Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Library Camp East at Darien yesterday

How do I write about an unconference? The cool kids were there. I figure I probably wasn’t one of them. Let’s be honest, I never have been. That’s why I fit in so well as a librarian… or so I thought. (yeah, I dabbled in archaeology, but let’s be honest true arch’s are nothing more than shovel geeks) :)

Then this whole Web2.0/Library2.0 thing got popular. Librarianship started looking a little more hip. But I've started to feel more & more left behind by the trend, I have to admit. (Why? I’m trudging through legacy 1.0 stuff as L2.0 stuff evolves into L3.0. And I wonder why I'm working so hard at some of these tasks when there are new webby tools that could do so much of this old-school work for us.)

I felt like I was talking to celebrities of a sort when I met Jessamyn West (http://www.librarian.net) & Jon Blyberg (http://www.blyberg.net). Anyhow, each of these people has done great things in their little corners of library land - some of them have spread to national repute, as well. All are big-league L2.0 bloggers, in my mind!

Ultimately, what did I get from Library Camp East? Enough. It's hard to give you a concrete of what it was though, since it wasn't like the kind of conference where you take away a big binder stuffed full of PowerPoint printouts that no one will ever read, despite their best intentions. I met some cool people and took away a few gems/reminders of gems I haven't yet taken advantage of:

  • APIs & mashups – you should see what Blyberg (http://www.blyberg.net/) – one of the conference’s organizers & developer of the award-winning http://www.aadl.org/ website (Ann Arbor District Library) is up to now! He’s calling it PatRest - http://www.blyberg.net/tag/patrest/ - it interfaces with their III system! it lets their users incorporate their library catalog or even their own patron info (e.g., to keep a running list of holds in the foreground of their personalized Google or Yahoo page) into the body of their own personalized homepages; it lets patrons create “mashups” with the library's information themselves, so they can create innovative and useful tools for other patrons. APIs are becoming the expectation of the net-savvy folks who are up-and-coming, so libraries are eventually going to have to figure out how to supply them (vendors aren't moving nearly quickly enough on this front!)
  • LibraryThing – http://www.librarything.com/ - does it get much better than that? Social software built around a love of books, leveraging library catalog records... Essentially, put all of your book collection online - make your own personal ILS (without the circ feature, obv.) - recommend the books you like to others on LibraryThing, etc. I can't describe it well, you have to see it/try it for yourself
  • HTML Tidy – http://tidy.sourceforge.net/ - html validator / code cleaner that’s open-source [can anyone tell me how to run a batch of files with this thing – and I know it’s a stupid question, but I have to ask it anyway (pride is nothing if you can’t get the job done)]
  • Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/ photostreams (such as the one for Library Camp East - http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=Library+Camp+East ), tagging, groups, sharing; what I learned: the default – “none” - permissions = “All Rights Reserved” – how awesome is that? I'd been concerned that this might be Flickr's downside for an institution like ours, which carefully protects all of its web-based content & does not allow it to be coopted for commercial purposes
  • Web developers’ toolbars – one for Firefox - https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/60/ - one for IE (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=e59c3964-672d-4511-bb3e-2d5e1db91038&displaylang=en . The Firefox one I hear about all the time, it's supposed to be primo, don’t know as much about the IE one. You’ll need Firefox & Greasemonkey - http://greasemonkey.mozdev.org/ for the first one, obviously, but it’s all good, folks. If you haven’t taken the time to install these guys, do so now!

Also, I learned what an unconference was. Jon, Alan, & organizers (et al.) used the Open Space conference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_space_conference format. The conference starts out open-ended – no preset programs - only a common theme/goal– then the users come up with the schedule & issues to be covered while there.

The beauty of the concept is that it recognizes the intelligence of the crowd. In general, unconferences arise from the notion that so often we learn more at conferences by networking with our fellow audience members than we do from presenters. It also recognizes that a single presenter or even small panel of presenters are likely not as well-versed in a topic than the dozens of attendees (each of whom has some knowledge about the topic) put together.

Personally, if I was choosing what worked best for me, I’d settle for a setup in-between the more amorphous unconference and a completely scripted conference – sort of like the old CARL Users’ Group meetings used to be, only slightly less pre-set. My theorized perfect in-between conference would be partially prepared ahead of time, maybe online. That way, participants could really prepare for the event. Jon Blyberg offered a good explanation of the groundrules of the type of conference we had in his wrapup today (unfortunately with traffic I'd gotten into the room too late to hear them before the event - which might've made me appreciate the format even more than I did initially - mea culpa for missing these key points at the time):

  • Whoever comes is the right people

  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

  • When it starts is the right time

  • When it’s over, it’s over

It would be somewhat similar to what we did. It might look like the following: you’d open up a wiki, state the broad goal/theme/subject matter of the conf. Then you could ask folks to contribute brief descriptions of what they’d want to see there. Then have a page setup for each topic that conf sessions will be about. If people know that’ll they want a specific thing answered, they could put it there. A couple of people could volunteer as moderators of said section, quasi-experts – not quite like the full experts that conference presenters are billed to be, but people who are not completely new to the topic. Then, on the day of, the moderators could center themselves around a couple of specific questions/problems. Something like that anyway. Off the top of my head that’s what I come up with. Someone else could probably refine this concept – hey, want to have a conference about it?

Anyhow, as a local librarian, I have to give huge kudos, applause, etc., to Darien Library – to Alan Gray & Louise Berry and their participating staff members – for taking a leadership role in Library 2.0 development in Connecticut (and also to thank CLC for their cosponsorship of the workshop earlier this summer on L2.0). It’s very important that institutions as well-developed as Darien continue to reach out to libraries who aren’t there yet but who – with the aid of the development opportunities Darien's sponsored – can move in that direction, regardless of their own levels of funding/resources. Of course, we have an excellent Div. of Library Development here at the State Library (self-serving, shameless, but true, plug) that offers courses and coordinates events that provide great staff development opportunities, but sharing resources among institutions is what we're all about - and Darien really stepped up to the L2.0 plate. Why not? They're leading us all with their blogs and institutional focus on user-centered services. Honestly, it’s also something of a gauntlet - a challenge, if you will - to other libraries who may have resources that they can share. The whole endeavor serves Darien well, too, because it helps them to develop their own staff and recruits potential staff members interested in working for a library as innovative as this one. Not to gush but I can’t help myself… Hey, if I didn't start out cool - how can I stay cool?

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