Conference Report: ALA Annual: Chicago, IL


Last week I attended the 132nd (and my 1st ever) Annual ALA conference held in Chicago, IL. “Wow!” What an impressive, massive, well organized machine of all things Library! I loved it!  I got to attend a slew of sessions that covered topics across the board, learn about new and exciting technologies, products and services from my visits through the Exhibit Hall, and connected with old classmates and colleagues and even met some new ones! In the good company of three of my co-workers from Brock University, I got to explore a little of what the Windy City has to offer; I attended the International Librarians Reception at the Harold Washington Branch of the Chicago Public Library, but crazily enough, did not run the 5km race at 7:00 o’clock in the morning (I decidedly used this time to sleep). I’m really glad I went to this conference. In my books, it’s kind of a “Big Deal” conference and seemed a little overwhelming at first, but I soon learned the art of “you-can’t-do-it-all-Colleen!” and I was able to see the forest through the trees! Below is an overview of the sessions I particularly enjoyed.

LITA Lightening Presentations – 7, 7min presentations (my top 5 below)
“Host Your Own Virtual Lightning Talks using Google Hangout.” – Peter Murray, LYRASIS
An active member of Code4Lib, Murray laid out the step by step process of setting up a Google Hangouts session for presenters and YouTube recording for audience members and highlighted some tips and tricks for a smooth execution. This would be a great (and inexpensive) way for librarians to connect for meetings, or present materials – Maybe OA week?  Presentation Slides

“DIY Digital Signage.” – Mike Robinson, University of Alaska Anchorage
An alternative to proprietary software often used in libraries, Robinson presented the hardware and software used (very inexpensive and accessible!) and emphasized how it can be much more flexible in look, content and access than the more expensive alternative. Anyone at the library can easily add new and dynamic content to keep the displays fresh and up-to-date. I was very impressed with the simple design and layout and, would love to see this working at Brock! Presentation slides & visual example

“Personal Archiving: Helping Users Manage Digital Materials for Long-term Access.” – Amy Neeser,University of Minnesota Libraries
There are many names for this topic: Digital Preservation, Information Management, Personal Archiving, all of which have become a challenge among, students, grads, faculty and even the most organized librarian! Neeser discussed how U of M libraries have dived right in and are offering a wide selection of workshops on this topic customized for undergrads, grads, and faculty. Training the rest of library staff was essential and to the success of their workshops and even created a Personal Archiving Boot Camp to get staff buy-in and update their skills.

“Building Better Help Before We Build It: User Characteristics and Preferences’ Effect on Library Help Website Design.” – Tao Zhang & Ilana Barnes, Purdue University Libraries
The focus of this presentation was on creating a better user-experience for students using LibGuides. They conducted a survey of 36 participants and used a “structural equation modeling” approach to analyze their results and to improve the content and design of their libguides. They also, commented that the majority of their LibGuides users were upper level undergrads and grad students, so they were their target group for design & content.

“iPads in the Classroom: 5 Lessons Learned in 5 Minutes.” – Caitlin Shanley, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
This talk focused on an ongoing (2-3yr) “iPads in the Classroom” project and how it has grown and evolved over the years. 35 iPads were bought for the library specifically for instruction and workshop purposes i.e. not loaned out to students. The Presenter outlined tips for improving the usability of these and compared the merits and disadvantages of using the iTunes, Apple Configurator (free), and Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms.

ALA sign2

The 19th Annual Reference Research Forum (RUSA) – 3 panelists
“Research Guides Usability Study” –Andrew Walsh & Angela Pashia, University of West Georgia
Presenters discussed the variety of research methods employed to improve their research guides.

  1. On the spot usability testing of 10 participants, using camtasia software to record mouse clicks and verbal feedback.  Each taking about 10mins.
  2. A scheduled Focus group of 19 participants representing upper level and graduate students.
  3. Google Analytics to learn more about search terms and how users navigated to and within LibGuides.

