Archive for the ‘Speaking’ Category

On Speaking Appearances and Travel

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Added 7/31/16: After looking more closely at family needs and health situations, I’ll simplify this message:

At this point, I am not available for speaking engagements that involve travel. Period. Family & health come first.

Which renders the rest of this somewhat moot…

I probably shouldn’t need to post this–but one recent incident suggests it might be useful.

“Shouldn’t need to post this”

I am not in great demand for speaking appearances. That’s hardly surprising.

Realistically, demand slowed down a lot after 2003 and pretty much stopped after 2009: I did one ALA talk in 2010, one book-related conference talk (in a program where it didn’t really belong) in 2012, and three talks (all book-related) at the OLA/WLA joint conference in 2013 (Oregon and Washington). And that’s it.

I’m not asking for invitations or feeling neglected. I’m starting facts. And those facts make sense: There are lots of younger library people with more to say, with more current insights into most any topic, and certainly with better PowerPoint-equivalent skills.

Most of my oddball research activity these days relates to open access–but even there, there are much better people to speak on any aspect of it other than the details of the gold OA landscape. I doubt that my research would make a compelling speech; I’m satisfied that I can communicate via posts, Cites & Insights and books.

The tl;dr version: I had a great run from 1988 through 2004; it’s time for others to have their say.

Not 100% ruling out…

Am I saying I’ll never do public speaking again? I won’t be unhappy if that turns out to be the case–but under the right circumstances, for the right topic, with the right arrangements, it’s not impossible.


At this point, travel’s difficult, partly due to family health reasons (some mine, some my wife’s, some our cats), partly due to the sheer annoyances of travel.

We haven’t taken a vacation trip for five years or more, and I’d certainly place vacation travel ahead of speaking trips.

If I did accept a speaking invitation–and if family issues allowed it–it would have to be fully funded: we’re not wealthy enough to subsidize speaking trips. And, for that matter, given my age and general reluctance to travel, any long flight would have to be business class or better, as well as lodging in a good business-class hotel (sorry, but Airbnb interests me not at all), other expenses and probably an honorarium.

I suspect that all adds up to “You don’t have enough to offer for it to be worthwhile.” No argument from these parts.

[Remainder struck through as irrelevant.]

What I will not do:

  • Consider a speaking engagement at all without a clear, detailed invitation; tweets need not apply.
  • Be guilt-tripped into feeling that I should be out raising my own money for a speaking trip.
  • Believe that I have unique insights and abilities to educate about OA or any other topic. I’m not an educator.

For that matter, I’ve never really been a strong OA advocate: I’ve tried to add facts to the discussion. If I’m now viewed as pro-gold-OA, you can probably thank Stevan Harnad and Jeffrey Beall as much as anybody.


On speaking: a few current notes

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Here’s a calendar of my speaking engagements for the next 24 months.

Now that you’ve plowed through that, here are some notes about the situation.

No, I can assure you, your browser did not fail to display some embedded feature.

Would I be willing to speak? Probably

During my long and peculiar career, I’ve spoken–almost always to library groups, almost always invited–something over 100 times. With three exceptions, I’ve always enjoyed it (maybe 2.5 exceptions), both the speaking and the conference I was speaking at. That’s included something like 40 keynotes over the years.

Ideally, this post should really appear on April 26, 2013, because that will be two years to the day since the last invited speech (or any speech!) I’ve done, one of three at the 2013 OLA/WLA Joint Conference. (Which was most definitely enjoyable, and I’d like to think most of the people at the sessions found them worthwhile.) Or, maybe, on January 31, since that would have been six years since the previous invited library conference speech involving expenses and honorarium. (There were two others in between, but one was during an ALA Annual while I was still regularly attending ALA and the other was, to be honest, somewhat shoehorned into a program because of a book I’d just published.)

