This was my first time at an ALA conference, and it was a bit overwhelming. There seemed to be at least 3 different sessions that I wanted to attend in each time slot, but I managed to get to around 10 of them. Here are a few highlights.
Collaborate to Innovate - presented by staff from Chicago Public Library
CPL has a lot of different programs in partnership with local organizations. They use different models of collaboration depending on the circumstances and the library's goals. For example:
- "Friends with benefits," where the partnership is ongoing but not formal, and revolves around one specific topic or activity. This is exemplified by their work with a company that manufactures 3D printers - the company supplies equipment and tech support at a discount to the library, and receives good publicity, plus useful feedback from library users.
- "Helping hands," where an external organization provides expertise that the library needs; Allstate corporation (headquartered in Chicago) has a program where it "lends" staff to local nonprofits who can benefit from expertise from the corporate world. The staff person can work for up to 3 months, and continues to get their regular Allstate salary, but devotes full time to their project with the nonprofit. Through this program, the library was able to get an expert in planning and project management to help with its technology plan.
- "Full partnership," where the outside organization and the library create an ongoing program together - for example, at CPL a group called Kids Who Program uses the library's facilities for regular workshops on computer programming for kids.
Andromeda Yelton, a library tech consultant, led a hands-on workshop about Bootstrap, a web authoring tool originally developed by Twitter. Bootstrap (getbootstrap.com) is very impressive - it really does allow non-coders to create well-designed, responsive (that is, useable on all devices) websites. And it's free - classic open source software. This session also persuaded me that LITA (the Library and Information Technology Assoc. within ALA) is an organization I'd like to get more involved with.
Data Driven Collections - presented by San Francisco, Palos Verdes, and Marin County librarians
This session focused on CollectionHQ, a commercial software package that analyzes data from the library's ILS to help the library make better decisions about the collection - what to buy, what should go to which branches, how to publicize it, how to best allocate budget dollars, etc. CollectionHQ (which WCFL and WMRL are considering purchasing) is very powerful, and these librarians are using it in creative ways. For example, based on circulation patterns of Vietnamese language materials, the SF Public Library determined that Vietnamese speakers were using a particular branch more heavily than expected and were able to shift materials to accommodate that. In Marin County, the library tracks statistics on the popularity of particular authors to more accurately predict demand, and then purchases "read-alike" authors as well.
Leading with Ebooks - presented by Total Boox, with a panel of publishers, librarians, and ALA staff
This session examined alternatives to the current library ebook model of permanently purchasing single-user licenses. In particular, Total Boox is developing a completely different business model, where the library (or the individual) pays only for the number of pages of the book that a patron has actually read. It's an intriguing model, which makes sense from a financial point of view, but I'm not sure it's practical for libraries because of the big privacy issues. A patron would have to agree to let Total Boox track exactly what pages he or she had read, and then charge the library for them. Although the founder of Total Boox assured us that their security was excellent, I think this sacrifice of privacy would be a deal-breaker for libraries.
That's a few of the highlights. If you're thinking about attending ALA, I would recommend it. It's huge and chaotic and overwhelming, but the quality of the programs makes it worthwhile. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions.