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Going to the library is like sex

Follow me on this one. It’s a sensational title, but as I was in a library instruction class the professor actually compared going to the library to sex. You can’t get better marketing than this.

We were doing some Q&A towards the end of the session, when the conversation surprisingly turned to libraries and library science in general. They were asking me about my profession. These were things like, “what do you enjoy most about librarianship,” “is there a secret librarian handshake,” “and are libraries going to be around in a hundred years?” I gave them my honest opinion on these things, and they were pretty easy questions since we as librarians think about them all the time (except we probably do need a secret handshake).

But towards the end, the professor brought up a point about libraries as a physical space. He talked about how if it was possible to download all the experiences, thoughts, emotions, etc. of one human being, we’ll call him Mr. Jones, and upload it onto a computer or terminal, then someone could interact with that personality composed of all those experiences, but not the physical individual. It was his contention that the experience of Mr. Jones’ friends, relatives and especially romantic partners would be severely diminished  if they could only interact with this bodiless personality and not a physical person.

He then compared this to the library as a physical space. Of course we have all this information, and much of it can be accessed online, but again his contention was that your experience and your college career would be diminished if you were not able to interact physically with the library.

It was at this point that a sharp student asked if he was comparing the library to sex. His response? “Going to the library is the most fun you can have with you clothes on” (a la Jerry Della Femina).

I really respect this professor and love his enthusiasm and excitement about the library. But I also really found this philosophical discussion of the library very enlightening.

The library is not just a collection of information. In our Western society we are often very dualistic, separating the mind and body. But a human is not just the sum of his thoughts and experiences. It is also his physical pleasures, scars, and smells. So to is the library not just the information inside it, but the quiet study nooks, the frantic computer lab the week before finals and the interactions with friends, professors, and librarians. You’re missing an important part of college if you haven’t been to the library.

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ACRL 2009 Sunday Highlights

I forgot to mention the Saturday evening highlights after the workshops and presentations were over. There was a tweetup at the Sheraton hotel that was very well attended. It seemed like at least about 20 or more tweeps were in attendance sharing thoughts and drinks.

I have found Twitter to be really useful for conferences in terms of both networking as well as a perpetual awareness tool. By searching for the #acrl2009 tag on Twitter Search I was able to see what other people were thinking and doing in the conference. I could even see the thoughts of people who were in the same room as me attending the same presentation and have a discussion twenty chairs away without being disruptive. I can see why Twitter is growing so fast.

The all conference reception held at the EMP/SFM. There was a lot of awesome music paraphernalia as well as enough sci-fi and robot artifacts to keep any geek drooling. But there were also massive amounts of librarians dancing. I know from my grad school experience at UW-Madison that librarians are not afraid to do max partying, but I wasn’t sure if it was a universal certainty. It clearly is. Librarians are people too. Despite the stereotypes, they like to have a few drinks, cut loose, and dance just like everyone else (albeit in a slightly dorkier way).

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Sunday morning I attended a panel session on User Experience called If Fish Markets Can Do It So Can We hosted by Steven Bell, Brian Matthews, and Valeda Dent Goodman. I think it opened my eyes a bit. Libraries are often too focused on their stuff (books, databases, etc.) and not the user experience. Sure we have lots of stuff, but if it is difficult or annoying to use, people are just going to use Google instead. We’re not just selling our stuff, we‘re selling the experience. In a lot of cases the experience is the product.

Coffee beans are dirt cheap, but Starbucks charges three bucks for a cup of coffee. The coffee itself doesn’t cost that much. Starbucks is adding value by selling the experience (hip music, nice atmosphere, etc.). I hope to think about this more in the future and ask myself: what is the experience of our users and how can we improve it?

The final conference event was the closing keynote speaker Ira Glass. Once again, I had never heard of him (I feel like I live under a rock), and once again I was astonished. I love finding out new things and hearing new people’s ideas.

Glass was an excellent choice to close the conference. His format was similar to his radio show where he would inter-mix him talking with segments that he has done and offering the audience insights. The overall theme was about storytelling. Glass discussed how stories have action and then a little nugget of insight, repeating over and over. It also has to feel like it is going somewhere. It doesn’t matter where, just somewhere. This is what builds suspense and makes for good narrative. This is what Glass does on his show.

I think this idea of being a good storyteller is important to many different people, not just radio hosts and journalists. Facts make sense if laid out in a rational way, but if couched in an interesting story, they become more memorable and the audience develops a better emotional connection to them. Telling a good story can help you sell ideas or teach students. It is an extremely beneficial skill to have and I hope to work on my own storytelling ability.

I listened to the This American Life podcast on the plane and have likely found another piece of information with which to overload myself. I look forward to collecting together all that I have gained from this conference whether it’s new ideas, new contacts, or fresh perspectives and begin using them to improve both myself and Champlain College.

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ACRL 2009 Saturday Highlights

Saturday was another very busy one that started out with a 9am poster session for me. It started out a little slow as people trickled in. I kept trying to make eye contact and rope people into coming over and talking. I now know how vendors at the booths feel.

But after a little bit the questions became pretty steady, and I was occupied the whole time either talking about my poster or listening to what others are doing. It was a great experience and I’m very glad I submitted a poster. Thinking and talking about it allowed me to understand our library and our situation better. People ask questions that you never think of and you grow and think in different ways because of them. I hope to do more presentations in the future.

For lunch I attended a round table discussion about Emerging Technologies Librarians. It was pleasant to hear from other people who have similar jobs and interests to me. The most interesting thought that came up was is a position like this even going to be necessary in, say, ten years? One would think that by then many of these skills that we possess should be standard among librarians. It is pretty fascinating though how we our pioneers in this area of librarianship. I met a lot of great people there and we even have a facebook group now so feel free to join if you have a similar job and want to network.

A spectacular session called “Mapping Your Path to the Mountaintop” was moderated by Steven Bell, Lauren Pressley, John Shank, and Brian Matthews. My colleague Sarah Cohen captured the gist of the presentation, but a few things jumped out at me. First there are some questions I should be asking myself to have a thoughtful and deliberate career:

  • What is my mountaintop (not everyone has the same one)?
  • What’s the next step in my career?
  • What is the catch phrase for my career path (a fun one)?

Questioning is important in all aspects of our life and our career is no different. Another idea was that publishing and presenting are great tools for advancement and contribution to the field. I would like to do more of both in the near future.

There were two papers at the end of the day that also did some questioning of their own. One was about whether or not LibGuides justify the buzz about them.  It turns out they do, except the 2.0 features do not get as much mileage out of them as we think. The other session was called “If You Build It Will They Care?” This session was especially useful for me in thinking about my own job. I am not immune to technolust and thinking new things are really cool. But the most important thing is building technology services that that are useful and used by students. I think I am doing a pretty good job so far. I haven’t jumped into creating Second Life or Twitter services for our library because I just don’t think that our students are there. But the idea of an environmental survey is a good one and I would like to read their paper and possibly create a survey of my own to find out where students actually are.