Hawaii Library Association 2006 Ramblings
Above: Michael Porter [aka "Libraryman" on flickr]
This weekend I've been attending the Hawaii Library Association annual conference. It has been nice that the conference was in Waikiki, so I've been able to bike and bus to the conference site today and Friday. I usually enjoy conferences. In addition to learning, I like to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. This year I met some recent graduates and saw how they are transforming libraries here and elsewhere. HLA is made up of wonderful folks, so I am always pleased to attend their annual conference. This is my 4th now (previous one were in Lanai, Kohala, Turle Bay). Conference organizers Dave and Vicky did a great job of organizing the event, and our Alumni Group did a great job of running the Silent Auction.
It was also good to see several good students and alumni being interviewed for positions by the Los Angeles County Public Library. They sent two librarians to recruit our graduates. They have 35 openings this year.
This year’s conference theme is "Emerging Technologies Affecting Libraries." It was great to meet some innovators, but I have to confess that the theme was a bit overwhelming. I almost have to laugh after hearing a few people seemed to imply that information has no value if it is not translated into bits and bytes. Life is not binary; we can enjoy analog and digital information. The question should be to find the right medium for the content and audience. I think a few presenters lost track of that. Blogs (such as this one) and other social networking tools are interesting, (I was fascinated to see what the National Library of Australia was doing on flickr), but I don’t think every librarian needs a myspace account just because it is in. Most librarians are already doing so many things, so we each need to seriously reflect on our priorities.
For example, a librarian from the State Library just asked the keynote panel if music CDs are on their way out. The panel’s initial response was that they are passé, which I thought was not helpful for libraries in Hawaii. I was pleased that Aaron Schmidt later pointed out that libraries still need to purchase materials for current users. Jessmyn West also made a good point that libraries have some advantages of buying CDs because of the property issues compared to downloading information.
As I always tell my classes, the answer always depends on the situation. We do operate in many real worlds. On one hand, we need to think ahead and be creative with some of the opportunities that new technologies make possible, but we also have to remember the digital divide is real, and there are many users who cannot or do not want to shift technologies. Whatever we do I can’t stand it when we either become absurdly only anti-technology or anti-book. I am not a ludite, but our recent experience with electronic voting machines should inform us that “e” certainly does not always make it better. LIS professionals have to experiment with many e-options, but we need to be creative and critical at the same time before we implement anything.
Panelist Wesley Fryer (AT&T) raised the topic of Creative Commons. I think that is an important discussion for LIS professionals, but I was pleased that Marshall Breeding made a defense for the marketplace approach to publishing. There are many things I like about CC, but there has to be some type of incentive for authors/ musicians/ publishers who either create or edit / distribute information. Creative Commons and wiki materials like Wikpedia are very interesting, but we need to find a way of rewarding artists who create information / entertainment as well as the producers/ editors who edit and do other important work. This is a question that we need to think about for a while. Of course, I am not alone on this. I use Blogs often, but am afraid when I see newspapers and other mass media organizations laying off staff. Blogs should not become the fifth estate. We need something that attempts to provide more balanced information.
Librarians and the public-at-large have to realize that there already is a huge cultural impact of libraries’ budgets’ shifting. We are seeing a shakedown in the traditional publishing world. As just one example, I sent two entries to the editor of a forthcoming print-based ready reference encyclopedia on the history of journalism. Just a few months ago the encyclopedia’s editor wrote me, explaining that the project was being cut in half, so he had to drastically cut the number if pages/ articles. Basically this reputable reference book publisher is trying to get out of the important print reference book market.
Librarians rely greatly on print and online databases for quality information. Wikis are convenient, but are from reliable sources. It is not only librarians that use such reference tools, but also teachers, media, and policymakers, so this question about the future of access to information sources should really concern us all.
As an aside, I should confess that Wesley Fryer interviewed Jessamyn West and me for a podcast. I’ll post the link if he uploads it. Jessmyn West has been a fun colleague whom I’ve respected from afar for quite a while. She is one of the progressive librarians who were involved with Revolting Librarians Redux. She also has an informative blog that I check from time to time. She also tried to balance technology and democracy issues on ALA Council for some time. I can only imagine how challenging that was.
The conference is over, so I have to get back to the “real work,” like grading papers, although I am thinking about what innovations I need to bring to my own teaching in term of style and content. Suggestions are always welcome.