ALA Midwinter has become a vendor exhibition with some committee meetings filling in around the edges. If you’ve ever chuckled at a poster or coffee mug that says, “I survived another meeting that should have been an e-mail”? That. Maybe we want an annual vendor exhibition, but I have trouble seeing the continuing need for Midwinter as we have known it. That said, highlights of the conference:

I was able to attend the LITA 50th Anniversary Task Force meeting, which is currently running fundraising activities for scholarships, and coordinating plans for commemorative events at Annual in Chicago this year.

The LITA Board meeting managed (just barely) to succeed in allowing a mix of in-person and virtual attendance, which is a first for me. This is a technology that is badly in need of a simple and foolproof solution (another meeting I attended tried and failed to pull this off). Also at this meeting, we accepted two important documents: the report from our Personas task force, which gives us a solid framework for improving member engagement; and a set of library privacy checklists co-written by our Patron Privacy Interest Group. Which also reminds me that we’re past due on our own privacy audit. We also adopted a really good slate of candidates for this spring’s leadership elections. As burned out as I am on three years of meetings (of varying usefulness) on process, budget, and Association strategery, I’m actually pretty jazzed about the future of the division.

At one of those strategery meetings, divisional leaders had a chance to discuss ALA’s proposed “remodel” of the Annual meeting. One way or another, it sounds like the future of Annual is a smaller conference with a simpler schedule and a streamlined process for proposing programs and for getting those proposals reviewed and approved. To the extent ALA can reduce the physical footprint of the meeting, they expand the number of cities which could host Annual, which theoretically leads to reduced costs.

The vendor-influenced events: EBSCO hosted a very academic content-oriented lunch (as opposed to plugging their FOLIO ILS platform). My ears perked up at “something something e-books something DRM-free.” We’ll see how that shakes out. There was also a presentation that went pretty much, “We know it isn’t economically sustainable for you if we just keep making bigger and bigger versions of Academic Search, so say hello to the even bigger Academic Search Gargantuan. Have some dessert.” [It isn’t actually Gargantuan of course, but you get the idea. Complete → Premier → Ultra → Beast Mode →…] But you get your several dollars’ worth in the form of more full text and fewer embargoes. This probably needs to be explained to me again, over a better audio system.

I also got to a panel presentation from three librarians who were early adopters of Ex Libris Alma, and who now have several years experience running that system. Since we’re tracking Alma as a potential successor to Voyager, it’s good to know how users feel about it. Something that people have a range of reactions to: instead of one big, cataclysmic annual update (like Voyager), they get monthly incremental updates: some mornings, a few things are just a little different (more like GMail). Nothing too serious gets changed without advance notice, and the monthly updates prevent reported problems from lingering too long. And since the updates roll out overnight, by the time U.S. librarians are reporting for work, Australians have already reported new bugs and Ex Libris has often already fixed them. Other bullet points:

  • ERM and the link resolver are fully integrated
  • Fiscal year rollover is much easier than on previous systems
  • You don’t need a SQL expert, because there is no direct SQL access. On the
    other hand, there is no direct SQL access.
  • The community zone (MARC records share out from other Alma users) is working well, for ebooks especially.
    A librarian from the University of Minnesota reported that they gave up a systems position when they moved to the
    cloud, and regret it now because they need someone to manage APIs and communication with other campus

Also, it turns out you can in fact have a conference that has to compete for attention with a 60,000 person march going right past the convention center, the NFC championship game happening next door, and a tornado watch. Not that no one was distracted.

Also also, seat 29E on a Boeing 717 is the Worst. Seat. Ever.