Monday, June 25, 2007

ALA 5 -- Lincoln, Reference, Learning Commons, and Ambassadors

Monday, and we are in the home stretch. this seems to have been a long conference and I am ready to be home. I enjoy Washington as a city, but four days of ALA is quite enough!

About Washington. I try to run every day when I am at a conference. It helps make up for the inevitable high-fat, low-fibre eating out or being fed conference diet. This morning I ran with Sue and we visited the Lincoln Memorial and reading the Gettysburg address gave me goose bumps all over again. The short declarative statements, the memorable phrases ("Four score and seven years ago,""last full measure of devotion," and "a new birth of freedom") the patterns of three ("dedicate ... consecrate ... hallow." "Little note... long remember ... never forget." And of course, "of the people, for the people, by the people." It is the greatest piece of American rhetoric ever written.

The two sessions today were the best I have participated in at this conference. The first considered the question, "Is Print Reference Dead?" As in the print reference collection. The general conclusion was that if it is not dead, it is dying and we need to move on to electronic reference. Not just librarians but also publishers. Librarians continue to buy reference works, publishers continue to publish them, it is just library users (particularly students) who are not using them. Segregating them in the Reference Collection and in the OPAC (where they tend to not even come with the same summaries, and table of contents info that many of our other books come with) makes them almost invisible to users. Publishers need to develop open standards of cross platform searching for their online reference tools (like journal publishers have done with OpenURL for instance.) Librarians need to bite the bullet, shift most print reference books to the circulating collection, spend the money on online reference, and find ways to link reference works together and with the rest of their offerings (see products like Reference Universe) and find solutions to archival, permanent access, and preservation issues (like Portico.) Finally, we need to consider the future of the reference collection as just one part of the wider discussion of the future of reference service.

The second one concerned Learning Commons. I had to leave early, but I am really interested in this idea of moving beyond the library as "box of books" into a shared space emphasizing learning, where all the various services and functions that support the educational mission of the college -- information technology, the library, tutoring services, the writing center, etc. -- all come together in one space to provide coordinated services and also collaborative and contemplative spaces, facilities, and technologies for student learning.

Now I am staffing the ALA Ambassadors' Desk here to help new ALA attendees with questions and a friendly face. Luckily the desk also has a chair and power outlet so I can get this blog written over the wireless connection the Conference provides.

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