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Posts by Kate Sheehan

Conferencing: Computers in Libraries and Evergreen 2010

Submitted by Kate Sheehan on May 3, 2010 - 7:45am

What makes for a good conference? It’s tempting to reduce it to a simple equation: C+P+L=E. Content plus people plus location equals experience. I’m just back from three consecutive conferences and in addition to my annual sense of wonder at the librarian obsession with conferencing, I’ve been mulling over conferences in general, and technology-oriented conferences in particular.

Content, people, and location are all important, but I’d add expectations, technology level, format, and focus to that equation. Computers in Libraries was one of the first conferences I attended and it is, in many ways, my mental model for a conference. However, every year (and this year was no exception), I talk to an attendee who expected more “under the hood” tech. I’ve come to think of CiL as if it were a more tech-focused section of a large conference like ALA. The daily keynotes give big-picture “state of libraries and technology in the world” talks and the sessions focus on presenters’ projects and pet passions. It’s not a good venue for detailed technical discussions – the shorter sessions don’t lend themselves to it and even if the sessions were longer, the audience’s diversity is a complicating factor. Read More »


Tech Trends: Where Academics and Publics Converge

Submitted by Kate Sheehan on April 1, 2010 - 7:50am

I’m pleased to report that I’ve found an easy way to beat jet lag – stay on the opposite coast for thirty-six hours only and try not to sleep too much. If my PLA experience is any indication, it works pretty well, so long as you don’t mind being completely exhausted – I didn’t even change the time on my watch.

mmmm.... donutsI wish I could offer a full report on PLA, but my experience was something of a whirlwind, punctuated by Voodoo donuts, a lovely Oregon pinot noir, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. I made it to the Top Tech Trends (TTT) panel, (good thing, since I was on the panel) which was PLA’s first Top Tech Trends presentation. Read More »


Scale Matters

Submitted by Kate Sheehan on January 28, 2010 - 7:14pm

It’s hard not to make new friends at library conferences. This is doubly true in Boston, a city that redefines the term “lost.” The unofficial activity of ALA Midwinter 2010 seemed to be standing on a corner, smartphone in hand, trying to align the map on the screen with the streets (please note: I used to live in Boston, and think it’s a great place. Still, I accidentally went to the airport one morning on my way to the convention center). Post-conference, lots of folks are blogging about the great people they met, either through serendipity or at meet-ups, and I’m reminded that the power of conferences almost always stems from the people who attend. 

I’ve been jokingly referring to my time at Midwinter as “a weekend spent talking to angry librarians,” though I think “angry” is too strong a word. I noticed a pervasive sense of frustration among the people I spoke with, many of whom expressed some professional exasperation with their jobs, the profession as a whole, or both. Everyone I spoke to was passionately committed to their patrons, to librarianship, to libraries, but all felt they were swimming upstream in some way or another. Read More »


Have Tech, Will Walk into Walls

Submitted by Kate Sheehan on December 21, 2009 - 2:51pm

Technology makes us stupider. No, wait, that’s not right, is it? Technology lets us use our time, energy, and skills in new ways, which are inevitably called “modernity”...and modernity is inevitably chastised for being stupider then The Good Old Days. Cell phones have allowed us to stop memorizing phone numbers (they have also forced filmmakers and novelists to create a whole new genre of suspense clichés: the “my battery is dead and soon I will be too!” scene) and spell check allows us to find out the correct spelling of a word after typing it, rather than before.

But there’s always a kernel of fear when we feel a skill slipping away; a small, panicky voice that says we’re losing something essential. Anecdotally, it’s easy to back that feeling up – who hasn’t lost something to a data mishap that they would have had stored in another format in the past? Personally, I recently lost my entire phone book to a badly-timed sync. I still have the phone numbers of childhood playmates committed to memory, but all I could do to recreate my contact list was beg for texts on Twitter and Facebook.

Librarians are, naturally, more focused on teaching people how to acquire new skills that they need to navigate modernity. Showing someone how to apply for a job, file their taxes, get government information or socialize online are all daily public service tasks. Many libraries maintain two (or more) tiers of services, one for technologically inclined patrons and one for people without email. Read More »


Find your cake and eat it too

Submitted by Kate Sheehan on December 4, 2009 - 10:54am

What do four-year olds know that three-year olds don’t? In college, I took a class on linguistics that focused on brain development. The professor told us about an experiment done with small children. The children are told a story about Billy and his father baking a cake and leaving it in the cupboard to cool. Billy goes outside to play and while he’s outside, his father moves the cake to the fridge. When Billy comes back in, where will he look for the cake? The three year olds say he will look in the fridge, while the four year olds know that Billy will look in the cupboard.

Although we start to understand how to put ourselves into another’s shoes at age four, it’s a skill we continue to hone for the rest of our lives. It’s a fundamental part of a reference interview; when we ask our patrons about what they’re asking us, we’re probing to find out where they think the cake is. It’s a tough question to keep asking. We all drift towards assuming our experiences, perspective, and understanding of the world are shared and easily grasped.  We know where Billy will look for the cake, but how often do we assume that local practice is common to all libraries? Read More »


Open Source Newbie Tells All

Submitted by Kate Sheehan on October 26, 2009 - 8:55am

TechSource has a long tradition of insightful posts about Open Source Software. I am always mindful that I write for the blog that hosted Karen Schneider's IT and Sympathy, which introduced much of libraryland to the idea that OSS is free as in kittens, not free as in beer. As I am about to embark on an OSS adventure (which sounds like the name of a ship to me: The OSS Adventure), I thought I'd add my lack of insight to the fray. Read More »


Zap the library!

Submitted by Kate Sheehan on October 1, 2009 - 8:29am

There are roughly 8 gajillion websites devoted to social media. Like many librarians, my RSS reader is crammed with them. I am not above clicking “mark all as read” on a fairly regular basis. Even the blogs that are supposed to act as filters, linking only to the best and most interesting posts, can become overwhelming. Increasingly, I rely on the human filter that is Twitter to let me know when there’s an article worth reading. Earlier in September, my twitter friends alerted me to a post on Social Media Explorer about “social business.” Read More »


The Digital Divide Inside the Library

Submitted by Kate Sheehan on August 13, 2009 - 9:17am

Technology and reference are intertwining strands of public service. The task of keeping up with Librarians (and their jobs) is getting techier. As our systems get more sophisticated and our desire to overhaul and remake those systems gets more intense, libraries need librarians who are tech savvy and back office staff who are pure tech. It's not uncommon to hear librarians declare that "Technology is Reference", but is that a one-way street? There's no doubt that reference librarians need a strong technology skill set, but do our techies need to have public service experience or skills? Read More »


Back to Basics?

Submitted by Kate Sheehan on July 9, 2009 - 8:23am

Here in the Northeast, it seems that summer means pretending we’re living in the Pacific Northwest. We spent much of June huddled under umbrellas and hoping our patrons don’t snap when they see our cheerful suggestions for beach reading. Librarians choose lighter fare for our pleasure reading in the warmer (or wetter, as the case may be) month to offset summer’s serious work. Academic librarians (I am told) cram their big projects into the studentless (or at least student – light) months between school years. Public librarians have summer reading, countless storytimes, bored teenagers and harried adults to work with. For many of us summer also means a new year. Fiscally, that is. Read More »

As we barrel into this dismal fiscal year, libraries are scrapping to keep funding, prevent lay-offs and even stay open. Things like cool technology and even books start looking like objects of unrequited love. Where will we be without our stuff?