Which is to say that I haven’t been doing much speaking lately. That’s hardly surprising. It’s been a long time since I had a full-time job in the library field; my presence in the formal periodical literature has declined almost completely; I’m not a great PowerPoint/Prezi/Keynote presenter; and I’m getting on in years. (“I’m old” is another way to put it, but I’m only intermittently ready to claim that one so far.)

I’m writing this now rather than a few days from now, or never, because of a recent tweetversation (sorry) relating to the most populous state in which I’ve never spoken (I used to keep track of these things, and I’ve actually spoken in something over half the states, along with two Canadian provinces and two Australian states)–namely New Jersey, the 11th largest state by population, with 8.9 million people. Indeed, you have to drop down to #28, Oklahoma with 3.9 million, before you get to the next most populous state I’ve never spoken in. (After that, the list of states spared my speaking gets thick–#30, Iowa, #31, Mississippi, #32, Arkansas, #33, Utah…)

Anyway: the suggestion was made that the lack of a New Jersey speech could be rectified–and that resulted in this post.

On one hand, there’s the heading above. Would I be willing to speak? Probably–given the right circumstances and arrangements. You can read more about that here (I suppose I should update that 18-month-old page one of these years). I would certainly add “open access” and specifically “the state of gold OA” to the list of plausible topics; indeed, it may be the most plausible, given the work I’m doing and the forthcoming Library Technology Reports. But there are other possibilities.

On the other hand…

There are a lot of other, younger, more involved library folks out there

Many of whom are probably better speakers/presenters, some (maybe many) of whom are smarter, many of whom are more qualified to speak on almost any topic you can name.

Let’s face it: given travel costs these days and my unwillingness to camp out, share a room, sleep in a hostel, or fly in and out in a great hurry, it would be hard to justify meeting my terms unless several speeches and/or a keynote is involved. (Given the increased hassles of travel these days, and the fact that it’s a mild hassle to get from here to the nearest big airport, I really couldn’t justify going for a quick in-and-out trip.)

I suspect almost any conference would be much better off with younger, more involved keynote speakers–people better able to inspire attendees with contemporary views and issues.

Perhaps a better writer than presenter

I believe I’ve been a pretty decent speaker over the years (those years spent in the National Forensic League weren’t entirely wasted, although my Rhetoric degree from Berkeley had nothing whatsoever to do with public speaking–you couldn’t take speaking courses for credit in the major), but I suspect I’m nowhere near as good now as I was, say, in 1992-2003, the peak decade for speaking. For that matter, it was easier to get away without doing “decks” back then, and I’m really not a PPTer. (I’ve done them. I suspect some of the OLA/WLA attendees weren’t happy with them.)

I still write a lot, even if much of it’s self-published these days (not all!). It’s not as though my views and findings aren’t being heard. Speaking isn’t the same thing, but the profession isn’t missing anything major by my not speaking.


Willing, probably–but you may be better off elsewhere

Would I be willing to speak if the arrangements, situation, expenses, etc. made sense? Yes.

Am I hoping to see invitations? That’s complicated.

Do I believe associations should be inviting me? Not really.

Will I be disappointed if I never do another library speech? Probably not.

Is asking and answering your own questions an annoying habit? Certainly, but a typical one.


A few words about those 2.5 cases

So what was wrong with three (or 2.5) speaking situations, such that I didn’t enjoy them?

  • The most blatant case was one where I’d agreed to do a same-day fly-in, speak at lunch, fly-out (a mistake to start with), and only required that I have a podium for my speaking notes. There was no podium or anything that could substitute, I was frazzled from the flight, and I’m sure I did a lousy job.
  • In another case, the policies of the inviting organization were such that it was extremely difficult for the inviting group to meet my expense requirements, I could only attend other sessions on the same day as my talk (as it happened, I didn’t do that), travel got messy (and when I got there, exhausted, the welcoming dinner turned into a multihour hassle that left me even more exhausted), and the whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s the one association I probably wouldn’t accept a return invitation from. Fortunately, that’s almost certainly never going to happen anyway.
  • The half case: The conference setting was wonderful, the people were lovely, some of the other sessions were interesting–but (a) I was a bad fit for the conference, (b) I came down with food poisoning on the day I was speaking, so that I felt like I was going to die while I was trying to speak, (c) I was speaking facing klieg lights for videotaping, so I couldn’t really see the people I was speaking to, (d) I very nearly got into a fight with another speaker during a group discussion. The organizer assured me that I did fine. But they also sent me a videotape: Nope, I did not do fine. It was a mess.

