WHAT I LEARNED AT ALA
Of course it goes without saying that what any librarian REALLY goes to ALA for is the exhibits. ALA has better goodies than just about any other professional association, what with the wonderful artwork in the posters for children's books, the free magazines and a fine canvas briefcase for conference registrants. We just wander around, accumulating more and more stuff in more and more free (and desperately needed) shopping bags, getting visibly heavier by the moment. I kept wondering why the strains of Handel were running through my head, until I remembered the words that went with the tune: "Oh come unto me, that are heavy laden."
And oh, do exhibitors understand that the way to a librarian's heart is cats and chocolate. The one thing I couldn't resist buying was a t-shirt with a luxuriously lounging cat atop a stack of books, with the message: "Books. Cats. Life is good," from http://kidstamps.com/.
It's been about five years since I've been to the exhibits, and one thing that has changed dramatically is the amount of space allocated to books versus space for technology. It's the clearest sign I've seen yet that books are losing. I may love the net, but as a die-hard booklover, I found that deeply depressing.
Since I had to get back home by Monday if I wanted to submit revisions for Tuesday's Fox column, I didn't get to anywhere near as many presentations as I wanted to. The ones I did attend were excellent, though.
Merle Jacob of the Chicago Public Library, one of the most cogent, dynamic speakers I've ever listened to, spoke about the necessity of weeding -- a subject that, as you know from previous issues (http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib5.html, http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib57.html), I am deeply ambivalent about.
Some things I hadn't known: the cost of shelf space for a book is about $40, which is pretty expensive if the book never circulates; the importance of dust jackets for circulation (of two copies of the same book, the one without the jacket hadn't circulated since 1975, while the one WITH jacket circulated 19 times), and that weeding has been proven to increase circulation (presumably by making the collection look less crowded and more up-to-date).
She was by no means arguing against retaining older books and classics, as long as they circulate. In fact, one of her arguments was that if a book with substantial merit is NOT circulating, we should try to figure out why. Does it look shabby? Buy a new colorful paperback edition. Has it been stuck on top or bottom shelves? Shift your collection from time to time. Do displays of material that deserves to circulate. Jacob says that if you market books properly, they will circulate. She called for a panel of volunteers and gave them a list of specific older books and asked us whether we would weed them, keep them, or replace them, and the varying answers gave some additional perspectives on the issue.
But they didn't change my mind about the need for a consortium effort to prevent ALL copies of weeded books from disappearing from libraries.
The other really fascinating, and discouraging, panel, sponsored by Young Adult Library Services Association, included school and public librarians and eight young adults, talking about libraries, the internet, and kids. One school librarian spoke about her struggles to teach kids more effective use of the internet when they came in thinking they already knew everything. She also talked about her institutional constraints: the need to keep kids on task when they were online, the policy against using the net for games (filtering didn't seem to be an issue). The public librarians had other kinds of constraints, including a one-hour limit (using an automatic time-out software for enforcement).
The discouraging thing was what the kids had to say. Yes, the internet was their primary research resource. Yes, they often were frustrated by how much time they wasted sorting through drecch to find good resources. No, they didn't want to use books because it was too hard to find them, and they were too out of date anyway. And no, it never remotely occurred to them to ask their librarians to help them.
Why not, we asked. Well, they had this image of librarians as kind of "in a dungeon." You thought that bun and glasses and sensible shoes was a problematic image for librarians?
Besides, they didn't want answers handed to them; they wanted to figure things out for themselves. (Clearly the notion that librarians could teach them better ways to search had never occurred to them.) Other kids suggested that librarians were too busy to have time for them, or that, worse, they didn't seem to know how to answer the questions.
The good thing here is that these kids liked libraries. They felt safe there, they had internet access there, and if they ever DID want to find a book, they knew they could do it there.
It's just librarians that were wholly irrelevant.
Considering that these kids are our future, the people who will be paying taxes to support libraries (and librarians), I think we have our work cut out for us and we had jolly well better start soon.
The second half of that program was Jon Katz speaking about teens and the internet. He talked about the refuge it provides for kids who are geeky, weird, or lonely. He told us about how suspicious the media and the rest of the adult world were of both kids and the internet, especially after Columbine, and he talked about the anguished letters he received from kids after Columbine telling how they were being persecuted by school administrators for wearing weird clothes or for liking gaming and the internet too much. He also warned us that our filters and rules, however necessary they seem to us, make us part of the adult enemy.
It's a warning we need to take seriously. It made me all the more sorry that I wasn't able to attend the session in which ALA explained its stance against internet filters, even for kids. As you know from previous issues (http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib26.html), I regard the stance as defensible, though I think they've done a pretty poor job of defending it. (On the other hand, filtering advocates have not been able to explain why teens, who have much more sophisticated information needs and understanding of the world, should be treated the same way as five-year-olds.) I hope ALA did itself proud explaining its policy; normally ALA is preaching to the choir, but this is one case where a fair chunk of the choir has been preaching back.
So, I was sorry not to attend more of the conference events, but I got a lot out of it, and was glad I was able to attend. If it's another five years before I get to another ALA, I just hope there will still be book publishers there. (And free chocolate.)
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Most new things are not good, and die an early death; but those which push themselves forward and by slow degrees force themselves on the attention of mankind are the unconscious productions of human wisdom, and must have honest consideration, and must not be made the subject of unreasonable prejudice.
Thomas Brackett Reed, in North American Review, December, 1902.
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.