Thursday, February 03, 2011

Finding My Way at a Library Conference

From grade 5 to grade 9 I was a "student librarian" (in grade 5 and 6 the term was "Bookie Monster"). In grade 7 and 8, I even won the award for top student librarian. This is particularly odd as I never really liked reading anything other than comic books and Choose Your Own Adventures. I guess I was drawn to allure of systemic organization. But as I became involved in the school newspaper, drama club, and the debate team (don't say anything), I became enamored of communications and media and left behind my librarianship.

So finding myself first at a program to train librarians last year and now at the Ontario Library Association Conference, is perhaps not such a strange life twist as a culmination.

I decided to attend the OLA "Super" conference as there were sessions covering areas related to my research interests, specifically how people can use mobile devices to access information and the social creation of information (particular info related to place). The conference earns its super moniker in that it is huge. It has occupied most of the north building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and the Intercontinental Hotel's conference rooms. With up twelve concurrent sessions and a trade expo occupying all of the exhibition space of the Centre, it is likely the largest librarian conference in Canada (hence the national scope of topics, speakers and participants). It is not super, however, in its hospitality: no wifi, no snacks, no swag, no lunch, and no COFFEE!

This conference is decidedly for practitioners. It focuses on applied presentations of novel and significant issues, more so than fine-tuned examinations of topics or underlying theoretical findings. Judging from the first day and program, the conference offers case studies and best practices track sessions combined with motivational plenaries. I also found that to accommodate the range of background knowledge of attendees, speakers spend a lot of time covering the basics. In addition, speakers focus on the program implementation, change management, and funding issues.

My first session was on geoauthentication, that is facilitating access to secure sites through automatic detection of a visitor's geographic location through their IP address. This process eliminates the hassle and memory burden of having to remember logins and passwords. Knowledge Ontario is using geoauthentication to open their databases of copyrighted content to anyone in or from Ontario. The speaker noted that using IP identification, automatic authentication could also be done at a city or carrier level. If one is outside the region, authentication must then be done through more traditional means (i.e. a user enters their login id and password.) It is possible that people could hack access via a proxy server, but the speaker advises that it is possible to block this.

The final session of the day dealt with an project to aid Ontario communities to digitize and publish online historical objects and documents. There were a few points I found particularly interesting. For one, a process of determining what objects are a priority to add to the online collection. The project team developed a checklist of criteria for this that also allows them to catalogue lower priority items. I was also interested in a feature they built that allows people to comment on digitized, online objects by adding comments. I think this becomes a fascinating way to capture collective memory and encourage discussion.

In between these two track sessions was a plenary by Michael Wesch. I encountered him from his YouTube videos, including the popular A Vision of Students Today. His speech was a call to arms for librarians and educators to redefine what learning is and how we facilitate this. He notes that currently schools and library are structured under the assumptions that information is scare, to learn is to acquire information, information comes from an authority figure, trust authority figures, and follow along - they are not structured to facilitate collaborative learning. He argues that we can help learners to use social media to make a better world. Although he did acknowledge that digital media can and has been used for nefarious purposes. It is those with a passion who figure out how to use tools effectively (such as social media) to propagate their message. Thus by helping students harness their passion, it can lead to positive social change. To demonstrate his message, he shared examples of how others have used social and/or mobile effectively and walked attendees through creating a video mashup in a few minutes to show how "ridiculously easy" to use these tools. I found Wesch's assertion that we can move from focusing on discussions of information literacy and technological familiarity to fostering digital citizenship. This seems like a lofty goal for the librarian profession and researchers alike.

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