OLA, once over (very) lightly

This isn’t a proper post-conference summary. Between congestion and the results of two back-to-back conferences in cold & colder climates, together with a travel day that was even longer than expected, I’m still not fully up to speed…but thought a few notes might be in order.


The OLA SuperConference was a pleasure, with thousands of librarians of all types attending an astonishing variety of programs. I didn’t attend quite as many as originally intended (running tired throughout, so I tried to save whatever energy I had for the two sessions I was doing), and there was a real collision of programs I’d have liked to see on Friday afternoon when I was doing one. Still, a really good conference. I’d certainly return under the right circumstances.

My sessions

Shiny toys or useful tools?–my presentation on blogs and wikis, mostly blogs–was well-attended. They had to bring in more chairs. I’d guess there were at least 80 people there, and only a few left during the session. Unfortunately, I forgot to preface my talk with my general approval of the Law of 2 Feet: “If this isn’t what you expected or you’re not getting much from it, feel free to leave–I won’t be offended.” I was told later that OLA people tend to obey the Law of 2 Feet in any case.

As it was, the session was about half advice on setting up and using blogs and wikis and about half status updates on library blogs and liblogs, based on my books and a late December 2008 set of snapshots. I suspect the talk would have been even better if more of it was “how to do it well and what to avoid” with a few facts thrown in for balance.

A longer version of the talk, in article format, will be part of the February 2009 C&I, maybe out in a week, maybe longer, depending on how long it takes to regain some energy…

Top technology trends–where I was one of three panelists, along with a public librarian and a school librarian–was very well attended (it’s a spotlight session). Probably 250-300 people. My “trends” (not specific technologies, but issues) have already appeared on PLN and will also be part of a big Trends article in the February 2009 C&I. The others had excellent presentations. (Apparently, Meredith Farkas also spent less time on specific toys and more on overall aspects and policy issues.) I thought it went very well, but I’m the wrong one to judge.

Other sessions, once over lightly

My notes are sketchy and I think you’ll find most of these presentations online. I thought John Dupuis was interesting and enlightening on the use of Web2.0 tools in the science community. A session on using technology to see how users navigate online interfaces compared and contrasted in-person observation and remote computer-based observation; an interesting session, but not without problems. I wondered about the observer effect, and I really wondered about a remote observation technique that requires participants to download software that includes a keylogger! It felt as though the session was mostly about testing techniques, not about the things being tested, and maybe that’s OK. A “debate” on whether reference needed librarians had a slight misdescription in the program–it was really about whether reference desks needed professional librarians, a very different question.

Beyond the sessions

I noticed a couple of things about the conference:

  • The receptions–and there were quite a few of them–had full bars, not just wine and beer. Maybe I don’t get invited to the right receptions at ALA, but that struck me as different.
  • Some of the Canadian speakers used “North America” or “North American libraries” as shorthand for “United States and Canada,” omitting another N.A. country with roughly three times Canada’s population. But then, those of us in the 50 states frequently use “America” as shorthand for the U.S., so this is not a criticism.
  • I don’t think there’s much to say about famed Canadian politeness. Let’s face it, library conferences tend to be fairly polite gatherings in any case…
  • It was a VERY packed conference, with sessions starting at 8 a.m. and running well past 5 p.m., and with as many as 31 or 32 simultaneous programs (rarely fewer than 28 except for plenaries). Talking to some presenters who only had 15 or 20 attendees, they seemed to feel this was par for the course for specialized presentations. (The program does have “Level II” and “Level III” notes on presentations that assume some prior knowledge.)
  • The Intercontinental Hotel is joined to the conference center and a real boon for thin-blooded folks like me, unwilling to venture out into sub-zero weather (Centigrade, that is) more often than necessary. The room was fine–but the hotel’s only restaurant was remarkably expensive for dinner (more expensive than the first-rate Frank at the Art Gallery, for example), and with one astonishing characteristic: No Ontario Chardonnays (only one Ontario white wine, a fairly obscure varietal), despite ambitious wine prices. Ontario produces a lot of wine and a lot of excellent wine; the reasonably-priced Lone Star Cafe across the street featured Ontario wines (including Chardonnay), as did the reasonably-priced Loose Moose Tap & Grill (also nearby), as did the reasonably-priced C’est What?, as did…well, almost everybody (certainly including Molson’s at the airport). (Frank offered nothing but Ontario wines, as far as I could see, including some relatively rare ones.) I think Intercontinental should get its act together. (I’m also getting sick of all the business hotels that Proudly Brew Starbuck’s, but I’m probably in a minority there.)
  • Three cheers to the Airport Express drivers. The Wednesday driver took his time, so that we arrived a few minutes later but all in one piece (Wednesday conditions were pretty miserable). The Saturday driver was interesting, amusing, making the drive to the airport almost a mini-tour. And the price was right, for carriage in big comfortable buses with good reclining seats and shapable headrests,  lavatory and wifi (not that I took advantage of either). I almost never tip airport shuttle drivers. I made exceptions in both these cases, admittedly with those boring U.S. bills instead of sound Canadian coin.

That may be it for a conference post. When C&I is ready, I’ll add pointers to the appropriate articles (or copies of the articles) to the OLA site. Now to photocopy and mail in expenses…

I’m hiding this here under the fold because I’m not sure what to do about it. It’s been suggested, by a couple of people, that I put together a program on effective publishing via Lulu and CreateSpace, as a way for libraries to do short-run books for their own purposes and to encourage community publication. If I did this, I’d work up a Word2007 6×9 book template that uses standard Vista typefaces, with sample text to show how it works.

I’m not sure it’s worth the effort (and I’m sure I wouldn’t be ready to do more than a handful of these presentations). Comments?

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