It has been a week since I returned from the 2015 ACRL (Association of College and Research Librarians) Conference in Portland, Oregon. Spring has sprung in Portland—the trees are leafing out, the grass is the vivid green of early spring, and temperatures are in the 70s. Portland is a gritty, complex city and not what I expected. It is walkable but with a great public transportation system, and the food is justly famous (as is the beer, but not being a big beer drinker I can’t speak to that). The people are friendly but there are a lot of lost souls on the streets. ‘Keep Portland Weird’ reflects a reality that is both liberating and sobering. With freedom comes the responsibility of steering your own course, and that can be difficult to do.
On the first day I attended the conference opening and keynote speech by G. Willow Wilson, a journalist and writer who created the comic-book character, Ms. Marvel, aka Kamala Khan, a Muslim woman. The series has been overwhelmingly successful, and a variety of people identify with the struggles of Kamala Khan. Ms. Wilson’s own background—an Ohio native who lived for several years in Egypt and converted to Islam—is one both of ‘finding’ oneself in a different culture, and of feeling alien in one’s own. Her talk was an inspirational kick-off to the conference. Ms. Wilson urged us as curators of cultural heritage to continue to fight for the preservation and celebration of all cultures, and to understand our similarities as well as differences.
[Rant begins.] The opening was marred only by the music that blared before the program began and between each speaker’s remarks. It was impossible to talk over the music, although the sound of people trying to do so added to the din in the hall. The idea may have been to pump us up for the conference, but for me it was just irritating. [End of rant.]
I attended a variety of wonderful sessions and events; here are a few of the highlights:
Paving a Two-Way Street: The Rewards and Challenges of Archival Projects with Community Partners: Several speakers talked about their collaborative projects; one particularly intriguing project is Launching Through the Surf: The Dory Fleet of Pacific City, described by Kathleen Spring of Linfield College. This project preserves the history of a locally-important activity through oral histories, images, videos and documents. Partners include several Linfield College departments, community groups, schools and municipalities. Kathleen talked about the challenges of funding the project and maintaining working relationships among the partners. She stressed the importance of linking the project to each partner’s institutional mission and common community concerns, and embracing serendipity and flexibility throughout the process.
Digital Public Library of America and Academic Libraries: I knew little about the DPLA before this interesting and enlightening session. The DPLA was launched in 2010 as a common search portal to an increasing number of digital collections throughout the United States. It allows people to do a single search of the digital collections of over 1,300 partners, including public and academic libraries, museums and historical societies. Institutions can contribute to DPLA as content hubs or through service hubs. Content hubs are institutions with over 200,000 digital items or assets. Service hubs arrange for the participation of institutions with smaller collections, and provide guidance on how to create and organize digital assets for inclusion in the DPLA. They are actively seeking participation by new members, large and small. One challenge that the DPLA is working on is the lack of rights statements—or their lack of specificity—for the digital assets they compile. Assigning usable rights statements is critical for the usefulness of the assets made discoverable by DPLA, since “the best thing you can do with your data will be thought of by someone else.”
A Tale of Two Libraries: Adapting Outdated Buildings for a Sustainable Future / Becca Cavell, THA Architecture Inc.; Margaret Bean, University of Oregon; Jill McKinstry, University of Washington Libraries. Most of us are working in library buildings designed in the style of a bygone era, and for resources and services that have evolved to be quite different. Both the University of Oregon and the University of Washington have recently renovated 1970s-era libraries into more sustainable, useful, and flexible spaces to meet the current and future needs of their students and faculty. They reduced the size of their physical collections and created open, adaptable individual and group work spaces. The most surprising observation was that open group work spaces create the opportunity for students to easily join tutoring sessions and group discussions; that even the nominal hurtle of knocking on a door to a closed room discouraged some students. Another interesting idea from University of Oregon’s Science Library is a ‘department room,’ a room equipped and designed for students and faculty in a particular academic discipline.
E-Books – Contributed papers: Julie Linden, Sarah Tudesco and Angela Sidman from Yale University summarized a study of Ebrary use at Yale over the past twelve years. Overall the cost of per use of Ebrary titles was very low—about 3 cents per use. To analyze use by discipline they adopted the formula: % of Ebrary uses of titles in the discipline, minus the % of titles in Ebrary for the discipline. Medicine was the highest performing discipline; while technology, not surprisingly, was the lowest. The study also reviewed titles deleted from Ebrary—most were used very seldom, but there were a few that got a lot of use. Ebrary deletes titles not based on use but on contract terms with publishers.
Christina Mune and Ann Agee from San Jose State University spoke about their Ebook Accessibility Project (EAP)—evaluating both economic accessibility and accessibility for students with disabilities. The second study was particularly interesting and important—they took the government guidelines for accessibility and reviewed each vendor’s ebooks for compliance. The results varied widely as did the vendors reactions to them. A table summarizing the study’s findings is at http://libguides.sjsu.edu/eap
Diane Klare and Kendall Hobbs from Wesleyan University gave a polished and insightful presentation on their longitudinal study of students’ use of ebooks, conducted via individual interviews and focus groups and supplemented by quantitative data obtained through Wesleyan’s biennial MISO survey. Students tend to use ebooks as a way to search for useful books, but many times then request the book in print form. The annotating and highlighting features of ebook platforms are often overlooked, and students do not like having to create an account in order to save their notes and highlights within the platform. The study will continue, in order to track the evolution of students’ use of ebooks at Wesleyan.
It was an interesting, informative and inspiring conference. In between sessions I ran into Oberlin Group and other old colleagues, bought cool S&H Green Stamp notecards and microfiche earrings from Connie LaValley in the exhibit hall, and got a professional headshot taken to update my LinkedIn account and blog. At Thursday’s Dinner with Colleagues at the Noble Rot Wine Bar (great views of the city!), I met younger librarians that give me great hope for the future of the profession. And Friday’s all conference reception at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry was good fun—surrounded by other librarians trying the puzzles and walking through mazes gave me courage to do the same (the glass of wine helped too).
And then I returned to Connecticut to … snow. Spring is a long time coming to New England, but I’m happy to have had a taste of it in Portland. Many thanks to the organizers of the conference, and congratulations on ACRL’s 75th anniversary!