and amazing views of the city, we were taken on a behind the scenes tour of the Getty Research Institute Library. The Library supports the work of the curators and staff of the Getty, as well as the many outside researchers and grant recipients who come to use their extensive art resources. Their collections were originally stored in eight vaults on the Getty property, but have grown too large to be accommodated there (though one of the vaults we visited seemed to be larger than our off-site facility). The majority of the book collection has been moved to a storage facility about 30 miles away (along with their annual supply of toilet paper!) and their special collections and scanning operations are moving into the vaults. It was fascinating to see how such a large, but specialized, library operates!

Before discussing a few of the sessions I attended, I want to mention the three really interesting plenary speakers who were invited to present at the conference, and I would encourage you to check out their twitter feeds and projects:

  • Bobby Smiley, previously of Michigan State and currently at Vanderbilt , spoke about Theological Librarianship in the Age of Digital Humanities
  • Rahuldeep Singh Gill, Director of the Center for Equality and Justice and Associate Professor of Religion at California Lutheran University, spoke about Diversity: A Catalyst for Innovation. The soundbite I took away from his presentation was, “Diversity and pluralism is not the ‘why,’ it is the ‘what.’ You have to figure out your own ‘why.'”
  • Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, previously the Dean of the School of Information at the University of Michigan, currently UC Berkeley’s University Librarian and Chief Digital Scholarship Officer, discussed Wasn’t Digitization Supposed to be Easy? And Good For Us? He discussed some of the complex issues relating to the impact of the release of records held by UC Berkeley in their special collections, including politically and personally sensitive undercover documents from the Cold War era, and anthropological records of Native American tribes that some feel are too sacred for the public to see, while other tribal members think are important for their own cultural history.

As the Secretary of the Public Services Interest Group, I attended our panel presentation on “Ideas for Serving Distance Learners and Alumni.” We had four panelists representing differing service models and student populations, with about 50 attendees in the audience. Regarding alumni service, all the panelists mentioned the importance of the ATLAS for Alums program, which gives access to the ATLA database to alumni (ZSR includes this in our alumni offerings as well).

Two other sessions I would like to briefly highlight:

  • Make DIY Look Professional: Technology for Designing, Mapping and Connecting the Dots: Sarah Bogue of Pitts Theological Library at Emory gave examples of several free(ish) programs that can help us with visualizing data and updating our presentations:
    • canva: template based graphics, which you can use for PowerPoint slides and websites
    • voyant: a tool for data visualization and text mining of large files
    • carto: for use with datasets, she demonstrated a torque map of a twitter hashtag to show tweets on a topic over time
    • tiki-toki: allows users to create interactive timelines
  • Investigating the Needs of Scholars (Ithaka S+R): Danielle Cooper, an analyst at Ithaka S+R, described the partnership between ATLA, Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and 18 academic libraries, to study the research needs of religious studies scholars. At the 18 libraries, librarians and graduate students used the same set of questions to interview religious studies faculty members on their methodological/theoretical approaches to their scholarship, how they develop research projects, when and where their research is conducted, and their publishing habits and data storage. Interestingly, they also took photographs of the researchers primary research/work space. Each library will be writing up their own local report, and then a final report will be issued in January. This gives me some time to read the report they did on art history researchers in 2014, which I have printed out but not actually read!

I also attended sessions on the following topics. If you want to know more about any of them, let me know!

  • On Publishing Essay Collections
  • Determining the Value of Theological Journals
  • Relational Librarianship
  • Luke, Luther, Logos, and Libraries: Resources Preachers Use in Weekly Sermon Development
  • Which Should We Buy: Reconsidering Best Practices in the Purchase of Print versus Electronic Resources in Theological Libraries
  • Reframing Plagiarism: Problems of Virtue and Vice for International Students