ALA Annual Conference 2011: Technology, Training, and Buster Keaton

June 28, 2011

With any learning experience, the best part often occurs after the formal lesson ends. And the same can, in some ways, be said of the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference which had its final association meetings in New Orleans today.

Since I’m still in New Orleans as I write this, I can refer to what I did earlier this evening as my not-yet-home-work: reading an ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) report that was released this month and very much complements a 90-minute session organized by ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy to highlight four innovative projects a few days ago.

Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library, written by OITP Fellow Roger Levien and the subject of a separate conference session I was unable to attend, is stimulating and highly recommended reading not only for those working for or interested in libraries but also for anyone involved in training-teaching-learning. The five-page summary, taking up nearly 20 percent of the entire report, provides the sort of concise overview we might expect from an information technology group: factual and focused on technology. Where the report really comes to life is in the remainder of the document, which includes eight cases describing possible versions of the sort of libraries we might see over the next 30 to 50 years; descriptions of how libraries might continue incorporating new technologies into the services they provide for their face-to-face and online users; and the learning opportunities that libraries will continue to develop and refine as they work to further claim their place in the world of social learning centers.

It’s in the later sections of Confronting the Future that the people using libraries receive far more attention and the technology becomes the means of serving those people rather than being the sole focus of the writer’s efforts.

But what still is largely missing for those of us involved in teaching-training-learning is something that only receives a passing glance in the final pages of the report: the immense learning needs that library staff and others involved in helping others understand the tech tools that surround them are going to continue struggling to overcome.

For workplace learning and performance professionals, highlighting technology that is rapidly-evolving without highlighting and exploring the need for continual, rapidly-evolving educational opportunities for staff is similar to the situation created by Buster Keaton in his short film One Week, where a house being towed across a set of railroad tracks narrowly misses destruction as a train passes on a parallel track—only to be demolished seconds later by a train which unexpectedly blasts into the picture frame from the opposite direction.

If we are not addressing the training-learning needs of our colleagues on the staff of libraries and other customer-service professionals, we are virtually guaranteeing that they will be on that second set of tracks.

“Future librarians will become digital media mentors, fluent in the languages and structures of digital documents and data and the availability of information resources on the Internet and elsewhere” (a situation that some of us are already seeing among our colleagues), Levien writes (p. 28). He returns to the subject, with one additional line in that 30-page report, to note that something will have to be done to help staff “acquire these competencies or assets through hiring, training, or cooperation with another organization.”

Or all three, I would strongly suggest.

Next: What the Report Suggests About Community and Collaboration

ALA Annual Conference 2011: Your Library on High Tech

June 26, 2011

There probably are still plenty of people who think of nothing but printed books and being shushed when they hear the word “library.” But you won’t find many of them here in New Orleans attending the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference.

A 90-minute session yesterday, organized by ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, highlighted and celebrated four innovative projects designed to meet library users’ needs with varying degrees of creativity and playfulness: North Carolina State University Library’s web redesign program, which gave the library’s online presence a cleaner and more dynamic look than it previously sported; the OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons (DRC); the Creekview High School (Canton, Georgia) Media 21 project which helps students match technology with learning opportunities; and Orange County (Florida) Library System’s Shake It! mobile app to match readers with the books they are likely to enjoy.

Technology and library users come together very effectively in Media 21’s transformation of a school library into a first-rate social learning center and Orange County’s Shake It! Project. Media 21 makes at least some of us wish we were back in high school again—admittedly a major accomplishment in itself—and Shake It! appears to be so playfully addictive that it could easily make us want to read even more books than we already do just so we can shake our mobile devices again and see what reading recommendation the app will offer next.

But we’re talking about far more than diversions here. ALA Learning Round Table colleague Buffy Hamilton, who was founding librarian of that social learning center at Creekview High, sees the project as a setting in which “students are helping us create the library of the future,” she told her ALA audience yesterday. “I was struggling with two questions: how to create flexible and fluid learning spaces, and how to embed the library in the lives and learning spaces of students.”

The result has students engaged in learning via a huge variety of social media tools including, but far from limited to, Netvibes to curate and collect information; Google Docs so students use the same tools found in the contemporary business world to collaborate and share; Skype to have live conversations with experts around the world; Prezi, Animoto, and Wordle to more effectively present their ideas; and social bookmarking tools including Diigo and Evernote.

“For these students to see that the library is a learning space…was very powerful for them,” she concluded.

The sense of fun for library users at Creekview is equally apparent in the Orange County Shake It! app, Library Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel told and showed her audience through a brief presentation that included videos documenting the playful approach to bringing books to library users. The most difficult part of developing the app, which works when the user shakes a mobile device with the app installed and causes three wheels to turn until they come to a rest displaying a book based on three elements: audience, genre, and preferred medium.

“We launched this in July 2010,” she told her audience. “There have been over 4,000 downloads of the app” and coverage of the popular innovation in the Orlando Sentinel and USA Today.

She also displayed a solid vision of where she expects the library to continue going: “We have a lot of fun things on our website [but]… we’re definitely going in the direction of mobile apps for as many things as we can think up. We think that is the next wave and that’s where we want to be.”

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