I would not, could not from my room / I would not, could not via Zoom / I do not like to meet this way / I do not like it, ALA

Oh, for the humidity of Orlando and the thunderstorms of New Orleans! Oh, for the miles of walking in San Francisco, the tedious train in from O’Hare, and the TSA line at Hartsfield! I am done with virtual ALA, and I sincerely hope I am done with virtual conferences for the foreseeable future.

I will say this: I would never have stood in a mile-long line to see the Lonnie Bunch, head of the Smithsonian, interview Barack Obama as the closing session, so I’m very glad that was streamed. I guess there’s some use for this technology after all.


Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World. (Breaking news: ALA is comfortable with the title of this program.) The authors of the book by the same name, both professors at the University of Washington i-school, talk about what the library community and the public can do to resist misinformation and promote an informed society. In particular, they looked at examples of misinformation conveyed through charts and statistics (“Numbers appear to carry authority”) and introduced the concept of “mathiness” – ostentatious use of math terminology, intimidating formulas, etc. – in situations where they don’t apply. They also hammered pretty hard on the quality of science reporting in general news media (correlation still doesn’t imply causation).

Core Ebooks Interest Group. I was surprised overall at how poorly the interest groups I attended adapted to virtual meetings. But the Ebooks IG had a well organized panel talking about developments in ebooks. Several states have passed, or are close to passing, digital content laws requiring publishers who provide content to residents in those states to provide it to libraries on “reasonable terms” (undefined so far, but roughly meaning libraries won’t get any more gouged on ebooks than on print books). There was also discussion about this month’s position paper from ALA’s Joint Digital Content Working Group calling for more flexibility in the types of ebook licensing publishers offer. Also of note: some libraries have dropped soaring e-content licenses to pay for more print materials. In particular the Philadelphia Free Library is dropping both Hoople and Kanopy to support neighborhood branches and because those services’ cost-per-use terms primarily benefit small numbers of high-demand users at the expense of others.

Core President’s Program: Seeking Clarity During Low-Morale Experiences: Actualizing Tools for Self-Preservation

We’ve all attended [far too many] programs on The High-Minded Ideals of Libraries and how wonderful we all are and, basically, “Libraries Are Good and Great”. Speaker Kaetrena Davis Kendrick spoke very movingly on systemic morale problems in the profession, caused in large part by our shining ideals. We weaponize our own values against our employees (“You’ll volunteer to work nights and weekends, right?” or “Because we have such a high standard of service, of course we’re all wiling to [fill in the blank]”). In many libraries, we also expect public-facing staff to handle situations that raise personal safety issues.

On top of that, even as we fret about the aging profession and bringing in new librarians, we increasingly offer those new librarians temporary positions, contract work, or other options that don’t provide a fairly compensated, permanent position.

And on top of THAT, some libraries handled staffing under COVID poorly, ordering or coercing staff to work in situations where their safety couldn’t be completely guaranteed.

The session ended with some hints about informal leadership (if you’re in one of these libraries, it’s pretty clear that help isn’t coming from the top down).

I find it commendable that the first Core President’s Program took on what could be perceived as a real downer topic. It’s well worth watching the recording if you didn’t see it live.

Born Accessible: Creating Equal Digital Learning Experiences for All

Major takeaways from this. PDF ebooks are not and can never be as accessible for visually impaired users as ePub ebooks. Also, for the 25th straight year, use good alt text, folks! Also also, we have a moral responsibility to make accessible textbooks available on the first day of class, not 4 to 6 weeks into the term.

In addition to problems at the authoring end, there are good e-reader platforms (Thorium) and just plain lousy ones (Adobe Digital Editions). A particular, chronic problem is support for the MathML language (included in the ePub 3.x standards). If ebook distributors can’t count on e-readers handling science and math formulas, they’ll fall back on turning them into graphics, which is the least accessible option.

Better news: Daisy.org is worked with Microsoft on a Word-to-ePub plug-in that produces good, accessible ebooks.

I know I have hit this theme before when it comes to ALA in Chicago, but here it is again: There are cosmic debts to be paid, and I am owed a Chicago hot dog. Two, at least, because ALA was supposed to be in Chicago both this year and last year. And I want an Italian sausage with hot giardiniera, too!