Texas Library Association Annual Meeting, 2003

This is a travel log documenting my experiences at the Texas Library Association Annual Meeting, Houston, TX, April 2 - 4, 2003. In summary, the experience broadened and rebalanced my perspective on the definition of librarianship.

old public library
old public library
ceiling
ceiling
venus
venus
Houston Public Library
Houston Public Library

Tuesday, April 1

My experiences began on Tuesday, April Fool's Day. The flight in was uneventful, and I arrived in the early afternoon. Walking around downtown I saw the main branch of the public library, city hall, the newly renamed baseball stadium, as well as a number of large sculptures and office buildings. The downtown is systematically layed out in simple squares and one-way streets. I found navigating center city easy. Houston is obviously a growing place. There were many new buildings under construction and the trolley system had not been completed. I was later to learn that Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States. Surprising.

art shot
art shot
sky scrapers
sky scrapers
sculpture
sculpture
warm-up band
warm-up band

Wednesday, April 2

The conference officially began the next day. It was introduced by a bevy of library dignitaries and the mayor of Houston, Lee Perry Brown . Mayor Brown seemed particularly proud of the city's public library system and their Power Card -- the library card. The library's Sim Houston program seemed particularly interesting giving users twenty-five (25) MB of free disk space to save files and use software applications. In Houston access to the public library seems like a right just as access to public utilities such as electricity, water, and the telephone is seen as a right.

The main event of the conference opening was a presentation by Bill Cosby . Wearing sweat pants and a sweat shirt from Rice University, Cosby was relaxed, genuine, in control, witty, articulate, entertaining, thought-provoking, and inspiring. The thrust of his message surrounded the raising of children. He seemed to advocate stronger parental control. "Parents are not their children's friends. They're parents, and their job is to say, 'No.'" To illustrate his point he told stories about his sixth grade teacher, Mary B. Forchick. His respect for this teacher was obvious. He also promoted, very elegantly, his recently published book, Friends of a Feather. Illustrated by his daughter, the book is a children's book intended as a guide to strengthen young people. Parents are expected to read the book to their children and discuss the concepts it contains. I was able to sit in all but the front row of the auditorium containing more than 5,000 people. Bill Cosby is a powerful man, and his presentation will live with me for a long, long time. Very impressive!

I gave my presentation, " Building Your Library's Portal ", to an audience of about 100. It proposed a definition for a Web portal, described how information architecture plays a critical role in the development of a library's website, and briefly described one database-driven website application designed for libraries, MyLibrary. The presentation could have been better if I had securely connected the video output cable to my computer. Because I didn't do so, the projection was blue, and my ideas and demonstrations were not re-enforced very well. Remember, "It's not about technology."

In the afternoon I went to a presentation by Chuck Bearden of Rice University. Bearden talked about open source software. He compared and contrasted licensing models, fees, and distribution methods. He listed a number of popular open source software applications for libraries such as MARC::Record, MyLibrary, Koha, and Linux Thin Clients. He outlined a few open source software "gottchas" including the problems of how to choose which software to use, installation difficulties, informal technical support, and software morbidity. In short, Bearden thought open source software and libraries are good match but warned that it is not the answer to everything. "Use it where it fits."

In an effort to expand my perspectives of librarianship, I attended a preservation presentation by Jon Schultz (University of Houston Law Library) and Tom Takaro (Houston Symphony). Each presentation was a video depicting the damage they had incurred from recent flooding. The images were dis-heartening. To see hundreds of thousands of books being shoveled into waste management containers made me think of the irrecoverable loss of invaluable materials. The expense, the time, the energy, as well as the knowledge spent and lost because of these disasters made my head swim. Ironically, these disasters forced the librarians to rethink their libraries. Their facilities will be much more modern in the future.

Houston City Hall
Houston City Hall
sculpture
sculpture
lunch
lunch
building
building

Thursday, April 3

On the second day of the conference I began with a presentation by Anne Mitchell (University of Houston). She described her experiences creating, maintaining, and disseminating lists of e-resources. The description compared and contrasted the use of static lists of resources on Web pages and resources listed in a library's catalog. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses. The static lists are easy to browse as long as the lists are relatively short, but these lists are difficult to maintain in the long run. Cataloging e-resources provides a searchable interface but the dynamic nature of the content also makes them difficult to maintain. Furthermore, e-resources do not lend themselves very well to traditional cataloging rules and best practices. In the end, she seems to advocate the creation of both static Web pages and catalog records. The catalog is the source of record. The Web pages, created from vendor supplied data, are more user-friendly.

To further my effort to broaden my perspective, I next attended "Getting Off To A Great Start With Reading". The room was full. There must have been about 300 people there. I was one of three men. The purpose of the presentation was to announce the children's books recently been selected to be on the reading list called 2 x 2 -- books for readers from two-years old to second grade. The twenty or so books were organized into a number of categories: concept books, multi-cultural books, early chapter books, information books, stories for young listeners, and stories everyone will love. Each book on the list was briefly summarized and reviewed. The book entitled Duck on a Bike seemed to be the most well-known and popular. The story is about a duck who rides his bike around the farm. The other animals make fun of him but soon change their tune as they begin to ride bicycles of their own. The people on the audience were enthusiastic and energized by the presentation.

