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Charleston: There's Nothing Finer

Submitted by Cindi Trainor on December 2, 2009 - 10:50am

It’s been my experience as a librarian responsible for supporting and implementing technology that I spend more time on the “technology” bit rather than the “librarian” bit. You know, the things people think that one would do as a librarian--dealing with books, their use, and their longevity. Your mileage may vary, of course, and I think the percentages spent doing one or the other will vary with each organization and position. So how can librarians like me, who might be focused solely on the implementation and support of technology, feed our inner librarians?

One solution is simply to remove yourself from that technology zone. Put down the twitter for a moment and immerse yourself in other areas of the library. Look for professional development opportunities outside of your primary area of responsibility. Seeing how other departments implement solutions can help those who support technology understand their internal customers’ needs and help identify exactly where technology staff effort can be most effective.

One of my favorite places to feed my inner librarian is The Charleston Conference, an annual meeting focused on issues in acquisitions and serials. Charleston conferences are an interesting mix of librarian and industry presenters; it’s just as common for presenters to come from a large publishing or journal company as it is for them to represent a library or library school. Here is a sample platter of sessions from Charleston 2009:

Syracuse University’s R. David Lankes' opening plenary session “New Librarianship” was summed up nicely by Library Journal columnist Josh Hadro. The video is online (PDF slides | slidecast), and it is worth every moment. In the session that several participants called the best keynote ever presented at a Charleston conference, Lankes declared that “the purpose of librarians is to make civilization better. Feel free to end there.” Agreed!

“Weeding with a Re-Purpose” (PPT slides), a presentation by Michael Crumpton and Mary Krautter from the libraries of University of North Carolina at Greensboro, was another inspiring session. Faced with dwindling user space and still-growing book collections, the librarians decided that the only way to recover square footage that could be re-dedicated to users was to plan and undertake a weed of the collections. What I was most impressed with was the transparency with which they have undertaken their project. They have shared all their documents and title lists with the university community via the Blackboard Learning Management System.

Jason Price and John McDonald of the Claremont University Consortium presented “Beguiled by Bananas: A Retrospective Study of Usage and Breadth of Patron- vs. Librarian-acquired E-Book Collections” (slides: ppt | pdf). Despite its amusing title, which alludes to an oft-told tale of an academic library acquiring every book with "banana" in the title during a patron-driven e-book pilot, this was a data-rich and fascinating study of the use of titles on the EBL platform. Across five libraries with patron-driven collections, librarian-acquired collections or a mixture of both, patron-chosen collections were used twice as much as librarian-selected collections, were used by roughly twice as many unique users, and had fewer unused titles.

In “Rethinking Monographic Acquisition: Developing a Demand-Driven Purchase Model” (slides PPT), University of Denver's Michael Levine-Clark described a fascinating pilot at his library: profiles have been created with MyiLibrary, Ebrary, EBL and Blackwell Book Services that will be used to create a deduplicated set of MARC records to load into the library catalog. When a patron wants a title from this set, and it is available from one of the three eBook providers, the title will be purchased immediately. If the desired title is a print title, the patron has the option of requesting that the book be purchased. Print books are envisioned to arrive in a timeframe comparable to that of interlibrary loan--in just a few days. Levine-Clark and his co-presenters, two of whom were from Blackwell, also discussed the implications for traditional collection development and on scholarly publishing. The reasons for reconfiguring book acquisition are myriad: a large percentage of print books go unused, and increasing use will mean a better return on this significant investment. Electronic formats or even Print-on-Demand (POD) could save libraries additional money in terms of shelf space and other storage costs.

One last item: soapbox time. There was quite a lot of data backing up what presenters said at many of the Charleston sessions that I attended. There was also a tremendous number of truly ineffective and distracting PowerPoint slide decks used to show that data to the audience. It’s one thing to create an information-packed set of slides to be used as a handout or to be put online for later reference; it’s quite another to display long bulleted lists, large blocks of text, or complex graphs or tables during a talk and then keep right on speaking, giving the audience no time to parse the information before them.

Take these two slides for example:

Both convey the same point: use of Academic Search Premier far outstrips the use of many other EBSCO databases in my library. The first slide contains great information that folks might even be interested in, but the second slide contains only the main point and takes far less time for the audience to digest.

There is one rule I would advise everyone to stick to: slides are simply not effective when used as speakers’ prompts. Slides should reinforce or provide illustration for a point being made. Anything that requires more brainpower than this will lead to wandering attention. The audience is attending your talk because they want to hear you speak, not read what you’re going to say.

The purpose of your talk and the expectations of your audience should drive the content and complexity of your slides. A presentation meant to convey a vision or an opinion will have significantly different slides than an evidence-based talk in which research and its conclusions are presented. Still, one can only stomach so many bullets.

There are two great books (with companion blogs, of course!) that have been a great help to me in the past in planning and executing slide decks to accompany oral presentations: Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte, and Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds.

Librarians, inform yourselves!

</Off soap box>

At least for now. :D