I have never ever been to a state or association library conference I did not enjoy–with one partial exception because my wife was along (which rarely happens) and was seriously ill, so that I could barely focus on the conference people. That wasn’t their fault.

A year’s reading

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Lots of people seem to keep close track of what they’ve read. I started keeping a spreadsheet, mostly to avoid checking out the same book twice. Anyway…

Books* started in 2013


Books* finished in 2013

56. I gave up on one (Any Old Iron, Anthony Burgess) and I’m in the middle of another. Oh, and I skipped an Orson Scott Card novelette in an otherwise-excellent SF collection…

Books* by category, excluding the one I’m in the middle of

Biography: 1

Fiction (general): 18

Mysteries: 8

Nonfiction: 19

Science fiction/fantasy: 11

Books I particularly enjoyed (in no particular order) – Grade A

Quiet Susan Cain
Lunatics Dave Barry/Alan Zweibel
Bed & Breakfast Lois Battle
Tricky Business Dave Barry
Break No Bones Kathy Reichs
Murder on the Lusitania Conrad Allen
Wishful Drinking Carrie Fisher
The City of Falling Angels John Berendt
The Long Earth Terry Pratchett & S. Baxter
Redshirts John Scalzi
The Last Colony John Scalzi
Night Sweats Laura Crossett

Books I enjoyed a lot but note quite as much (Grade A–

A Deepness in the Sky Vernor Vinge
Mars Crossing Geoffrey A. Landis
Bare Bones Kathy Reichs
Postcards from the Edge Carrie Fisher
Texasville Larry McMurtry
Insane City Dave Barry
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (4) J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (5) J.K. Rowling
Murder on the Leviathan Boris Akunin
Murder on the Half Shelf Lorna Barrett
Murder on the Celtic Conrad Allen
Small Town Lawrence Block
Groucho Marx, Master Detective Ron Goulart
The Happy Bottom Riding Club Lauren Kessler
How to Lie with Statistics Darrell Huff
The Case for Books Robert Darnton
Humans Robert J. Sawyer
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2) J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (3) J.K. Rowling

It’s fair to note that the genre count above is probably wrong: the Harry Potter books are all under Fiction rather than SF/F. Yes, I’m finally reading the rest of Harry Potter–I’d read the first one before all the movies, all of which I’ve seen. No credit for guessing what book I’m in the middle of or one that I’ll check out from the children’s room of the library after I finish this one…

*The asterisk

Not included: My own books, a couple of which I had reason to reread.

Other note: This is books. I also read 24 magazines, including three science fiction magazines, and I’d guess those add up to the text equivalent of at least another 50 books–the SF magazines alone are about 18 book-equivalents.

Last year’s minimum goal was three books for each LPL borrowing cycle, which comes out to 42. So I at least achieved the minimum. This year’s minimum goal is the same.

Speaking professionally–or not

Friday, October 11th, 2013

I used the line”Rehearsals for retirement” (modified to say [semi-]retirement and with credit to Phil Ochs) in a Bibs & Blather essay a little while ago…well, OK, actually it was more than three years ago, in the June 2010 Cites & Insights.

This post isn’t another in that extremely intermittent series. Or maybe, in a way, it is.


While I’ve never been on the speaking circuit–quite deliberately–I have done a reasonable number of speeches and perhaps an unreasonable number of keynotes in the past. Without including the same speech (or what was billed as the same speech) given more than once (which has happened three or four times, always by request), it appears that I’ve done 129 speeches, including 39 keynotes. Of those 129 speeches, 115 (89%) were invited.