I next went to a cataloging presentation, and I have to say the presentations were really bad. The presenters were not engaging, their slides were cluttered, and their message was self-serving. "Cataloging as the basis of all librarianship" is not a balanced perspective. The organization of data and information is only one aspect of librarianship that has a ying/yang relationship with the profession's other characteristics. The 2 x 2 reading list described above is a case in point. I went away thinking the presenters were defensive. "What you do is meaningful and important. Don't let anybody tell you differently." This sort of statement does not add the profession's body of knowledge.

In "Creative Collaborations: Museums and Libraries" I learned about some of the ways museums and libraries have been working together. Catherine Sprueill of the Children's Museum of Houston described how their parent resource center was converted into an almost-branch-of-the-public-library. Resource materials were shared, and expertise was exchanged. This seemed to be yet another example of the public library excellence in action. Denis Moser of Lee College (Baytown) described his involvement in an IMLS grant. He stressed the importance of knowing why a grant is a good idea for you and the grantor, the importance who the grant will be serving, and who will be doing the work.

Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby
At the barbeque
At the barbeque
Goode's Barbeque
Goode's Barbeque
blue bonnet flower
blue bonnet flower

Richard R. Guajardo and Michael Thompson , both of the University of Houston, described their experiences outsourcing cataloging processes. They said the process requires patience and flexibility. The process is cheaper than hiring extra people. With the availability of MARC records coming from vendors, outsourcing some cataloging processes becomes a more viable solution to providing access to materials. Many workflow issues were described.

In "Website Redesign: Cut the Bull", Carrie Bickner of the New York Public Library described a process for redesigning a library's website. The process she advocated, for the most part, surrounded the graphic layout redesign processes, not necessarily content redesign. The process involves an approach, a plan, production, and launch. She told the audience that it is not possible to satisfy everybody's needs. "Remember the 80/20 rule." She also advocated a sign-off process by administration in order to set the process up for success. Signing-off of things forces the articulation of clear cut goals and objectives -- milestones -- that can be completed. She was a strong advocate for cascading stylesheets.

sculpture
sculpture
pipes in a mall
pipes in a mall
water fall
water fall
sky scraper
sky scraper

R. Bruce Miller , the Founding Librarian of the University of California, Merced, described how he is creating a research library from the ground up. The Merced campus is set to open in the Fall of 2004. Miller is creating a library for that opening. He advocates a collection policy that is just-in-time as opposed to just-in-case. He will spend much of his effort is providing access to electronic materials, and purchase things only when absolutely necessary. His appears to like a lot the special library model; he is not creating comprehensive collections on specific topics but trying to acquire materials that are needed for specific purposes when they are needed. He expects student services like the registrar and the student union to be in the library building. He will be creating spaces accommodating individual study as well group work. Everybody will have a window because staring out the window is important. He expects to open the library with a total of twelve (12) staff, and the total collection will number around 250,000 volumes. He will be relying on the 35 million volumes of the University of California system to supplement what he doesn't have locally. (In 1991 Bruce Miller edited a book Thinking Robots, and I wrote a chapter in that book "A Day in the Life of Mr. D." It was nice to meet him.)

Finally, I attended Joan Frye Williams 's presentation, "Preview of Coming Distractions" where Williams enumerated a number of trends she thought would be effective in libraries. The one's of particular interest to me included: library as destination, library as reading, Web-based services, retail techniques, users sit and staff move, staff must reflect the population, user-supplied hardware ('cell 'phones, PDA's, and laptops), video streaming, recommender/filtering systems, and ONIX data from vendors. She advocated picking one's fights. "You have permission not to know everything and take control of your environment.... Look at your environment and observe the techniques and technologies used there, and see if you can put those things into practice in a library setting.... Being forewarned is forearmed." It is interesting to note the mega-trends/concerns Williams observed since the beginning of her library career: the lack of women in library administration, should circulation be automated, choosing the right integrated library system, and now everything is about the Web.

Conclusion

I am glad I had the opportunity to go to this conference. The Texas Library Association Annual Meeting has got to be the second largest library-related conference in North America. The majority of attendees were school and public librarians. I took this opportunity to learn and experience other types of library experiences. What are libraries about? What are the lowest common denominators of librarianship? What are the characteristics unique to our profession that all librarians can hold in common? Reading? Preservation? Organization? Research needs? Information? Knowledge? Collections? If you went on shear numbers, then you would think libraries are about books and reading. If you went on dollars it would be research and scholarly activities. If you listen to the techno-weenies, then libraries are about data and information? I'm still not sure I know the answers. Alas...

spiky flower
spiky flower
snap dragon
snap dragon
Rice University
Rice University
chuck and eric
chuck and eric

Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <eric_morgan@infomotions.com>
Source: This text was never formally published.
Date created: 2003-04-06
Date updated: 2004-12-01
Subject(s): Houston, TX; TLA (Texas Library Association); travel log;
URL: http://infomotions.com/musings/tla-2003/