This was my first Charleston Conference and I was there because I was on panel but I have to admit that I loved it. The format of the conference is different than most and I found the sessions I attended to be deep dives into really complex and interesting topics. I was surprised at the number of sessions I found that were relevant to public services.

The opening Plenary session was a talk by Loretta Parham who talked, among other things, about the changing jobs that libraries are seeing. She said ‘we are trying to staff 21st Century Libraries with 20th century HR departments.’ She also talked at length about the generation just entering our institutions – GenZ or the iGen are names that have been tossed around, but this is the generation that follows the Millennials. The oldest of this new generation are our freshmen and sophomores (and this is also the generation Erin and Sean are in). She listed several key characteristics that may have implications for library services.

  • Phigital – they are good with the physical and digital content. They can transition between these with more ease than Millennials.
  • Hyper-custom – they are used to being able to customize experiences and interfaces. She predicts this will bring about a rise in the number of ‘design your own major’ requests but also that they will want to customize their experiences with library content.
  • Weconomist – they are used to a sharing economy – everyone doesn’t have to own the exact same thing (Uber, ZipCars, Bike sharing) so they don’t have philosophical problems with shared resources and collections (but they are also harder to convince not to share things with others).
  • Realistic & DIY – they understand that the participation award means nothing. They are more competitive than Millennials but also more driven. They know they have to do things themselves – they don’t expect government to fix things because they have never seen politicians working together for the good of the citizens.

I had several conversations and attended panels about the state of scholarly reference works and reference work. Here were my takeaways:

  • General reference works are becoming less relevant every day. Subject dictionaries, basic factual works (chronologies), and things like thesauri and slang dictionaries are just not going to be useful in most academic reference collections.
  • The trend among publishers for making works that are increasingly specialized and narrow in focus, while logical, makes it hard for people to find.
  • What many students need are ‘research starter’ help – those more specialized contextual articles that give an overview of a concept. Some call these ‘background’ sources, other ‘context’ among other things. But so far there is no great way to get this kind of content to researchers before other contend – EDS has ‘research starters’ and Summon does the sidebar with links to reference works – but not all reference content is available in these options. Oxford and Routledge Handbooks, for example, are good for this kind of content – but they are not one of the things these ‘research starter’ features search and bring to the top in searches.
  • The major trends are taking as much online as possible – and taking the super-specialized works and putting them in the main stacks to be circulated.
  • There is still no real consensus about how beneficial it is to merge reference with a central ‘information’ desk. I heard as many places going to that model as I heard retreating from that model. The main issue is that people are just not good at referring patrons to subject specialists. Whether it’s students sitting your desks or support staff, people don’t like admitting they don’t know things so they ‘take a stab’ at answering the questions rather than refer researchers to the subject specialists.

Other notes of interest:

  • In addition to what Carol talked about in her post – another thing Arizona State did was take all 500 of their Oxford “Very Short Introduction” series books and put them right up by circulation. More than 400 have circulated 2 or more times in 6 months!!!
  • An analysis of the searches done in discovery systems indicates that the number of words in searches is going up steadily – now up to 5 words per query
  • 56% of searches in discovery systems are known item searches – one of the things discovery searches are not great at. You search ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and you get all the articles written ABOUT the book and the movie before you actually get to the record for the book.
  • Reference desk hours and staffing models are still all over the place.
  • Predatory journals were a big topic of discussion. How do we enter into the discussion with faculty and help them see the nuances of predatory practices and other, legitimate, new journals that are just trying to get the word out about submission frameworks. I learned that journals (especially those in science and medicine) are being overwhelmed by submissions from China because researchers in China are rewarded with money for publication.

My panel was about how libraries support researchers throughout the research process. My half was about supporting students. It was well attended and there were tons of questions afterwards.

All in all The Charleston Conference was a really great experience and I plan to encourage others to check it out in the future.