Clarification: I’d regard the speaking circuit as involving at least one of three elements and probably at least two: Submitting proposals to speak, which I’ve only done once (and that by request of a publisher); Being willing to speak as often as the arrangements are feasible (there were at least two years in which I turned down invitations because I’d hit the eight-trips-a-year limit I’d set for myself); Giving the same–or essentially the same–speech on several occasions (which, as noted, has happened only three or four times).

I’m not putting down any of those practices. They just haven’t been what I’ve done.

If you’re curious, the peak came in 1996, with 13 speeches (all invited), although I was at my self-imposed trip limit in 1993 and 1995 through 1998.

I’ve spoken on a wide range of topics. I’ve had the fortune to speak at and attend state library conferences in roughly half* the states (which is always a pleasure), and I’ve spoken in two Canadian provinces and twice in Australia. (“And attend”: My practice was and is to attend as much of the conference as possible.)

I’ve almost always enjoyed it–I can remember three bad experiences, which is a pretty decent record. (That’s my bad experiences; I can’t say how audiences felt, but I’d guess I had reasonably good word of mouth in the 1990s, given that I had more invitations after I was LITA VP/President/Past-president than before or during that period.)

The three bad experiences: Once I came down with food poisoning on the first day of a conference and spoke the second day, unexpectedly facing very bright TV-filming lights. I was babbling for the first five minutes. I know: They sent me the video. Another time I flew down to Southern California, a one-day trip, to do a luncheon speech, where my primary requirement had been “a podium or table for my notes.” There was none, so I was holding notes in one hand while trying to speak. I honestly should have walked out. The third time was a combination of a speaking format I didn’t care for and felt was more of a stunt than an informative event and loads of hassles in arrangements before and during the conference. In any case, three out of 129 is pretty good. I won’t even attempt to name the best experiences, although VALA, PUBRAISS, OLA (Ontario), BCLA, TxLA and AkLA (and WisLA and WaLA and several MLAs and…) are among the many highlights.

All of which is prelude.


I was just updating my vita, speaking notes and primary web page–the vita because it gets outdated easily, the other two because why not? {Caution: The vita is a 29-page PDF. Sorry about that.]

And thinking about whether I want to speak in the future.

The answer is yes. And no.


  • I love state library conferences and library conferences in general (with one exception, and it notably doesn’t have “library” in the name).
  • While I’m an introvert, I’m not antisocial, and I enjoy going to other programs and (within reason) social events at conferences.
  • I believe I still have things to say that are worth hearing–otherwise, I wouldn’t still be writing books.
  • We haven’t been traveling lately, so it’s a way to travel.
  • If your association concludes that I can offer perspectives that you wouldn’t otherwise get, I’d be delighted to discuss a possible speech.

Maybe not

  • There’s a lot to be said for hearing from people who are actually out there doing things.
  • There’s a lot to be said for hearing from younger librarians and library professionals. (Of course, when compared to me 90% or more of the field is younger, but there’s also a lot to be said for hearing from librarians and library professionals in their late 20s, 30s and early 40s, as well as for the more experienced folks who aren’t yet at retirement age.)
  • There’s a lot to be said–for some conferences–for hearing from a more diverse set of speakers, including hearing from more of the outstanding women in the field.
  • There’s a lot to be said for hearing from people who haven’t been heard from as often.
  • If you feel high-powered PowerPoint/Prezi presentations are essential, I’m not your speaker.
  • If you want absolute assurance about the future or punditry of a high order, I’m not your speaker.
  • If you want to be dazzled with infographics, you probably already know I’m not your speaker.


If there are groups who really do want to hear from me, and the arrangements make sense, I’m still interested.

And if there aren’t, that’s OK too. If I had to choose between Walt Crawford and [Jenica Rogers|Dorothea Salo|Jon Dupuis|Meredith Farkas|Laura Crossett|…] on a topic or for a situation either of them could handle well, I know which way I’d go.

