Circling the International Library Conference Circuit

Over a five week period I participated in four international conferences, based in the U.S.,  involving librarianship.  Each one had comparative aspects in terms of program, exhibits, and international flavor.

 

The first, and smallest, was the Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference, held June 9-11 in San Diego, just a two hour drive for me. Almost 3000 librarians attended, mainly from academic and specialized libraries. SLA is known for its cutting-edge technology and management sessions, and this year was no exception. Some of the topics included ebooks, intelligence analysis, digital preservation, and lots on knowledge management and social media. As this year’s chair of the Education Division, I planned that group’s programs, which were very successful: dealing with international students, embedded librarianship, value-added databases, and a research poster session. In all of these sessions, several points emerged: get to know your clients and their needs, and provide relevant resources and services that add value to the client. The trade show featured lots of digital resources and services. As for an international presence, SLA has regional chapters throughout the world, so there’s always some contingents from various countries. The conference itself didn’t have much of an international focus, but the Education Division had a social wave-off, which attracted some key international folks.

 

The next conference I attended, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), was held in San Diego on June 23-26. About 14,000 educators and vendors attended; I would estimate that about 200 youth librarians and library educators were in the mix. One of the unique features of ISTE’s conference was the alternative ways to present: lots of posters, tech“playgrounds,” and other informal venues. Few programs specifically targeted librarians, but the technology sessions certainly applied in most cases. Tablets, apps, and Common Core were the main topics. The Media Specialists SIG also had a great breakfast and business meeting, featuring  author and teacher John Spencer, who really understood and supported youth librarians. A neat feature of ISTE’s conference was the remote participation; on Tuesday the keynote speaker (Steven Johnson) and about ten sessions were web-streamed so that online registrants could interact during the day. I led the keynote chat session, which could well have been a richer experience for the 300 online because of the nonstop chat conversations; the Australian contingency was especially strong. As for the exhibits themselves, several had flashy booths and lively demonstration sessions. Hardware seemed to dominate the trade show, although software and services were also were evidenced. The “international” asepct of ISTE was generally soft-played. A new International SIG has emerged, which seems to attract mainly international schools.

 

Then onto the American Library Association (ALA), whose conference was held on June 27-July 1 in the city of its headquarters: Chicago. About 20,000 library workers and 6000 vendors attended, including over a thousand youth librarians. Even though ALA scaled down the number of programs, there were still dozens to choose from throughout the day. The number of committee meetings remained as high as ever, which is where I spent much of my time. I also had the pleasure of serving on a panel who discussed the librarian’s role in teacher preparation programs, and doing a poster on library services for youth with autism spectrum disorders – part of the ALA Diversity Fair. This cross-pollination of librarians in both cases resulted in a great synergy. At the Diversity Fair, author Lyn Miller-Lachmann shared her new YA book Rogue, a story about a teenage girl who deals with Asperger’s Syndrome as she deals with friends and family; I read it as soon as I got home, and I encourage you to buy this engaging and insightful book. As can be imagined, the trade show was filled with books, technology, and services. The international and graphic novels aisles continue to grow – as does their customer interest. Even though ALA basically covers the U.S. and Canada, librarians from around the world attend. ALA also has international programs and committees, including the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers luncheon that I attend each time. International visitors have a special lounge area for networking, and an international reception is held to honor these folks.

 

Less library-centric but certainly bigger, the San Diego Comic-Con, held 17-21, attracted about 130,000 attendees – in the same conference center as for the 2800 SLA participants. As can be imagined, lines for some sessions began several hours ahead of time (and it’s possible to still not be able to get into the room). Surprisingly, there are only about a couple dozen sessions at any given time, and that includes an ongoing film festival, so big-name presentations (e.g., Dr. Who’s 50th anniversary) quickly fill up the 6000 seats.  Obviously, many sessions showcased new products, but there were also many sessions on the comic industry.  Likewise, the massive trade show uses up all the exhibit halls’ space; the place is filled with people all day long watching huge-screen videos, getting their hands on books and magazines and other entertainment items, posing for photos in their cosplay (costumes), and standing in long lines (again) to play games or meet celebrities. There’s also an extensive artists’ section, usually with no lines, where attendees can chat with these creators.  Comic-Con started as a venue for comics enthusiasts, largely to trade comics and network. Since then it’s expanded to the larger entertainment sector having even the slightest link with comics or their subject matter. So how are librarians involved? Certainly, comics/graphic novels are becoming a collection staple for librarians, and some session explicitly address the library’s role; publishers also realize the buying power and influence that libraries have, and pitch their sales to them.  The session on beautiful books attracted numerous librarians, as another specific example where the conference was relevant to folks like me. The Sunday line-up focused on kids so there were lots of sessions that benefitted librarians. The conference also has a research strand (i.e., (Comic Arts Conference), which focuses on education; I gave a poster session on teaching information architecture using comic arts as part of that strand’s offerings. As for the international aspect, Japanese manga and anime play a big role at Comic-Con. The research group discussed globalization issues, and publishers often included talk about international collaboration. If for no other reason than to experience popular culture of today’s youth, librarians can gain much by attending Comic-Con.

 

These four international conference demonstrate the variety of professional development venues that are relevant to librarians, providing them with unique lens to learn about current resources and issues.

Reported by Lesley Farmer

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