Thursday, January 13, 2011

ALA Midwinter Meeting 2011, San Diego

ALA Midwinter Meeting 2011, San Diego
Mark Cyzyk

So I went into a shop the evening of my arrival to buy a postcard to send my Girls and the cashier suddenly exclaimed, "Ya know, we have some Specials this week for librarians." "That's nice," I thought, "how in the world does he know I'm a librarian?!" -- aside from the fact that I'm in San Diego wearing a dark green corduroy jacket. (You should have seen the reaction in Hawaii to my tweed coat.) [Just kidding.]

This was my first ALA conference.

The reason I went was to attend the bi-annual meeting of the editorial board of Information Technology and Libraries, of which I am a member. This I did.

Insofar as I'm a board newby, I was looking forward to meeting the other members, and I was really looking forward to meeting our editor, Marc Truitt of the University of Alberta. He's the guy who appointed me, he strikes me as a very wise editor, and my email exchanges with him have led me to believe he's an all around great guy. I had a nice chat with him before the meeting about a paper I'm reviewing, then the meeting began. I'm not at liberty to disclose, etc. etc.

However, at the end of the meeting Marc announced that he's stepping down. Wha? I literally just met him. "Was it something I said?!" (He's stepping down for reasons other than anti-Cyziqueian....) [Is that a Carly Simon song I hear?] He will be missed. I have to say, I've only been reviewing papers for ITAL for a matter of months and I've always felt his wise and guiding and supportive presence.

Meeting adjourned, I was then free to jaunt over to the Convention Center and spend the day at the Exhibits.

Wow. Not having attended ALA before I was astounded at the enormity of the Exhibits. I was astounded at the sheer size and complexity of some of the "booths". I took a quick run around the perimeter, then circled back to systematically pace the place. Highlights for me included some things that are really not directly related to my job as a tech guy in an academic library. Nevertheless, one of the most impressive things I saw was a display by M. Moleiro of Barcelona, Spain. This firm creates fine reproductions of manuscripts and illuminated books. I sort of wandered by their booth, their wares caught my eye, and yet I wandered on. At the end of the row, though, I whirled and returned. Their reproductions are incredibly beautiful.

I marveled at the similarly beautiful and stylish library furniture by vendors throughout the Exhibits. Likewise the variety of scanning and digitization equipment there. Likewise more mundane tools like book drops.

I am generally interested in Web-based language learning systems (similar to Rosetta Stone, but Web-based). I was happy to find three vendors present at the Exhibits, so made sure to pick up their materials.

Amazon is in the print-on-demand publishing business, and I had a chat with the guy at their booth because I actually had one of their titles in my backpack that very moment. (A buddy of mine wants me to hike the Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail with him this spring and bought me a copy of the compelling AWOL On The Appalachian Trail by David Miller, AmazonEncore publisher.) Amazon is targeting smaller markets with important works that might not otherwise be viable in traditional publishing venues. In addition to AmazonEncore they've founded another imprint that publishes little-known foreign works. Interesting, and important. Maybe micropublishing will blossom like the microbrewing industry has in this country the past 20 years?

About 15 years ago, when I worked in the Albert S. Cook Library at Towson University, I put images of our floor plans up on the library Website. At that time I had an idea: Wouldn't it be cool if the actual locations of books were dynamically mapped to these floor plans? Well, browsing the exhibits I ran into just such a product -- -- the idea I had at Cook Library, realized. Cool stuff.

I had a pleasant dinner with my friends, Susan [Mower] and Stewart Burke. Susan is a friend and colleague from my days in the Cook Library. She is a retired GovDocs Librarian and now a synagogue-library-automating-librarian extraordinaire. It was great to catch up with Sue and Stew, who have long lived in the San Diego metro area.

And how did I like San Diego?

An anecdote: At age 23 I circumnavigated the northern hemisphere of this globe, first studying Mandarin for a semester in China, then returning home on the Trans-Siberian railway, through Europe, then driving that summer across the U.S. from L.A. to Baltimore, the southern route. I was privileged to visit some of the greatest cities in the world that year: Beijing, Xian, West Berlin, Paris, Los Angeles, San Francisco. That was half my lifetime ago and I haven't really traveled much since, but of the cities I have lived in or visited, Philadelphia, Phoenix/Scottsdale, New York, New Orleans, Chicago, Montreal, I would say that Montreal and now San Diego rank, in my opinion, as the top two most beautiful. Can Vancouver beat this???

What did I learn?

I learned that serving on the editorial board of a fine journal is a pride-inducing activity. I learned that I'm excited to participate in the full duties of members of the board. (Watch for my editorial in the upcoming June 2011 issue of ITAL.) I learned that when ALA calls it a midwinter "meeting", they mean just that: lots of meetings scheduled. I learned that the conference basically starts shutting down the day before the officially published end date. I learned that American Airlines charges twenty-five bucks just to check a bag. I learned that Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen" is a really good mnemonic if the gate of your connecting flight happens to be A19. I learned that even the far south Dallas/Ft. Worth airport has de-icing equipment at the ready. I learned that an early morning stroll on the Embarcadero listening to a random mix of the last five Bob Dylan CDs is something I hope to one day do again. I learned that drivers in San Diego stop and wait for you to cross. This threw me every time. I learned that 50 degrees in San Diego does not feel like 50 degrees in Baltimore. (I'm tempted to make the stronger claim that 50 degrees in San Diego is actually warmer than 50 degrees in Baltimore, but will refrain....)

