I have a proposal for possible general adoption by LIS: if the time it takes to travel round-trip to a conference is longer than the duration of the conference itself, attendance should be discouraged. Exceptions will be made if the conference involves a tropical island and/or movie stars.
The New England Chapter of the Association of College & Research Libraries had their annual conference this past Friday in Worcester, MA, and I attended. The conference lasted 7 hours and round-trip travel from Middlebury took 8. But there were actually some good discussions and the conference was thankfully not consumed by the oft-repeated refrain of “The printed word is dying! It’s the end of the world!” Its theme was “Embracing Our Electronic World: Challenges and Promises for Academic Libraries” but mercifully no one was required to hug anything electronic. Do librarians actually hug anything in the workplace? Doubtful. It would be unseemly.
Two breakouts sessions filled the morning, and I decided that I wanted to go to sessions that were geared more towards areas we in LIS haven’t been able to really explore yet. The first session was all about NJVid, a fascinating grant-funded repository put together by 8 (now 13) public and private universities and high schools in New Jersey. The archive holds preservation-level quality streaming media (video and audio) and is divided into 3 subcategories, the first 2 of which are currently available: “locally-owned,” “commercial,” and “learning-on-demand.” Locally-owned material is media owned by any of the member schools which has open access and can be viewed by anyone. (If you go to the NJVid site and click around, any media you’re able to view will be in this category.) Commercial media involves licensed or distributed material – including feature films and television series – available by username & password to faculty/staff/students of each individual school involved. Here in LIS, Circ and Media Services have long had a pipe dream of being able to provide streaming video over the web for classroom film screenings projection as well as on-demand access for students of classroom screenings a la Hulu. NJVid is enacting that very idea. The last category, learning-on-demand, is still in process but would be the next step of providing a repository and on-demand streaming services for classroom and guest lectures and campus events, similar to some of our own digital archives projects already underway in-house as well as our involvement with delivery avenues like the iTunes University Channel.
You can see why this presentation was interesting to me, but it was clear the amount of work needed to undertake a similar sort of repository would be way too much for one college or university. Even the collective schools in Vermont would be hard pressed, though possibly a broader coalition throughout New England may be able to pull it off. Of course, for it to work in NJ, there had to be a full year of promotion and buy-in among the schools, grant writing at the state and federal levels, and a ton of work on copyright clearance. Still, it was rather awe-inspiring to see how they’ve been able to pull it off.
My second session was with a librarian from MIT whose presentation was called “It’s a Mobile World; Where Do You Fit?” I was impressed with her correct use of the semicolon. Her talk centered on ways the MIT Libraries have worked on adding their presence to the mobile web. After doing surveys and finding that the Apple iPhone was by far (57%) the mobil device of choice of MIT students, they made an app in Apple’s App Store which gives real-time maps, bus routes, and hours of their various libraries. In the works is a partnership with LibraryThing that will hopefully lead to a mobile app for accessing MIT’s OPAC. They’ve added their libraries to the Foursquare database, and even created a library tour with Gowalla. The main message of her talk was that, especially in merged organizations, libraries shouldn’t be trying to replicate in-person or even desktop online services for the mobile web, but instead create services that are in line with the way our users operate the mobile web: “mobilize, don’t miniaturize.”
The second half of her talk was devoted to her latest toy, the iPad, of which she was able to buy 4 for staff use at the MIT Libraries. (Carol, we’re far more reasonable: we only want 1. We don’t even need the 3G version.) She encouraged us to think about what library services could look like on the iPad, keeping in mind that it’s not intended to reproduce a laptop’s functionality but be a tablet experience, and one that’s heavy on media usage. Her enthusiasm was great, but during the q&a period, it was clear that most libraries aren’t anywhere near the kind of integrated focus on usability that is part of MIT’s tech services (or have anywhere near MIT’s budget for tech). Still, the first half of the talk was useful in thinking about mobile services as inherently different than what we provide on the regular web or in our brick-and-mortar branches.
After lunch, our keynote speaker was the president-elect of ACRL and said what you’d guess the president-elect of anything would say about the recession, challenges facing us, and the crucial point that their organization would be instrumental in getting everything back on track. After that, vendors were hawking software, services, and databases costing many thousands of dollars, and handing out free pens. The last part of the afternoon was spent in optional round-table discussions with some of the presenters as well as with a “Technology Petting Zoo” which was a neat idea and involved getting to play with various technologies, including iPads, netbooks, video consoles (PS3, XBox360, Wii), Kindles, Twitter, Google Voice, the Kurzweil 3000 software, and digital cameras of the photo and Flip varieties. It was a casual way to end the conference which didn’t feel forced and allowed people to leave whenever they wanted, which was simply brilliant in my book. Pun intended.