Still blogging after all these years

Blogs have gone from hot new thing to just another communication channel. They’re not dead – in fact, after reading Walt Crawford’s survey of the library blog landscape, But Still They Blog, I conclude they’re very much alive.

I don’t blog the same way I used to. I don’t post as many personal things, mainly because I have other, more appropriate channels (like Facebook) for those. I don’t post as often as I used to, which could be because I have other channels, or could be because I’m busier than I used to be. I don’t follow blogs the same way I used to; I’m more likely to find an interesting post via Twitter or Facebook or even a Google search than I am to find it by reading my RSS feeds. (Perhaps relatedly, the popular feed reader Bloglines announced it is shutting down on November 1.)

But, there are some things for which my blog is still the best channel. I think (based on the number of comments I get) that more people follow my blog, or find my posts somehow, than did in the early days. I’m used to thinking of myself as a pretty small-time blogger, but I have been around for a while. (I was somewhat surprised to find that DIY Librarian is included in the pioneers section of Crawford’s book – but I have been blogging since mid-2003!)

Mac Slocum quotes from an interview with Anil Dash about why blogging still matters:

That was the promise we had when we all first discovered the web. Someday it would bring us all together and we’d be able to have these conversations. It’s not perfect. It’s not ideal. But in some small way here’s somebody like me — with no portfolio, I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, I didn’t have any fancy social connections when I started my blog — and it has opened the door to me having a conversation as a peer, as somebody taken seriously, in realms that I would have never otherwise had access to. That’s the greatest privilege in the world.

My blog has allowed me to have conversations, both real and virtual, with people I wouldn’t have otherwise had a connection to. In the early days of this blog, I contacted Jessamyn West of librarian.net (one of the true library blog pioneers) for advice, and she wrote back to me.

Next week, I’ll be speaking on a panel at PaLA about blogging and personal branding. Back when I started this blog, it was still unclear whether blogging helped or hurt your professional reputation. This blog has helped me professionally, and I hope to demonstrate how with a little self-awareness blogging can help other young professionals too.

The other side of the booth

APS booth at StampShow 2010

APS booth at StampShow 2010

I’ve written before about my experiences attending technology conferences as a librarian outsider. Last week I got another perspective on conferences and trade shows as I sat on the other side of the booth at the American Philatelic Society‘s StampShow in Richmond.

It was an exhausting–but exciting–four days. Many APS members came to the booth looking to meet “the new librarian.” It was great to meet so many library users in person, because most of them use the library remotely.

I got used to saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll see if I can find out,” pretty quickly. When interviewed for this job, I said that I would learn about philately in part from library users, and I learned quite a bit at the show, both from talking to people at the booth and from listening to my coworkers answer questions.

I’ve gotten a taste of being behind the scenes at conferences before, by doing program planning for APLIC and for the SLA Social Science Division, but now that I’ve done everything from shake hands with a famous keynote speaker at a fancy dinner to pack up the booth at the end of the show, I have even more appreciation for what it takes to put on an event like this.

APLIC 2009 conference

I just finished posting the program for APLIC’s 2009 Annual Conference.

I look forward to this conference every year, and I think this year’s conference will be particularly good. While APLIC is geared toward population information professionals, the range of topics for this very small conference is impressive: data confidentiality; author’s rights and open access; delivering user training; China demographic data and GIS; ROI for libraries; and tours of ICPSR, the University of Michigan’s vast data archive, and the Ann Arbor District Library. (I’m not responsible for this great line-up, just for getting it up on the web site.)

I’m also looking forward to having the conference on the University of Michigan campus instead of in a big-city hotel. It’s always an intimate conference and I think it will be even more so this year.

If you’re interested in attending, the 3-day conference is a bargain – $200 ($75 for students) includes all the sessions and tours plus a banquet.

Diversify your conferencing

Back in December, Walt Crawford asked the PALINET Leadership Network Challenge group what conference besides ALA offers the most value as a leader or future leader. John Dupuis, a science librarian, suggested that librarians should go to the conferences their users go to:

I hope there’s room for a dissenting idea–that we should go to the conferences where our users go and not just to library conferences. I’ve been to three non-library, science conferences this year and they were really valuable experiences because they helped me understand where my user community is coming from.

