ALA Annual 2019 marked my first return to Washington DC since 2007, when I attended my very first professional library conference there. I was a law librarian then. I am no longer that. Nor am I a rookie librarian anymore. In fact, at this year’s conference, I met up with my new ALCTS mentee. Either my career is advancing, or I am getting old, or both; and even if I have lost some of my youthful vigor, the universe has compensated me for its loss with copious free lanyards.
The first program I attended this year was “Grassroots Library Initiatives in South America.” (I based more than one of my selections this year on overcrowding in certain meeting rooms. However, I rather like attending programs on topics outside my strict job responsibilities, so I shan’t complain.) I learned a lot more than I previously knew about community libraries in Peru, Columbia, and Costa Rica, and the challenges they face in terms of stable funding and political support. Clara Chu from the Mortenson Center at the University of Illinois (my twofold alma mater) spoke about her center’s work to “strengthen international ties among libraries and librarians worldwide for the promotion of international education, understanding, and peace.” Hard to argue with that mission.
Next up was the meeting of the ALCTS CaMMS Catalog Management Interest Group, featuring three presentations on batch metadata processing using tools such as MarcEdit, Excel, OpenRefine, etc. We have spent many hours in Resource Services on projects similar to those described by the presenters. The room was packed; clearly there’s some angst out there, and indeed the session had the approximate tone of a support group meeting. Not that I would know. Jennifer Eustis from UMass detailed her library’s practice of assigning variously sourced MARC record sets labels of Low, Medium, High, and Very High in terms of the work required to massage them into catalog viability. Ms. Eustis advised, “Just say no” to record sets that earn the Very High rating. I don’t know that we’ve ever made the call here to simply reject records that needed extensive work, but I can certainly see the appeal. Elizabeth Miraglia from UC San Diego then talked about a rather terrifying sounding project involving de-duplication of numerous ebook collections against their DDA pool using OpenRefine and title as the match point. If that doesn’t sound scary to you then you’re…normal.
This past spring, I won election as Member-at-Large to the Executive Committee of the ALCTS Acquisitions Section. This was my third consecutive year running for something; it was a relief to finally not lose. I joined the meeting of that group on Saturday afternoon, and, not surprisingly, conversation centered around possible realignment, both within ALCTS and between ALCTS, LITA, and LLAMA. The three might merge, you see. I talked a lot – even though I technically wasn’t on the committee yet. I don’t know what comes over me at these committee meetings. It’s as if we’re at a séance, and suddenly I am possessed. Apparently I have a lot of thoughts on professional bureaucracy and online vs. in-person meetings.
As I mentioned, on Sunday I had lunch with my new mentee, a librarian from another institution with an rather comparable job title to my own; hopefully I can be of some use to her. I have done a good bit of mentoring here at ZSR, and taking on an ALCTS mentorship seemed like a logical next step. I enjoy the work. Also on Sunday, I attended the meeting of the ALCTS Affiliate Relations Committee, on which I’m just starting my second year.
I attended a couple of interesting programs in the latter half of the conference. At “New Destinations in the Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement of People of Color in the Library Profession,” speakers from Hampton University, REFORMA, and UTEP talked about the challenging fact that in spite of industry-wide efforts to recruit more librarians of color in recent decades, we have made relatively little progress. Miguel Juarez from UTEP and Tess Tobin from REFORMA emphasized the importance of actively promoting the profession to minority communities and showing a willingness to meet people where they are in our recruitment. All three speakers emphasized the importance of mentorship, leadership training, and advancement opportunities as keys to retaining a diverse workforce. I daresay ZSR’s efforts in this area reflect those of the profession at large: we have made progress, but not as much as we would like.
After being repulsed by another wildly overcrowded room, I wandered into “Mental Health and Tenure: Examining the Intersection between Institutional Support and Work-Related Stress.” Stephanie Pierce and Laura Cameron from the University of Arkansas presented the findings of their research study on job stress experienced by tenure-track librarians. While this might not seem immediately applicable to our system at ZSR, everything they said felt pretty familiar. The librarians they surveyed felt most confident in the librarianship (i.e. main) component of their evaluations, while they felt least confident in the scholarship/professional contribution component. In my view, their most interesting (if also least-surprising) finding was that greater clarity in performance expectations equals less stress and greater professional confidence. That sounds about right. The perception of consistency in application of review criteria matters, too. As the presenters pointed out, they don’t really prepare you for this stuff in library school. Perhaps they should.