NELA 2014

NELA2014On Monday, October 20, I’ll be at the New England Library Association (NELA) Conference. I’m looking forward to seeing several librarian friends, meeting some new people, and attending some excellent programs; I’m especially looking forward to Rebecca MacKinnon’s keynote (despite its much-too-early time slot – 8:30am?!). I’ll probably be on Twitter throughout the day (@itsokihaveabook, #NELA2014) and may do some blogging for the conference blog, If you’re a New England librarian, I hope to see you there.

NELA 2013, Part 4: Information literacy

In addition to all of the great material on the NELA conference blog recapping various sessions, my colleague Linda posted a rundown of the sessions she attended, and of course the Swiss Army Librarian wrote a recap as well (he also contributed to the conference blog). Both Linda and Brian’s posts are concise and informative.

In my previous three posts about NELA, I neglected to list the sessions I attended (normally I post more chronologically!), so here’s the belated list:

1pm Keynote address: Rich Harwood
2pm The Art of the Ebook Deal: Jo Budler, sponsored by the Information Technology Section (ITS)
3:45 Table Talk: Engaging the Library in Long-Range Planning, with Mary White (formerly of Robbins Library!)

8:30am BYOD: Supporting Patrons’ Devices in the Library, sponsored by the ITS (unfortunately, this conflicted with Library Trends: Pew Research, and I heard Lee Rainie was an amazing speaker; there were also some great tweets coming out of the Rating Library Materials: Censorship or Guidance? session at the same time)
10:45 Not Your Average Book Group
12:30pm Culture and Collaboration: Speaking the Language of Faculty, with Laura Saunders
2pm Censorship on the ‘Net 2013, with Melora Ranney Norman, sponsored by the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC)
4:30pm Outreach to Queer Communities: Successes and Challenges
6pm Visit to Portland Public Library

The links above mostly go to one of my or Brian’s recaps on the conference blog, or to the description of the session on the official conference site (which in many cases include links to the presenters’ materials, such as slides or handouts). I noticed no one had written about Laura Saunders’ presentation, so my recap of that is below (also cross-posted to the conference blog). No one had covered Melora Norman’s session either, so I wrote a brief post about that on the conference blog as well (see link above).

I think that will be all for my NELA posts, but I can’t guarantee it…I may need to write about ebooks some more, because Jo Budler was awesome.

Laura Saunders, Culture and Collaboration

The ACRL defines information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” Though the term “information literacy” itself is somewhat problematic and can be off-putting to some, most faculty recognize its importance. Despite the agreement about the importance of IL, many college students are not as prepared as faculty would like. The library fits into the larger mission of the university, providing an opportunity for collaboration in this area. However, the reality is that most IL instruction is covered in “one-shot” classes or within General Education (GE) requirements; there is a lack of assessment, a lack of time devoted to it, and a lack of faculty buy-in (they agree that students should have the skills, but aren’t so sure it’s their responsibility to teach them).

Who is responsible for doing what? Where does the library fit into curricular support? Though IL instruction is often covered in GEs, Saunders suggested it might be more useful to move it into the individual academic disciplines. There are “cultures within cultures,” she found when she surveyed faculty, asking, “Do you think information literacy is different in your discipline?” Common concerns include searching for and evaluating information sources, but different kinds of information are preferred in each field (primary vs. secondary sources, for example).

Most IL instruction sessions, however, are structured the same way: most of the time is spent on finding sources, not evaluating them. In an oft-retweeted phrase, “The role of the librarian is to turn students into skeptics.” Often, though, students aren’t skeptical enough. In the words of one faculty member from Saunders’ survey, “The idea of digital natives is such a lie.” Indeed, Project Information Literacy (PIL) has found that students value convenience over quality.

How, then, can librarians improve information literacy instruction? Talking to faculty is the most important step, Saunders said. Anticipate the needs of the faculty, know their concerns, talk to them about what they’re interested in, target your message to their discipline. Students must realize that finding information is only the first step, and just because something is peer-reviewed does not mean it’s 100% reliable; evaluation (“thinking”) is still necessary.

