The Charleston Conference is one of my favorites, and this year it was back to more of it’s normal self after a hybrid year in 2021 that left much to be desired. Others from ZSR attended, so I’ll keep my notes to a few key themes I heard bubble up.

Charleston is the best conference to have in-depth conversations with vendors about the state of library collections, upcoming initiatives, and new trends. One new trend that has been brewing for a while is vendors branching away from providing content and into also (or only) providing services for libraries and librarians. We have seen this for a while in the BIG companies providing analytic tools, etc. But now some new products are around and sounding interesting – here are two:

  • LeanLibrary: a SAGE product that is essentially a browser extension that connects to your holding from wherever your people are. So if faculty are on a publishers web site for a newly-published book – the extension would let them know that the library already has it. If researchers are on Google Scholar (and we KNOW they are – like a lot) then it lets them click directly into your content from there. You can embed your chat widget into the extension as well. It’s interesting and could help drive users to our content from places where they often get stuck. The tricky thing is how to pay for it – it’s not really collections, but also not separate from collections?
  • Skilltype: Is a professional development platform designed specifically for libraries and librarians. It seems like it is primarily an indexer of professional development opportunities across various platforms and lets you search for opportunities by subject, location, etc. It can also be set up as a system where you identify the skills you want your organization to have and then you can inventory the skills your people possess, want to develop, or have no interest in. Then you can use that information as you look to fill positions, request new positions, etc. You can also use it to set goals and track your own skill development, or that of your team or library. Interesting, for sure, but again – where does the money come from for it? Also it feels a bit like a big brother monitoring system, but I don’t think it HAS to be used that way.

There was also a lot of concern among librarians and vendors about the disturbing trend of laws trying to control or ban content in schools around the country. This was a conversation that came up in sessions, at vendor tables, over meals, and in the hallways. It was EVERYWHERE. One vendor of a huge platform I spoke to had been asked to confirm legally that none of their ‘potentially sensitive or offensive’ content would be accessed by anyone under the age of 18. The request was coming from a state consortium that was being forced to confirm that to their state government since they made agreements for K-12, public, and academic libraries in the state all together. The vendor worried that this was going to force consortia that serve k-12 to just stop subscribing to resources, even ones with content they had purchased outright if it had slavery, LGBTQ, women’s issues and that kind of content in it. At the final ‘Long Arm of the Law’ session that happens on the last day of the conference – they also spoke about the censorship issue and implored those of us librarians who are NOT in public libraries or state institutions (who may feel restricted in what they can say publicly) to show up for school board meetings when book bans are being pushed so we can speak out as librarians against them.

Finally I went to several sessions that had librarians looking critically at our move toward measuring our worth through metrics. Everything from the drawbacks of the impact factor as a way to measure quality (of research or of researchers in the TnP process), to criticisms of companies like Clarivate who are really IP and Patent companies with a side business of library systems and content, to critical looks at our reputation economy in scholarship – the conversations were really thought-provoking. A couple of quotes stood out: “As academics we are effectively addicted to attention” and “attention-based metrics mean we interact with the POPULAR research rather than the GOOD research.”

Lots of food for thought from the conference, and some products we will be requesting trials of in the new year including North American City Reports, Global Think Tanks, Ground News, Native American Tribal Histories and more!