Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Notes from the 2013 Texas Library Association Annual Conference

The annual conference of the largest state-based library association, boasting over 7,000 members (CLA claims only 3,000+ members and NYLA simply describe their membership at "several thousand") took place in Fort Worth ("Cowtown") this year.  I took advantage of the close proximity and attended three of the 4 days of the main conference (I had to miss Saturday's sessions to care for a sick dog, who, I believe, was just pretending so that I would take him out to the park).  The Texas Library Association is strongly supported by public and school librarians, and academic and special librarians tend to feel not so much excluded as simply overwhelmed at the conferences. We academic librarians do participate in the ALA-sponsored ACRL, so it's not like we have no outlet for our professional growth.  However, it is important that all librarians be included in the issues of librarianship that are most relevant to our state.  This is particularly true given the changes in education politics over the last 10-20 years. So here are my notes of sessions that were of most interest to me.

General Session I: The most memorable moment of the first general session was the awarding of the Librarian of the Year to Lydia Tucker, school librarian in San Antonio.  Based on the statement of the award, she certainly seemed to have deserved the award.  And based on her reaction, she certainly did not expect it.

Transforming Libraries for Engagement, Gary Strong, UCLA: In this session, Gary Strong, University Librarian at UCLA, detailed the progress his library has made in, well, transforming for engagement. He compared the libraries when he started there as director as a 7-11 store - "people get their quart of milk and leave"; there was little engagement.  He described how the UCLA libraries have become "participatory libraries", with space, both physical and virtual, for teaching, learning and research.  They did this by engaging faculty and students with new forms of teaching and learning, making student research more visible, and encouraging interdisciplinarity.  Notably, the UCLA libraries have embrace alternative roles, including a lab, museum, gallery, performance space, and civic meeting site.  My observation, however, is that libraries have always played these roles - some more than others.  Maybe it's only been the last 10-20 years that libraries have reduced these roles in an effort to focus on collections and reference.

One very interesting insight Gary brought up was that many students come from areas with few library resources and engagements.  This may become more and more common if we cannot convince school boards and city councils that libraries have a substantial ROI on their primary constituents.  Thus, it should not be expected for them to expect the services that we do provide.  Rather, we need to reach out to these students to prove what we can provide for them.  He then describes several new pedagogical approaches, including:

  • Inquiry-based learning & Inquiry Labs
  • Peer-to-Peer Learning (as an alterative to classes)
  • Game-based Learning (this is becoming more and more common)
  • Partnering with innovative faculty
Finally, Gary goes into details about several of the programs and services that effectively transform the libraries for engagement.  Most prominent was the Library Research Commons, which is lab space that supports the whole life-cycle of research.  Of importance is that the space is meant to encourage discussion, not simply experimentation.  The space can be reserved for use by faculty and/or students, but this reserved usage requires collaboration with librarians.  This ensures that the libraries are involved in the projects and can bring the full breadth of resources and knowledge.  When not reserved, the space is available for informal use by anybody.  They have been, however, overwhelmed by interested in formal projects and are now having to prioritize projects.

Gary also points out the work in software development, notably for mobile apps, which are developed by students who are hired as software developers.  While they are managed by a permanent staff member, it is their ideas that are developed, tested and implemented.  Essentially, they are expected to "create stuff (they) will use."  

The one final point that I wanted to emphasize from Gary's presentation was that rather than embedded librarianship, they are focusing on embedding faculty in the library.  This ensures that teaching, learning and research are intertwined with library resources and services.

LibValue: Paula Kaufman, of the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, described their role in the LibValue project, a 3 year project that is not yet completed.  The first phase looked at how the library is involved in the faculty grant process.  Through surveys asking faculty about the role library resources played in their grant applications, they were able to estimate a $4.38 ROI. This is based on the percentage of faculty who rated citations in proposals as important to the percentage of proposals.  The second phase conducted the same ROI assessment globally to determine variations based on geography and institution type.

The bulk of the presentation was on the third phase, which involved multiple institutions and organizations, including ARL, UIUC, University of Tennessee, Stanford and JISC.  Through a series of surveys, they determined the value of library collections in teaching, reading and scholarship.  Some of the preliminary results show that fewer percentage of students preferred using e-books than faculty..In addition, measures of usage the digital special collections were developed and tested.  Tools for determining ROI for academic libraries will be available from the ARL LibValue site.

Course and Subject Guides Usage: It was an unexpected pleasure to attend the presentation by Amy Pajewski, from West Texas A&M (WTAMU).  It was short but sweet, with some interesting ideas about assessing subject guides.  While her study was closer to usability study than qualitative research, she did learn what at least some students think about the subject guides that librarians hold so near & dear to our hearts.  Not much.  Really.  The students thought the guides were too busy ("stressed" and "overwhelmed" were key words given), could not tell to whom the guides would be useful, and when the guides should be used.  Looking at some basic usability guidelines and research, Amy could immediately see some gross violations of good design.

Then she asked some librarians some key questions about guides & their development.  Of particular importance was that only 2% of the librarians asked had talked with faculty and/or students before developing their guides.  While this may be bad design, it is not terribly surprising.  After all, faculty & students are busy folks.  Also, it is hard to get users to express their future information needs effectively.  However, some good qualitative research should be able to discern the information needed for common scenarios (beginning a paper, researching a grant, etc.).  I also wonder how much, if any, of the knowledge gained from information behavior research that has been conducted has been incorporated into guide design.

Getting a read on your borrowers: This session, conducted jointly by Debra Duke of the Fort Worth Public Library and Chris Briggs of Bruxton Analytics was the most interesting session I went to all day.  Over the last year or two, FWPL had contracted with Bruxton to provide market segmentation analysis of the users of their branch libraries.  Using techniques developed for commercial organizations, they were able to combine demographic data and circulation patterns of their patrons with market-level data about their populations likes, dislikes, work habits, hobbies, interests, political bents, and consumer spending patterns.  This was all part of the library's "20/20 Vision Master Plan".  Through this analysis, they determined that the average drive time for active users to their nearest library was 8 minutes, with 2-15 minute range.  But they noticed that the spread of users of individual branches was quite wide, with some users preferring branches farther away, at least from their homes.  They also used the market segmentation data to get a "read" on their non-users.  Of particular importance were the hobbies, reading preferences, and interests.

Debra emphasized that a major obstacle to initiating this work was, as she put it, the "ick factor".  That is, the distaste of librarians to share potentially confidential information about their patrons with a third party.  This was partly overcome by the contract stipulations, as well as the company's reputation and experience dealing with companies & other organizations with similar concerns.  What they haven't yet decided to do is take that information a step further and actually customize advertising material for potential users based on the market segmentation data.  This would be based more on the market research data and not what the patrons used in the libraries, but it does give one pause; should we walk into this environment of less and less privacy?  Or should we stubbornly stand as a vanguard, even if others no longer expect it?

Well, that was just day one.  I'll post my notes of day two separately.  Don't worry - that's all there is, since my dog's feigning illness kept me home Saturday.

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