ALA 2008 Report and Impressions

By reeset / On / In Conferences

So another ALA annual has come and gone and it’s time to jot down my notes and impressions from my time here in Anaheim.  Of all the events I attend during the year, ALA is the one that I have the most difficult time quantifying what I actually get from the organization.  One the one hand, the Summer ALA meeting is different from Mid-Winter in that there are actual presentations, etc. that can be attended, but in general, it’s still very much a business meeting focused on the actual divisions, interest groups, etc. to do the business of keeping ALA and it’s many component parts going.  It’s the latter, the business meeting component, that compels me to attend ALA.  Like many, I have committee responsibilities that require my attendance — and like many, I try to fit other content around those responsibilities.

Actually, now that I think about, I didn’t mention the most prevalent aspect of the ALA annual conference — the every growing and encroaching vendor component of the conference (in the 5 years I’ve attended, it’s always had this component — but lately, it seems to be like an octopus, extending it’s reach into everything).  ALA has always had a very robust exhibitor area for attendees looking to speak with vendors or find out some information about a particular set of vendors.  And this is an important part of the conference (though, I’m finding it gets less important each year as vendors attend now attend so many conferences and have become so much easier to contact and research) — however, in recent years, vendors have started to put on more of their own product driven presentations.  In fact, take away the ALA events related to ALA, I would guess that vendor presentation make up the lion’s share of today’s ALA conference, and that I think, is a little bit sad.  So, it’s always with mixed feeling that I attend ALA’s annual meeting — torn between my responsibilities to the organization and my own aversion to presentations that feel more like Amway meetings.  It’s with that backdrop that I write this review — because for the first time in years, I’ve made a conscious decision to forgo any presentations/events that were vendor driven save for my limited interactions with exhibitors in the exhibits area. 

So how’d that turn out?  Surprising nearly impossible to do.  Before attending ALA, I had a handful of presentations that I wanted to attend, two being There’s no catalog like no catalog:  the ultimate debate on the future of the catalog and Creating the future of the Catalog and Cataloging.  These ended up being pretty representative of sessions that I attended where vendor representation was 1/2+ the makeup of the forums.  Not a bad thing, just an observation.  Another thing that I found about these two presentations is that they were mixed in that there was a lot of overly general comments (fluffy) and a few interesting nuggets.  This was especially true of the future of the catalog forum.  I’m not sure if this topic has just run it’s course (we all agree that library catalogs need to change) or what — but many of the observations are becoming tired.  Libraries today have more options that ever before — open source, vended and quasi-vendor solutions (OCLC) available to them.  At this point, choices are limited more by dollars (what you can spend), in-house expertise (what you can implement) and organizational philosophy.  Either way, I think it might be time to stop talking so much about our dinosaur ILS systems.

Throughout it all, the one reoccurring theme that did emerge from many of the sessions is the need to move more and more information and workflow to the network level.  On the ILS side, a case was made for leveraging a large master aggregation of records to provide local and more global record discovery side by side.  While on the cataloging side, the idea of moving authorities verification up to the network level in the form of URIs to help facilitate the management of authorized headings struck a cord with many attending in the audience.  I think that the library community is ready to forgo workflows that over-inflate the importance of localized content in favor of much more integrated workflows that allow them to instantaneously take advantage of work done by colleagues around the globe.  I know that Code4Lib doesn’t necessarily try for themes when they set their conference schedule each year, but here’s hoping that the 2009 conference includes a robust component dedicated to programming and building services that work at the network (rather than local) level.

The RDA update was interesting.  It’s nice to see that this work will be wrapping up soon.  I still have no idea how it will be any more than an update to AACR2 (maybe we’ll call it AACR2 1/2) in terms of practical application to the library world, but I guess we will see in a year or two.  From talking to a number of vendors (I won’t say who), I’ve been told by most that RDA could potentially represent a radical change or no change at all.  When pushed for their opinion — all are betting on the latter, at least for the foreseeable future.  I myself, am taking a wait and see approach.  At some point, I’ll need to take a look at RDA and figure out how (if at all), it will affect how I develop MarcEdit into the future — for now — I’m just waiting for the fog to clear a little bit more. *grin*

So ALA for me was filled with a few sessions (I ended up attending 7), some committee work, some time down in the exhibitor area chatting with reps and browsing books for the kids and then catching up with colleagues who have moved on from OSU or that I haven’t seen in a while.  I even found some time to go to Disneyland for a little while on Monday (I may even post a picture or two later) to scout out rides for a trip that we’ve been planning with the kids later this fall.  So, all and all, I think that it was a good trip.  I’ve certainly come away with a few more ideas related to the WorldCat Grid services tests I’ve been performing as well as a few odds and ends for both LibraryFind and MarcEdit development though maybe the value of this ALA annual conference isn’t something I will be able to really answer until some more time has past.



3 thoughts on “ALA 2008 Report and Impressions

  1. I have been dissapointed at past ALAs, attending sessions that I did not realize from the description were vendor presentations (maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention), only to find out that a presentation billed as “How to do X in your library” was really “How to user OUR software to do X in your library, and why you should buy our software.”

    This is a frustrating experience, I feel like I’ve been taken for a ride, not gotten what I signed up for, and been charged ALA registration fees for a marketing presentation. I think ALA should more clearly identify vendor presentations in the program.

  2. Interesting comments about not being able to find vendor-free presentations. I think an additional part of the problem is the ALA printed program/schedule itself. As an example, I stumbled on a series – “Juried papers” — that I think had a lot of potential but was very poorly represented in the schedule and therefore poorly attended.