*Added a bit later on October 11: I added a comment on the Friendfeed automatic posting of the title of this post, namely “Or “Why I might never be at NjLA–the most populous state I haven’t spoken in–and that’s OK.” To which Joe Kraus responded “NJ is not OK, not even close geographically”–which is very clever. Except that it led me to check the states I have and haven’t spoken in, and it turns out OK is close to NJ in one respect: It’s the next-most-populous state I haven’t spoken in [yet]. It appears that I’ve spoken in 29 of the 50 states and DC, including all but three states with at least three million people (Iowa’s the third).

Oregon and Washington librarians: Let’s talk about open access

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

If you’re a librarian in Washington or Oregon, especially an academic librarian, I encourage you to register for the 2013 OLA/WLA conference–and to sign up for the Wednesday (April 24) afternoon (2-5 p.m.) preconference on Open Access.

I can’t tell you just what I’ll cover, because I’ll probably be working on it through mid-April.

I can say that it won’t just be a rehash of Open Access: What You Need to Know Now, although I’ll certainly cover the basics of OA as set forth in that book. If I had to guess, I’d guess about an hour will be devoted to discussion of OA basics and controversies, two hours to other material (including lots of discussion).

Beyond that, I anticipate looking at recent events and what seems plausible or likely for the future, and on how you and your library can be involved. If you’re writing in the profession, a growing number of top journals are OA-friendly (and, best of all, no-fee Gold OA). If you’re not, you’re probably aware that the current situation with journal prices is not sustainable for libraries.

(Yes, we’ll probably spend a few minutes talking about various definitions of “sustainability.”)

I plan for it to be fresh, informative, lively–and with lots of room for discussion.

And while you’re there…

I’m doing two regular sessions during the conference as well, which may be more oriented to public librarians but, in at least one case, should also interest the rest of you:

  • Thursday, April 25, 4-5:15: A session based on Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-2013)but even more on the custom study I’ve done for the Oregon and Washington libraries, coversnapa 73-page 6×9 PDF that will be made available right around the time of the conference. Here’s the cover…
  • Friday, April 26, 10:30-11:45 a.m.: A session based on The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing. I just finished preparing the draft version of that talk and PPT presentation. Again, I plan to leave plenty of time for discussion–noting that I’ll disappear as soon as the session’s done (to get back to Livermore on Friday). (If you heard me at Internet Librarian on this topic, the new talk covers considerably more ground.)

I’ll be around for most of the conference, and probably at one or two of the social events. I look forward to seeing some of you!


Relevance and reward, 2

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Has it really been that long since “Relevance and reward, 1“? Apparently so. How time flies…

Progress report 1: From Abbott Memorial Library to Woodbury Community Library, I’ve swept through Vermont–another state I’ve never visited but feel as though I know better than I did a few days ago. No large public libraries at all, not even one serving 40,000 or more…

Next up: Wisconsin, and that’s gonna take a while–381 libraries, more than any state I’ve done so far, and a warmup for the final two (if I do them), Pennsylvania’s 453 libraries and Texas’ 561.

As for the rest of the book: Done with the draft of Chapter 6, the penultimate chapter before the second geographical chunk and the four-month followup. Also getting much better title suggestions from ALA Editions.

The first part of this post was about my writing and where it makes sense to spend time and energy–the need for some relevance and possibly other rewards.

As part of that post, I noted that my speaking invitations have dried up, as have my print columns. It’s quite possible that there will be some speaking invitations in the future related to the books I’m doing now, particularly the micropublishing book. But otherwise, I think both of those areas require a different kind of whine:

Younger and more involved voices should be doing these things

Maybe that’s all I need to say. But, being Walt Crawford, I’ll drone on with an expansion.

If I get invited to speak on community micropublishing, or for that matter on public library use of social networks, it will be because of books–and not me-too books. Nobody’s done what I’ve done with micropublishing and library involvement. Nobody’s done as broad a study of actual public library use of social networks as I’m doing. In those areas, I have unique things to offer–at least for a while.

In other areas, not so much.

