#ALA2013: Librarians in the Windy City

Posted on 4 August 2013 at 2:05 pm in Events.

The ALA Annual Conference of 2013 was a tad different from the 1913 edition chronicled previously on this site. Instead of hundreds of participants, there were tens of thousands. We were in Chicago, since the Catskills can no longer hold us. But we still had a lot in common with our forebears – we discussed the public perception of libraries, how to broaden library appeal, and serve underserved communities just as they did one hundred years ago.

Gamifying Libraries

On Saturday morning I attended a session on gamification in libraries, emceed by Bohyun Kim, writer and editor at ACRL’s TechConnect blog and a librarian at Florida International University. It featured a mixed panel of academic and public librarians, each with a unique take on this emerging practice. “Gamifying” is the adoption of board or video game elements in outreach or instruction. Most of the examples incorporated digital badges, something Char Booth recently wrote about.

Different libraries are applying these concepts in radically different ways, from a children’s reading program in a Michigan public library to using it as an orientation and instruction tool at a California law school library.

One of the most fully developed examples is at the University of Huddersfield, in the UK. They have an interactive game that students can opt-in to called “Lemontree” (https://library.hud.ac.uk/lemontree/), which awards them digital badges and points based on their use of the library. Walking in after midnight earns them the “night owl” badge, while checking out ten or more books at once earns a “strongman” badge. Each of these badges are worth a certain amount of points, and as they climb a leaderboard, the more their eponymous tree grows from seed to sapling to mature lemontree. It’s fun and cute and even pits the different academic schools against each other.

Screenshots from Lemontree at the University of Huddersfield

Information Literacy Standards

Saturday featured a forum on revising the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. An ACRL committee has been formed and was reporting out to a very crowded (and opinionated) room of instructional librarians. The forum’s goals were two-fold: provide the attendees a timeline for the committee’s work, and get official feedback on two questions: 1) how libraries are currently using the existing ACRL standards in their work, and 2) what librarians feel is missing from the current standards.

There were various opinions offered on the latter: teaching guidelines for the different standards; detailing a picture of an information literate student; a request that we embody practices rather than “standards;” etc.

There was also discussion of the “-literacy” lexicon: pan-literacy, media-literacy, meta-literacy, and other terms that I am rather suspicious of (though I like and use the term “information literacy,” it sows enough confusion amongst non-academics, and I’m not sure we need to add more).

SpringShare’s New LibGuide Interface

I visited the SpringShare booth on the Exhibitor Floor to get a preview of the LibGuide design. I appreciate the ease of use when designing LibGuides, but their look is quite dated and design options are limited. Without completely changing the core concept, the new interface and design possibilities are a notable improvement: instead of set, fixed columns per page, box width can vary (e.g., you could place a horizontal box along the top of a page and place columns below it); boxes are no longer restricted to a single content type (e.g. you could mix images, mirrored database links, and highlighted books in a single box); new visually appealing tools such as lightboxes allow for more creative image use; and you can create tabbed boxes. The general look is improved, too: corners and edges are more rounded, and the default appearance is smoother and more pleasing to the eye.

There are also new administrative features. They have an automatically updating A-Z list (powered by SerialsSolutions), easier ways to reuse content (not just reusing links and boxes), and the ability to edit HTML templates.

SpringShare is not forcing an adoption date on client libraries. The new system will be available starting this fall and libraries can migrate when they elect to. Existing LibGuides should move seamlessly into the new system, gaining more appealing curves but otherwise remaining the same. The SpringShare representative also said they’d be willing to provide clients with a sandbox account to experiment with before migrating to the new system.

Overall I was pretty impressed, not only with the look of the new product but their method of roll-out and information sharing.

MakerSpace at Chicago Public Library

“#makerspaces” in libraries seems to be the new “thing.” I took a tour of Chicago Public Library’s new Innovation Lab, which is currently hosting a MakerSpace. The tour was followed by a panel talk featuring representatives of several public library systems each with their own take on MakerSpace. Briefly, a MakerSpace features tools that help people create and craft; this can run the gamut between sewing supples to 3D printers, paper for zines to soldering equipment. Detroit Public Library’s MakerSpace is geared towards teens and has numerous workshops (e.g. bike maintenance, fashion design). Chicago’s is officially adults only and is heavy on the 3D printers and modeling software. It’ll be interesting watching this moving forward, and I wonder which academic libraries will find a way in on this trend.

Digital Public Library of America

Have you seen the Digital Public Library of America? Executive director Dan Cohen spoke at ALA to introduce the DPLA and how it operates to the attendees. It’s an online platform that brings together digital objects and collections from over a dozen partners (with more to come) searchable from a single interface. Contributors include the Smithsonian, the NYPL, the Internet Archive, and a number of universities. In addition to search functionality, content is curated into browsable exhibitions, and the DPLA makes its API available to creative app developers.

Tumblarian 101

Librarians on tumblr: officially a thing. Four of my favorite people, Molly McArdle (formerly of LibraryJournal), Erin Shea (adult services librarian, Darien, CT), Kate Tkacik (corporate research librarian) and Rachel Fershleiser (Tumblr lit outreach guru) spoke about how and why libraries and librarians are using tumblr in increasing numbers (including me).

Tumblarians assemble! I joined up with Erin, Kate, and Molly for brunch.

Why tumbl? More characters than twitter. More social than Wordpress. More flexibility in posting, and the ease of reblogging. But best of all is the community, the vibrant, active, and positive librarian community that shares ideas, offers advice, and supports one another.

For those of you not already a part of that community, you can sign up in seconds. Tag your posts with “libraries” and “librarians” and we will find you!

Tumblr tags: metadata is your friend (photo courtesy @sophiebiblio)


I was asked to serve as a guest judge for the Librarian Wardrobe Walkoff, a fundraising party for EveryLibrary, the pro-library political action committee (PAC) founded by John Chrastka. Joining me on the judging panel were Courtney Young, Trevor Dawes, Celia Perez, and Patrick Sweeney (I felt like a minor leaguer called up to pitch in the majors). It was a fun gathering and helped spread the word about EveryLibrary, which already has three electoral victories under its belt and is turning towards California for a fall campaign. Chrastka’s mantra is that he wants to corner the market on “smart + fun” librarians, and channel their enthusiasm and energy into the ideas and momentum EveryLibrary needs to be an effective advocacy force. If this party was any indicator, there was smart + fun in spades.

Librarian Wardrobe Walkoff contenders strutting their stuff; myself with Sarah Houghton.

EveryLibrary is bringing the smart + fun to California with a fundraising brunch on August 18th – if you’re nearby, get your tickets and come out to support this great cause.

Wrap Up

The ALA Annual Conference has a universality no other library conference can match. There is tremendous value in learning from our peers in different branches of the profession, something that doesn’t happen at specialized conferences. It’s important to see what else is happening outside of our individual niches: what issues are of concern in special libraries, or what new marketing ideas are working well for publics. If you get out of your own specialized silo, you come away with a lot of new and exciting ideas, and a better sense of what’s going on in the profession as a whole.

I enjoyed the positive kinetic energy. At both the sessions and at the social events there was a tremendous enthusiasm for what’s going right and what’s working well in the field. There is something very affirming about spending a weekend with colleagues and peers who love what they are doing. You go back to your day job full of energy and ideas, and the confidence that comes from connecting with the people you admire. I’m already looking forward to 2014 and what I’ll learn next.

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