I learned that my knees are shot.

Maybe I should rethink this Appalachian Trail thing?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Modern Language Association in Los Angeles

The MLA annual convention has moved from its habitual, dreadful time of Dec 26-29 to the first week in January! Hooray! The date change was accompanied by some other much-needed shifts in the culture of this convention: wifi throughout the conference site, lots of tweeting and blogging, and a special day of sessions devoted to the theme of "The Academy in Hard Times."

I organized a round-table for this special session, aimed at bringing to the attention of language and literature faculty and grad students some of the library issues that impact them (whether they know it or not). Our round-table was called "Meeting in the Library: Academic Labor at the Interface." Five presenters gave "lightning talks" followed by 30-40 minutes of conversation. Our presenters covered a range of interesting topics: what faculty can do to support humanities monograph acquisitions in their libraries through the design of their classroom activities and assignments; what kinds of data humanities faculty produce that they need to think about preserving--and how working with a digital collections curator can help; what kinds of skills librarians need to develop to support the new library spaces that are being designed around changing faculty and student research needs and habits; how teaching with rare books revitalizes literature pedagogy (that was me); what it is like to be involved in a college-wide curriculum renovation project as a CLIR post-doc based in the library. During the discussion (in an audience composed of faculty, grad students, librarians, "alt-ac" folks and digital humanists), two salient points emerged: 1) some (many?) humanities faculty still do not understand the basics about the costs of scholarly communications and need to be educated about this issue in ways that speak specifically to their situations; 2) if librarians want to know what humanities faculty need as researchers and teachers, they should work with faculty as faculty, ie, teach in departments.

I also attended the inaugural meeting of a brand-new MLA discussion group, "The Library and Literary Research." After appointing an executive committee, we will be able to propose sessions at future MLA meetings and have an official voice in the organization. This group thus provides one avenue for continuing the conversation on the topics that our session raised.

In addition to attending quite a few MLA panels and talks, learning what literature scholars are thinking about these days, I was invited to participate in a day-long meeting about collaboration in the digital humanities, which was convened by a group of about 20 faculty, librarians and technology specialists from across the country. It is increasingly clear that faculty involved in the digital humanities view librarians as their best allies, but that everyone finds it difficult to pursue common goals because of traditional role restrictions that have been exacerbated by economic hard times.

Monday, January 3, 2011

SPARC Digital Repositories 2010

I attended the SPARC Repositories 2010 meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 8,9, so I am posting a few notes for your enjoyment. This is the third (I think) of these meetings--co-sponsored by SPARC, SPARC Europe, and SPARC Japan--that are designed to promote all types of digital repositories including institutional and disciplinary repositories.

Keynote (Michael Nielsen)
Nielsen, a physicist, talked about the power of group work and "extreme openness" of data in advancing scientific understanding. He described two projects that have been extremely successful and couple that were not. The successful projects were Polymath Projects and Galaxy Zoo.

In the Polymath Projects, very difficult math proofs were solved by a group (37) of mathematicians on a blog. Contributions were made as comments on the blog. Gowers (the organizer) said it was the most exciting thing he had ever done. "Massively Collaborative Mathematics" in Nature is one of the articles about it. Results were published in journals under the collective author name "D.H.J. Polymath" rather than under individual authors. This approach offers a great opportunity for collaborative, open science. How do you preserve all of this collaborative work done on a blog? Currently it is not being preserved, but this poses a real challenge to the digital repository community.

In the Galaxy Zoo project, citizen/scientists have offered their services to classify hundreds of thousands of galaxies drawn from the Hubble Space Telescope archive. More than 250,000 people have taken part in Galaxy Zoo so far, producing a wealth of valuable data and sending telescopes on Earth and in space chasing after their discoveries. Their have been 22 scientific papers based on this work. Some discoveries have been made by "non-scientists", for example, a stay-at-home mom. This type of project broadens the notion of who is a scientist. Citizen science projects bridges the gap between the "scientific community" and society as a whole
Although these two projects have been wildly successful, other scientific social networks have largely failed. Why would a scientist share knowledge on a wiki when:
  • they are not very good
  • this knowledge might help your competitor
  • you won't get any academic credit for it
Successful projects like Polymath and Galaxy Zoo end up with conventional scientific papers. Otherwise there is no academic incentive. It is ironic that scientists are being so timid about this process. We need to strive for "extreme openness", that is, put EVERYTHING out on the web for people to work with. Grant agencies need to mandate certain types sharing and encourage other types. Digital repository folks need to lobby for open access mandates and work with scientists to sustain and preserve their data and develop new tools to utilize them.