And, frankly, if a conference planning committee wants a speaker on most library-related topics where I could do a bang-up job, I’m fairly certain that there are real librarians actually working in the field (in libraries!) who are younger than I am, have spoken less often than I have, and would do a better job.

They’re the ones who should be speaking. The field needs to hear from a range of voices, including those who aren’t On The Speaking Tour, those who don’t seem to pop up at every conference. And the field needs to hear real experiences and arguments based on real library experience, not just theory and broad assumptions based on narrow evidence.

And, in general, to the extent that there are still columns in library-related magazines, they’re the ones who should be writing them. Ideally, for a few years–then stopping (or moving to a different outlet) and letting someone else take over.

Hi, Brian Mathews (with one t). Congratulations. You did good.

I love state and regional library conferences–with almost no exceptions, I’ve enjoyed speaking at them and attending them (I habitually went to the whole conference and as many programs and events as made sense). Ontario, Texas, Washington, North Carolina, Alaska, Kentucky, Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, Connecticut, New England, Michigan, New York, Victoria (Australia), Minnesota, Ohio (ALAO), Maryland, British Columbia, Georgia (COMO), Arizona, Tennessee, Nevada–all great. (Well, Nevada was difficult, but that had everything to do with health and nothing to do with the conference.) Also a bunch of conferences at different levels…military, marine sciences, New York regional groups, AALL, Music Library Association (I’d say MLA but there are so many MLAs…), AMIGOS, Harvard College, University Circle, NCCIHE…and more.

And I’m not angling for invitations back to any of them or to the states I haven’t visited–unless they want to hear about these current projects. For pretty much all the topics I’ve addressed in the past, I believe they’re better off with other voices…more relevant voices, especially those who can use the professional rewards.

So, apparently, do they.

That’s a good thing.

Progress report 2: Cites & Insights is still dead in the water. It’s not formally on hiatus yet; it’s not actually gone. There may yet be a November/December issue. Or maybe not. And, based on reactions to date, it appears that it really doesn’t matter to much of anyone. Which may also be OK.

Not as wordy as last time, at least. Now, on to Abbotsford and a bunch of other Wisconsin libraries…


Strategic Future of Print Collections: My ALA Gig

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Seems like I should promote the session at ALA during which I’m speaking, since (a) it’s my only speech during ALA (and I don’t really speak all that often at ALA), (b) it’s my only speech for 2010, unless something happens…

Here’s the official description from the (30MB!) online program, modified only for correctness:

Sunday, June 27, 2010, 10:30 a.m.-Noon:

Strategic Future of Print Collections in Research Libraries


Washington Convention Center -206

Tracks: Collection Management & Technical Services; Preservation

Use of print library collections is shifting from physical circulation to digital reformatting and screen delivery. Does this shift suggest a continuing role for physical collections or does their screen delivery inherently suggest print disposal? Recent technologies of print-on-demand will be evaluated from a preservation perspective, interdependence of similar physical and digital collections discussed, and preservation service reassignment and preservation advocacy for the continuing role of print in the context of its digital delivery will be explored.

Moderator: Gary Frost, University of Iowa, Conservator; Debra Nolan, LBI The Original Hardcover Bookbinders, Executive Director

Speakers: Walt Crawford, Library Leadership Network, Editorial Directorsemi-retired writer & editor; Shannon Zachary, University of Michigan, Preservation Librarian; [Not in that description: The third speaker, Doug Nishimura, Image Permanence Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology.]

Quick note

That’s the description. You should expect three roughly 15-minute talks and lots of time for Q&A. I’m the leadoff speaker, and promise not to lull you to sleep with Powerpoint bullet lists. My title is “Inclusionary Reading: Screen and Paper” and posits what’s now being called a “multiplatform reading future”–one in which books and booklength digital resources continue to be important, with some notes on why that might be. I’m defining “research library” very broadly.