I couldn’t agree more. One of my favorite library conferences is the very small APLIC conference. It is so small, in fact, that it is a pre-conference event of the academic conference that most of our users go to (the Population Association of America), which makes it relatively easy and inexpensive to stay for the academic conference. When I attended my first PAA conference, I found myself nearly bored to tears, in part because so much of the material was beyond my understanding. The faculty and graduate students I saw seemed surprised to see me at “their” conference, which made me feel uncomfortable.

By the end of the conference, though, I’d begun to realize its value.

My users were surprised to see me there in a good way. The same way we get excited when faculty take an interest in the library, they get excited when we take an interest in their research. I got to know many of them better through the social parts of the conference, too.

While much of the conference was still over my head, I was learning–both about the subject matter and the way research works. The best part, for me, was hearing the discussion during conference sessions, because I started to understand how scholars develop their research and interact with each other. I also began to develop an understanding of the publication process and the concerns scholars face at various points in their careers.

I got to see firsthand what a poster session is like, so I can better advise graduate students when they come to me for help putting together their first poster.

I can’t afford to go to an academic conference and a library conference every year, so I try to replicate these experiences as much as I can when I’m on campus. I go to brown bag lunches and seminars. I read my users’ journal articles. I go to department social events (it helps that I work for the research center and not for the library, so I get invitations).

Even if you have no hope of getting the funding to diversify your national conference experience, there are surely local events you can go to to meet your users on their own turf.

What makes a conference worthwhile?

At Information Wants To Be Free, Meredith Farkas asks:

I always come from conferences with great ideas, but it’s usually more from talking to people instead of from going to sessions. Is that something I really need to fly across the country for?

Having recently gotten back from the other side of the country (Seattle) where I was attending SLA 2008, I’ve been thinking about what made it worthwhile for me.

The people always come first for me, whether they are people I’ve known for years, people I’ve just met, or speakers. I love that we have all kinds of technology to keep in touch with each other now, but there is something about face-to-face meetings, and particularly in the conference atmosphere, that is different, and (to me, at least) worth traveling for.

Aside from the wonderful people I met and reconnected with, here is what are a few of the things that made SLA 2008 worthwhile for me. Pretty much all of this is Social Science Division programming – because I am the Social Science Division planner and so went to all of the division programs.

Ilda Carreiro King on teaching adults. I don’t do enough teaching to do much reading about it, so this session was perfect for me. King is a really engaging speaker and I got ideas I could go back and apply to my job right away. For example, I usually do individual instruction (or consulting) for faculty, but after King described the advantages of small group instruction, I decided to offer a small group consulting session for faculty here. And you know what? A small group signed up and came to the session, and I really think we all got more out of it for having a group.

Flying Solo at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by Jacalyn SpoonSocial Science and Museums, Arts, and Humanities poster session. I’d wanted the division to have a poster session for a while, and put a lot of work into adding posters to our usual joint division open house. The presenters seemed to enjoy having a place to showcase their work, and attendees seemed to like having an open house where they could learn something in addition to networking. I thought the posters were all terrific (I have been to poster sessions where people were pinning pages of 12-pt. text to the poster boards, so it was nice to see very professional, creative posters) and I was so happy and relieved when this was over that I think I ate all of the remaining chocolate on the dessert table for dinner.

Seattle. If I’m going to fly across the country, I like to be somewhere I can explore rather than trapped in a convention center. (Not that Nashville’s paradise-in-a-shopping-mall wasn’t an interesting experience, of course.) Seattle was perfect – mild weather, pedestrian-friendly streets, and a human-scale convention center. A small group of runners got together a few mornings during the conference and explored the waterfront, I visited the Pike Place Market several times, snuck in trips to the public library and the lovely Elliott Bay Book Company, and didn’t have a bad meal the whole time.

Jack Hamann, author of On American Soil. For a long time I didn’t read much nonfiction, and I doubt I would have picked this book up on my own. But since we invited the author to speak at our 85th anniversary luncheon, I decided to read it, and I’m glad I did. Not only was the book good, but so was Hamann’s talk. He updated us on events since the book was published, and described his research at the National Archives. I think it’s good to attend at least one conference session that doesn’t have a direct professional application, and this was the best one I’ve attended in that category since The Island of Lost Maps at the Peabody Library in Baltimore.