Saunders had excellent slides to accompany her presentation; I didn’t get a chance to write down the details of her data, and the material isn’t up on the conference site (yet). Meanwhile, PIL has lots of great data, and Saunders also recommended Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (RAILS) on track, which is a neat resource. Although this presentation was aimed largely at academic librarians, information literacy is important to everyone, and public librarians ought to be looking for opportunities to help our patrons improve their information literacy skills. (For a start, see my post for the Robbins Library blog, “Can You Trust It?: Evaluating Information Sources.“)

NELA 2013, Part 3: Robbins Library librarians represent

its-kind-of-a-funny-story-posterRobbins Library was well represented on Monday, with two of our librarians presenting on panels during the day. Though the panels themselves were on different topics, both librarians talked about book groups they had started at the library. Linda Dyndiuk started off the “Not Your Average Book Group” session at 10:45 by talking about the “Not So Young Adult” (NSYA) book group she started in February 2012. As the name suggests, this is a group for adults who like to read young adult literature. Though it has thus far attracted mostly women, the age range is dramatic (30s-70s).  The group has been successful, with 20+ people on the mailing list and a core group of attendees; a reporter from the Arlington Advocate interviewed Linda for a story (“Arlington adults share love of young adult literature“). Other presenters included Theresa Maturevitch from Bedford (MA) Free Public Library, who runs a cookbook book club complete with cooking demonstrations; Sophie Smith, from Nashua (NH) Public Library, who runs an adult summer reading program; and Sean Thibodeau from Pollard (MA) Memorial Library, who leads a nonfiction book group. You can read Theresa’s notes on the whole session from the first link above.

Check out all of the Arlington Book Groups

qbg-game-night_scrabbleLater in the day, Rebecca Meehan spoke about the Queer Book Group she started at Robbins on the “Outreach to Queer Communities: Successes and Challenges” session at 4:30. Rebecca facilitates the QBG, but it is member-directed; every other month, they have a book discussion, and in the months in between they have a social night with games. Fourteen people of all ages showed up at the first meeting in February 2013, and a core group attends each monthly event. Even if attendance was lower, having flyers for the programs all over the library raises awareness – “now people are really paying attention.” Arlington is a pretty liberal community, but flyers are still torn down from time to time. However, Rebecca pointed out, “We have an unlimited* printing budget,” so she just makes extra flyers. (*Probably not unlimited, but it does stretch to extra flyers.)

Rebecca also talked about the difficulty of finding books by and about the LGBTQIQ community (and about the difficulty of the acronym, which is why she chose “QBG” for her group). She encouraged librarians involved in collection development to order these books and make sure they are on the shelves. Good resources for books include Lambda Literary, and for books, movies, and TV shows, Towleroad, Autostraddle, and AfterEllen.

During the same outreach panel, Lydia Willoughby from Vermont Technical College talked about her work with the Vermont Queer Archives, and Amber Billey from the University of Vermont talked about outreach through dance parties in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Chicago (see links below).

The Desk Set: “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,The New York Times, July 8, 2007.

The Desk Set’s Biblioball (to benefit literacy for incarcerated teens)

Inspired by the Desk Set: Que(e)ry Party, to bring attention and support to queer collections and to provide a fun social space for queer information professionals & friends

NELA 2013, Part 2: Bookmobile, Maurice Sendak at PPL, and LibraryThing

Monday morning the Portland Public Library Bookmobile came by the conference center for a visit. It’s on the small side (compared to the only other one I’ve ever been in, the Worcester Public Library Bookmobile), but wonderful all the same.


“Portable Library” helps “[create] a city of readers.”


The bookmobile had children’s, teen, and adult material, including books, graphic novels, DVDs, audiobooks, and large print books.


Monday evening I visited the main library, which is beautiful. It is also currently hosting an incredible exhibit of Maurice Sendak’s work (though it looks like this will be coming down in a few days). The exhibit included a copy of the Imagination/Celebration poster, as well as many illustrations for fans, and quotes from fans (some of whom are/were famous themselves).

This is one of my favorites (at left); Sendak replied to a little boy’s card with his own card, which included a drawing. The boy’s mother wrote back that the little boy “loved [Sendak’s] card so much he ate it!”