The other two speakers are both experts. I anticipate lively talks that provide some real insights. I know there’s an absurd amount of competition Sunday 10:30-noon (as in every other prime program slots, since there are really only six or seven prime slots in the ever-shorter conference schedule); I think this one’s worth considering. (I would, wouldn’t I? But I didn’t design the program; I was asked to speak, and decided it would be an interesting topic.)

Culture clashes and conference etiquette

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Here I am on ScienceBlogs, thanks to the loose definition of “science” that lets in “information science” and the even looser definition of “information science” that includes whatever it is I do.
And yesterday I found myself wondering whether I had any business being here–although the thought was more along the lines of “Holy cr*p! What’s going on here?” The situation had nothing to do with this blog–and a lot, I think, to do with culture clashes along the lines of that half-century-old notion of the Two Cultures.

The trigger

The trigger was a cluster of conversations taking place on FriendFeed and in blogs, some of them on this platform. It had to do with the propriety of liveblogging talks during a conference, talks not explicitly labeled as secret or closed. And after reading some of the conversations, I realized that, for all my decades as a systems analyst/programmer, I’m on the “humanities side” of this particular gulf.

The odd thing is that I’m not a big fan of liveblogging as a technique, for a couple of reasons:

  • As explored at length in “Speaking and attention: It all depends,” as a speaker, I used to have trouble with the idea of inattention–that, between backchannels, liveblogging, twittering, etc., the people in the audience weren’t really there fully.
  • Also as a speaker, I felt–and feel–that liveblogging and twittering tend to force speeches into a bullet-point mode: If a speaker wishes to build to a point using narrative means (“tell a story”), these bits-and-pieces techniques will work against effectiveness.
  • As a writer who frequently comments on what others have said, I encountered the dark side of liveblogging and conference reporting in general: Namely, what happens if you disagree with anything that’s reported. (If you’re high-fiving and saying “Wow, so-and-so made a great point,” all is well.) To wit, and particularly if the speaker is in one of the charmed circles, you get hit with some combination of “They never said that,” “You’re taking it out of context” and “That wasn’t what they meant at all.” (“Hit with” is the appropriate phrase.) After a couple of incidents, I came to a decision: I’d treat all conference reports, but specifically liveblogs and twitter streams, as fictional–I might note them, but would never, ever comment on them or believe they necessarily had anything to do with what was actually said (or meant).

But that’s a far cry from saying that liveblogging is either inappropriate or borderline unethical. I might say “I wish you’d listen for five minutes before you start tapping away–and by the way, feel free to leave if I’m not getting through to you,” but I would never say people were wrong to liveblog (or engage in backchannel chatter, which may or may not have anything to do with the actual speech).

The gulf?

The more I followed this particular controversy, the more I realized that “conference” in my context meant something very different than “conference” in the science context, at least as these scientists were using it.
Maybe–maybe–conferences-as-in-science, or at least some of them, can reasonably assume that, although anyone who registers can listen to a speech and, presumably, take notes on it and circulate those notes to friends & colleagues, that doesn’t make the contents of the speech public–that it’s reasonable to tell not only professional journalists but everyone that they shouldn’t reveal what was going on while it’s going on. (Maybe all such conferences should be held in Las Vegas, given the town’s advertising motto.)
But conferences-as-in-librarianship, at least all the ones I’ve ever attended, have had no such assumptions. On the other hand, very few speeches at those conferences involve stunning new discoveries backed by methodologically-sound research and even fewer involve any danger of being “scooped” or losing huge research grants because early information gets out too soon. As for the latter, so far I’ve encountered…well, none. People speak because they want to inform, to share ideas and winning strategies, to advocate, or because they’re On the Circuit and were invited to give Speech X to a new audience. (There are other motives, I’m sure, but sharing and informing are certainly the dominant ones.) People want what they say to reach a wider audience. Some speakers must love liveblogging, particularly those whose speeches lend themselves to the process.
Can we communicate across this gulf? Is it a real gulf, or is it edge cases? People like John D. and Christina P. convince me that the answer to the first question is yes, at least for some of us. The second one? Who knows?