Guidelines for moderating a conference session

As I was busy finalizing details for my division programs at SLA 2008, I stumbled across Conference Rules, Part 1 at the Chronicle of Higher Education. The article gives advice for moderators of panel sessions at academic conferences, but I think much of the advice is useful for moderators of other types of sessions as well. The tips for how to keep a Q&A session on track are particularly good. (Because when Q&A goes bad, it is really, really bad.)

Infiltrating a tech conference

I am attending my first tech conference today – Plone Symposium East. It is being hosted at my university, and it is about an open source CMS we are using at work, so it was an easy one for me to infiltrate. So far I’m feeling a bit out of my element, but everyone has been very welcoming. And there are other library people here.

It’s a very different atmosphere from the library conferences I have attended. There are no lines in the ladies room. Everyone has their laptop out. There are power strips under all the tables so they can plug in. Jeans and t-shirts are not out of place.

I’ll write more on what I’m learning later, but I wanted to let you know that some of the conference sessions are being streamed live and all of them will be available on the web after the conference. If you’re at all interested in Plone or content management systems in general, check it out.

Call for Posters: Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools

This is a revision of an earlier announcement – note that there is now a prize for the best poster! (You maybe wondering, what is a poster session?)

The Social Science Division and the Museum, Arts, & Humanities Division invite proposals for a poster session to be held during the DSOC & MAHD Joint Open House at SLA 2008 in Seattle, Washington. DSOC and MAHD will award a one-year SLA membership to the first author of the best poster.

In keeping with the SLA 2008 conference theme, “Breaking Rules, Building Bridges,” the theme for the poster session is “Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools.” Proposals should focus on the use of collaboration tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) in libraries or information work. Posters may include examples of collaboration tools in use, innovative ideas for future uses, comparisons of available tools, or any other idea relevant to the theme.

The poster session will be a relaxed and informal time to share ideas with your colleagues. We welcome proposals from any SLA member, new or experienced, and especially from students. In the event we receive more qualified submissions than we can accommodate, members of the two sponsoring divisions and student members will be given priority.

Proposals should be submitted by March 1, 2008 via e-mail to murray@pop.psu.edu or mail to Tara Murray, Population Research Institute, Penn State, 601 Oswald Tower, University Park, PA 16802. Please include a title and description of about 250 words, and your name, institution, e-mail address, and address. Proposals will be reviewed by a committee for relevance to the theme and quality. We will notify applicants of our decision by April 1, 2008.

The Open House and Poster Session will be held on Sunday, June 15 from 8:00-10:00 p.m.

Wondering what a poster session is? I like this definite from the University at Buffalo Libraries:

Poster sessions are frequently used as a means to convey information in a brief format (typically 4′ x 8′) in classrooms, conferences and symposia, and workshops. Designing effective poster presentations is an art unto itself.

Call for Posters: Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools

Here’s an opportunity for SLA members to share ideas with colleagues at the Social Science/Museums, Arts and Humanities Open House at SLA 2008:

Call for Posters: Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools

The Social Science Division and the Museum, Arts, & Humanities Division invite proposals for a poster session to be held during the DSOC & MAHD Joint Open House at SLA 2008 in Seattle, Washington. The Open House and Poster Session will be held on Sunday, June 15 from 8:00-10:00 p.m.

In keeping with the SLA 2008 conference theme, “Breaking Rules, Building Bridges,” the theme for the poster session is Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools. Proposals should focus on the use of collaboration tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) in libraries or information work. Posters may include examples of collaboration tools in use, innovative ideas for future uses, comparisons of available tools, or any other idea relevant to the theme.

The poster session will be a relaxed and informal time to share ideas with your colleagues. We welcome proposals from any SLA member, new or experienced, and especially from students. In the event we receive more qualified submissions than we can accommodate, members of the two sponsoring divisions and student members will be given priority.

Proposals should be submitted by March 1, 2008 via e-mail to murray@pop.psu.edu or mail to Tara Murray, Population Research Institute, Penn State, 601 Oswald Tower, University Park, PA 16802. Please include a title and description of about 250 words, and your name, institution, e-mail address, and address. Proposals will be reviewed by a committee for relevance to the theme and quality. We will notify applicants of our decision by April 1, 2008.