To me ALA felt surprisingly normal this year, despite masks and lower attendance. I suppose masks simply no longer feel weird; and all the sessions I attended were full, as were the exhibits and hallways.
On Saturday morning, being a member of two committees in the same section, I had to choose which table to join at the Core M&C all committees meeting: Technical Services and Systems Committee, or Acquisitions Committee. I chose the latter, since I was taking over as chair on July 1. My plans for the coming year include: you know, a conference session proposal, maybe an e-forum, things like that. Never content unless he is one-upping me, Steve Kelley is running for chair of the section. So he was there too. He was also my roommate. The following week, we took a much needed break from each other.
Over the years I have felt less obliged at ALA to try to adhere to a strict itinerary of technical services sessions; there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on elsewhere, and frankly the tech services offerings seemed thinner than ever in 2022. That said, the first session I attended on Saturday was “OCLC Transforming Metadata.” OCLC recently released many millions of freely available entity-identifying URIs (uniform resource identifiers) to support linked data. These URIs can be added to existing and new metadata. Melissa James from Central Michigan talked about the challenge of finding staff time for linked data work. Most places simply don’t have the bandwidth.
At “Investigating the Library Experiences of Black Undergraduate Students,” Danica White from Penn State presented on the findings of a study involving interviews with 20 students and 5 staff about Black students’ experiences at the main campus library. Her literature review had shown that while Black students visit the library equally often to other students, they are less likely to ask for help. In interviews, Black students reported feeling both invisible and hyper-visible. Another student reported that the library felt “not not inclusive” in an apparent attempt to make the library feel better about itself. Maybe we can do better than that. Students stated that more diversity in the public-facing staff would help. An audience member emphasized the importance of hiring Black student employees and giving them meaningful jobs as a means to increase diversity in the profession. “Once you get them through the door, mentor them,” she said, quotably.
At “Classification and Justice: Unfinished Work in Resource Description,” Staci Ross, a cataloger at Pitt, talked about a successful initiative to get the outdated subject heading of “Blacks” changed to “Black people,” as well as an earlier, less successful attempt at getting “Blacks–Latin America” changed to “Afro-Latin Americans.” On Sunday, at “Library Outreach Programming for Expectant Parents and Parents of Newborns,” librarians from multiple Maryland public library systems talked about efforts to provide outreach to parents, particularly parents who weren’t already library users. Programming included Spanish-language and Zoom offerings, and emphasized brain development, song, and movement. They made us dance merengue. Yes, us: librarians! Merengue! It was too late to escape. I went into survival mode, and survived.
At “The Algorithm Stole My Democracy: Librarians Grapple with Misinformation in a Polarized Society,” I learned about Elfreda Chatman, with whom I’m sure some of my colleagues are already familiar, and her theory of “life in the round,” in which, essentially, people living in bubbles don’t seek out information from outside their bubbles, because there is no incentive to do so. At “Community Collaboration: Leadership Lessons from Indigenous Research Libraries,” Sarah Dupont from the University of British Columbia discussed efforts at Xwi7xwa Library (pronounced hwee-hwah) to center Aboriginal approaches in the library’s research support and services; Jacob Powel from the University of Auckland discussed similar efforts at refocusing library and university services using a Maori lens at his Te Tuma Herenga Libraries and Learning Services.
Finally, on Monday, Dr. Valentyna Pashkove, American Spaces Coordinator, US Embassy, Kyiv and former president of the Ukraine Library Association, gave an update on efforts Ukrainian libraries are making to provide basic services – more basic than information needs; we’re talking food and water here – while also preserving treasured cultural heritage and supporting civil defense. This was heavy stuff. Library automation is a problem, because Ukrainian libraries largely relied in the past on Russian systems. And of course there are much bigger problems. Dr. Pashkove expressed gratitude to the countries that have assisted, both with weapons and by welcoming refugees. You can help Ukrainian libraries here.
Postscript: ER&L, Forever Ago
Incidentally, I attended the online ER&L conference back in March. I am going to be honest here. I signed up despite being unsure I would really have time; and then I didn’t really have time. Fortunately the recordings are available for a year. I attended a session on a noble attempt at setting up automated Kanopy expiration notifications for faculty – an attempt which unfortunately failed. I can relate. The good news is that Kanopy is supposed to be adding patron-facing expiration dates to their films eventually, though it was confirmed to me in a meeting at ALA that it’s proving harder technologically than they had expected it to be. I attended a couple other ER&L sessions as well, but this post is long enough, I think.