I don’t have a conclusion. There are culture clashes of sorts even within librarianship, to be sure, but most of the time I also see a shared culture, at least among the types of librarians most likely to be involved in the American Library Association. On the other hand, I just wrote (and then deleted) a whole set of internal “culture clashes,” many of them from (some) librarians within one specialty who (always wrongly) either treat other types of libraries/librarians as inferior or assume that all libraries are like their own specialty. And I’m fairly certain that there are many culture clashes within science, even if you leave out the social sciences.
I’ll keep trying to communicate.
Oh, and before you ask, I do at least vaguely understand entropy and the second law of thermodynamics–but thinking about or remembering that law is no more relevant to my everyday life or writing than any Shakespeare play is relevant to the everyday life of a nuclear physicist. On the other hand, when someone proposes a system that operates with 100% efficiency, a vague awareness of the second law does trigger my BS-meter…

A footnote and digression: If you want to get one of us wifty humanities types to pick up on the second law, for Gaia’s sake stay away from the Wikipedia entry! This site, though, ain’t bad: “If the first law of thermodynamics says you can’t win, then the second law of thermodynamics says you can’t even break even.” Followed by much more detail, to be sure.

OLA, once over (very) lightly

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

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?

Shiny toys, current tools, tech trends

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Hmm. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to promote the two sessions I’ll be part of during OLA SuperConference, for Canadian readers I may have who’ll be there…

Shiny Toys or Useful Tools?

Friday, January 30, 3:45 p.m.
Session 1320

Blogs and wikis aren’t shiny new toys for libraries and librarians any more.  They’ve moved from toys to tools.  As with most tools, they’re not magic, they’re not right for everything or everybody, but they can be powerfully effective in many situations.  This talk will include a very brief introduction to the tools, some notes on when one or the other might make more sense and some cautionary  notes.  Then we’ll look at how they’re working our for libraries and librarians — some examples, but also the results of some informal study of library-related wikis and the largest studies of library blogs and blogs by library people.

Best guess at this point: That very brief introduction will take about two minutes, if that, and I’ll spend almost no time talking about wikis–there are articles at PLN on blogs, wikis and when to use which that are better than anything I’d say on the spur of the moment. I’ll devote some attention to updates on currency (and visibility) for library blogs and liblogs, based on a snapshot study done December 16-17. There are graphs–but since I travel without notebook, the graphs will appear in an article related to the talk, which will appear in the February 2009 Cites & Insights (when it appears). Lots of time for discussion.

Top Technology Trends–Balanced Libraries: Books, Bytes and Web 2.0

Saturday, January 31, 9:05 a.m.
Session #1700

What technologies and trends should you be watching? What’s the next big idea for libraries as we begin 2009? Join the experts as they discuss technologies to be aware of now and beyond. They will touch on planning, people and participation. Always one of Super Conference’s most anticipated sessions.

“The experts” in this case are Paul Takala of Hamilton PL, Anita Brooks-Kirkland of Waterloo Region DSB, and me. I’ve never met the others. We each get 20 minutes. Those of you who use PLN may already know my current “top half-dozen trends,” although the order of them has already changed slightly…and, of course, I’ll be making notes right up to the start of the session (and beyond!). Should be fun.


I’ll be at nearly all of the conference, although I may head out before Saturday’s luncheon so I have plenty of time to get to the airport and have a substantial late lunch/early dinner before the long journey home. My tentative schedule’s still here. Known changes:

  • I plan to attend John Dupuis’ session on Thursday morning.
  • I’d guess attendance at any plenary session is at most half-likely.
  • I do have dinner plans Thursday after the early reception, but no other social plans beyond the receptions noted. (I’m an early bird, which also means I’m not a night owl… And I’m guessing I won’t have a workable cell phone in Toronto.)
  • Otherwise, pretty much as it says.

This all, to be sure, assumes that the path of the big storm stays as currently anticipated. (I do have a nonstop flight from SFO to Toronto, to be sure.)