There are a few more quotes below (click to enlarge), including one from Judy Blume (“I cannot put into words…what his work meant to me”):


Most of the art in the exhibit was 2D – sketches, paintings, etc. – but there was also this sculpture of Max and a Wild Thing:



Upstairs on the main level of the library, between the adult fiction section and the teen area, there was a readers’ advisory desk. Not a circulation desk (that’s right up front near the entrance), not a reference desk, but a desk specifically for readers’ advisory. Raise your hand if you want to work there…



Most of my two days in Portland were spent in the hotel conference center, but what I saw of the city was really great. Speaking of which – I almost forgot – Sunday night there was a party at LibraryThing HQ, and while everyone else was by the food table, I was marveling at all the books.

DSC06069The photo’s a little dark, but there are built-in bookshelves on three walls, plus a window seat and a fireplace. Basically, every librarian’s dream room.


NELA 2013, Part 1

I’m back from the New England Library Association annual conference in Portland, and it was great. I was on Twitter (@itsokihaveabook) Sunday afternoon and all day Monday, madly tweeting and re-tweeting with fellow conference-goers; the conference continues today, and you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #nelaconf13.

The NELA Conference blog is also a great resource. I just wrote a post there about the Table Talk I attended Sunday afternoon, Engaging the Community in Long-Range Planning. I highly recommend Brian Herzog’s (a.k.a. Swiss Army Librarian) post about The Art of the E-Book Deal, which was earlier Sunday afternoon; Jo Budler, the Kansas State Librarian, was energetic, inspiring, fierce, and funny, and Brian summarizes her presentation well. There are also links to notes and slides.

Working backward…the keynote event with Rich Harwood of The Harwood Institute kicked off the conference on Sunday at 1pm. His message – “Libraries are needed more now than any other time….Healthy communities need healthy libraries” – was received well, though overall his presentation was less electrifying (and less specific) than I’d hoped.

Harwood said, “We need a greater concern for the common good,” and that libraries should focus on shared aspirations, work, and narrative with the community. Especially in times of pressure, libraries should “turn outward into our communities, not inward toward ourselves and our organizations.” Libraries are trusted, and can leverage that trust to help the community. “Community is a common enterprise with shared challenges,” Harwood said, but we shouldn’t focus on the problems; instead, we should ask, “What are your aspirations for our community?”

The fact that we aren’t supposed to focus on the problems doesn’t mean there aren’t any, just that we shouldn’t get bogged down in them. No one individual or organization can solve all of the issues in a community, but the library should be an important partner, working together with other organizations and individuals to set achievable goals (and celebrate victories). “Narratives play a critical role,” Harwood said. Libraries can help move away from an ingrained negative narrative and create a shared positive narrative instead – after all, storytelling is a big part of what we do well.

I don’t think anyone’s arguing with Harwood’s message; most of us agree about the “what,” it’s the “how” that can be puzzling at times. The keynote speech was a good reminder to keep trying, and that it’s okay to start small.

I’ll be writing more about NELA soon. Meanwhile, remember to head over to the official conference blog to read about some of the other sessions. And if you want fairly priced e-books in libraries, consider “liking” the facebook page “The Big 6 – eBooks in Libraries.”

New England Library Leadership Symposium (NELLS) 2013

I returned home from NELLS just a couple hours ago. We were all instructed to “take time for yourself” and stay away from our notes for a few days, so this will just be a brief post before I revisit all of the excellent materials from the past week.

MaureenOn Monday, 28 participants, six mentors, and two co-chairs from Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont met at Rolling Ridge in North Andover, MA to spend a week learning about leadership in libraries.

ALA President (2012-2013) Maureen Sullivan joined us for the week to teach the symposium, and we had visitors throughout the week as well, including former Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, Rob Maier, New England Library Association (NELA) President Deborah Kelsey, Maine Library Association (MLA) President Nissa Flanagan, Connecticut Library Association (CLA) Past President Carl DeMillia, New Hampshire Library Association (NHLA) President Diane Lynch, and Vermont Library Association (VLA) President Amber Billey (via a Google Hangout).

Photos from the week – of the grounds, of our brainstorming and discussion session results, and our social activities – are available on Flickr.

It was an incredible experience, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn so much from Maureen, as well as the mentors and all of the other participants. More on NELLS to come soon.