Major findings were that students don’t fully understand the purpose of a Research Guide, how to effectively navigate the guides, the main search box within LibGuides was very confusing, but the embedded search box widgets were desirable, and finally that the “general/background” content boxes (eg. “About the Library”) were not seen as useful. Presentation Slides

“2 Birds, 1 Stone: A Mixed Methods Approach to Measure Service Process & Identify Pain Points of Virtual Reference.” – Lynda Duke, Illinois Wesleyan University
This presentation discussed a major assessment project of their Chat and IM reference service. With over 3000 questions a year, they felt this was a great resource for a content analysis project to learn more about their students research behavior, needs, and experiences using the library. They used a variety of tools to help them complete the project including QuestionPoint Software and Dedoose software for their text encoding and analysis. Much of their findings helped them identify “pain-points” of the user experience and provided them with an evidence based guide for targeting future usability testing. Presentation Slides

“Query Clarification in Chat Reference – VISUAL transcript analysis” – Alexa Pearce, NYU
This presenter demonstrated many of the visually intriguing data maps she created using Cytoscope software (open source) to conduct a “network analysis” of a chat reference interaction. Although admittedly very time consuming this was a very interesting way to display connections and patterns in a chat reference transaction. Final thoughts: early and open clarification questions are the KEY to rich & successful virtual reference interactions

visual data 2

Studying Ourselves: Libraries and the User Experience (ACRL ANSS) – 3 panelists
Andrew Abbott – Sociologist, University of Chicago
Abbott focused on expert/faculty use of the library, what he called, “real use” (i.e the collection) and their preference for browsing and utilizing familiar resources for their research and discovery. He put forth that libraries should push faculty to do their own self-assessments, “self-ethnography” of their research process in order to get a better understanding of their user needs rather than using “intrusive methods” like interviews and surveys.  Admittedly, I had mixed feelings about this argument.

Dr. Andrew Asher – Anthropologist/Assessment Librarian,  Indiana University
A lead researcher on the Illinois Academic Libraries ERIAL project, Asher recently lead a major user-research study at Indiana library using many of the ethnographic methods employed in Nancy-Fried Foster’s pinnacle 2007 study at the University of Rochester such as interviews, observation, student photographs and mapping to answer questions about their research experience.

Diane Wahl – Librarian,  University of North Texas
Discussed a major user-research project focused on the student experience, particularly “non-traditional” students. Several approaches were used such as, partnering with Anthropology Grad students who assisted in the research as part of their major projects, utilized previous LibQual results to identify areas for improvement, and conducted online focus groups. A committee was then created to discuss the findings and to make improvements.

LITA Keynote Speaker: Cory Doctorow: More than a book-lined Internet Café
This was definitely the best talk I got to attend while at ALA. Doctorow is an engaging, passionate and thought-provoking speaker and funny too! The major theme that came through his talk was the idea of empowerment. How Libraries and Librarians empower users (even with Wikipedia), to not only find quality information which is becoming more and more difficult to do, but to also understand the “context” of information (how information flows, and does not flow). He talked a lot about maker-spaces and how even the act of taking something apart can be empowering. Rather than a “book-lined internet café” we should be thinking of our libraries as “book-lined, computer filled, information Dojos!” – I like that!


“place of the way”

Vendor Demonstrations

SpringShare: LibGuides
This demonstration was very exciting! A demonstration was given of the new LiBGuides interface, which I am eager to start exploring upon it’s release in the Fall. Not only does the new interface resemble what most of us have come to expect when surfing the Internet, but the administrative side of the new platform has improved dramatically making it much easier for us librarians to create flexible and dynamic research guides for our students.

Sage: Research Methods
I attended this demonstration to get a better understanding of  how best to use this very powerful tool that our library already subscribes to. The Methods Map functionality of this resource is particularly impressive and I’ll definitely be highlighting it in my LibGuides and Instruction sessions.

Oxford University Press: Oxford Reference & Oxford Index
I specifically attended this demonstration to get a few answers to some nagging “issues” I’ve been experiencing using Oxford Index and how we get it working for us at Brock. I also pleasantly learned some more details about the content coverage in Oxford Reference.

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