Amid Winter in Philadelphia | ALA Midwinter 2014

From Google Glass to ALA's new Code of Conduct, highlights of the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting by sister publication Library Journal.

ALAmidwinter1b Amid Winter in Philadelphia |

Snow and cold presented transportation challenges in getting to Philadelphia for the American Library Association (ALA)’s 2014 Midwinter conference, leading some exhibitors to express disappointment in the light crowds on the exhibit floor, though ALA reports attendance of 12,207. This total tops those for recent Midwinters in San Diego, Dallas, and Seattle’s, but the growth came from more exhibitors themselves and exhibitor-invited complimentary attendees. Those hardy, or lucky, librarians that did make it got some good leads and found excitement in a number of places. Besides grabbing the many galleys on offer and lining up for signings, the presence of Google Glass (being demonstrated under the aegis of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy) created buzz. Via Twitter, librarians reacted to the wearable computing device in ways that ran the gamut from enthusiasm to criticism of the functionality to concerns about patron privacy.

Privacy, an ongoing preoccupation of librarians, was a running leit motif at Midwinter as usual. The Washington Update—Under a Microscope: The Story Behind the Revelations About the NSA Surveillance Programs— was well attended despite its early time slot. Overall, Guardian U.S. national security editor Spencer Ackerman presented little information that will be new to those closely following the developing story of Edward Snowden’s leaked data. However, he did offer a concise overview of the sequence and called out several key issues, including the National Security Agency’s claim that surveillance does not occur until the point of analysis rather than collection and that, even if new legislation passes which would specifically restrict bulk data collection, ultimately the decision on how these laws are interpreted may be left to the secret court.

Issues about the usability and findability of ebooks continued to be of abiding interest, with many positive developments. ReadersFirst released its first guide to ebook providers, giving all of the major vendors high marks, in large part because they’ve all released APIs which can be used to integrate their offerings into libraries’ ILSes—and ILS vendors have been partnering with the ebook providers to make such integrations work in practice, not just theory. (For more on this, see “First Read” by Matt Enis in the February 15 issue of LJ). Streaming video services also continued to generate buzz for both public and educational uses.

On the academic side, defining the boundaries of fair use continues to be of interest. On the U.S. side, Sunday afternoon saw a look behind the scenes of the Google Books court decision. “I think this is a victory for not just Google or libraries,” said Google legal director of copyright Fred von Lohmann. “It shows that fair use continues to be an important part of how copyright works in the United States.” Von Lohmann also cautioned that the win in court was not final, and pointed out that an appeal by the Author’s Guild is expected to be heard later this year. He was joined by Laura Quilter, who spoke on the HathiTrust case and its relationship to Google Books; and by Lisa Macklin, director of scholarly communication at Emory University, who brought audience members up to date on the Georgia State University e-reserves case. (After a win at the district court level, the publishers appealed to the 11th circuit court. While a verdict has not yet been rendered, the tone of the judicial questioning during oral arguments was hostile to the library’s position, according to LJ columnist and Duke scholarly communications officer Kevin Smith.) Quilter, a lawyer and librarian at the University of Massachusetts, called on public librarians to help educate their patrons about copyright issues. “Academic librarians are the go-to people for copyright and fair use issues among faculty,” she said. “I’d love to see that become true in the case of public librarians.”

Fair use issues are also in flux beyond the U.S. borders, with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) considering a treaty that would define library-specific exceptions and other countries moving from a specific laundry list approach to a more flexible one, as Janice Pilch of Rutgers University Libraries, and Peter Jaszi of the American University, Washington College of Law Library, explained at Fair Use and DRM in Libraries: Beyond the United States: An Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS) Forum. Michele Casalini, managing director of Casalini Libri, explained that publishers from different copyright regimes are working with American libraries to come up with a workable model of fair use for ebooks, particularly when it comes to simultaneous use and inclusion of library holdings in coursepacks (or their digital equivalent).

Meanwhile, new research from OCLC found that online students aren’t using library materials anyway…or at least they don’t realize they’re doing so. Some 73 percent of online students said they didn’t use a library, and of those, 78 percent said it was because they didn’t consider the option to do so, though those who did found the library valuable.

Also in the academic arena, the The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition/Association of College & Research Libraries (SPARC/ACRL) Forum focused on the confluence of two major ongoing trends: big data and open access. Panelists discussed the necessity of helping data move towards open access along with the journal articles that data produces. Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, moderated the panel, saying that the goal was to “make it easier to move between articles and data,” which would make room for new analysis of existing data that could help save grant funding and move science forward. Margaret Winker of the open access online journal PLOS Medicine, which is run by the non-profit Public Library of Science, outlined the new data policies that journal has put in place to ensure that readers have the opportunity to view data relevant to articles published in its pages. While PLOS Medicine writers are required to include their datasets for review with their article submission, they’re also encouraged to put the data on file with a data repository. Purdue’s Paul Bracke outlined the process of developing that school’s Purdue University Research Repository (PURR), explaining the challenges and rewards inherent in building an institutional repository and what role university libraries can play in building and administering these repositories. And University of North Carolina Chapel Hill biologist Todd Vision brought attendees an update on nonprofit open data repository Dryad, which lets researchers from any institutions store their datasets in perpetuity and open them to collaborators for a small fee, similar to that charged by so-called Gold OA publications. Whether institutional or open to all, these repositories are poised to become more common as more journals enact data policies like the one PLOS Medicine is putting into place this March.

Good government

On Saturday morning, the What’s Next for E-rate panel concentrated on ways to get more out of the program for libraries, ideally while putting out less in the way of time and effort to earn the discounts. Every year, Office of Information and Technology Policy fellow Bob Bocher said, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) receives requests for $4.8 billion in e-rate discounts—more than twice its $2.3 billion budget—but “getting more cash is a heavy lift.” Thus, instead of a bigger budget, Bocher seemed to be looking for a fight that he and other librarians could win. That means changes that result in an E-rate program that works smarter, not harder, and makes less time-consuming paperwork requirements of library staff. In particular, Bocher noted the need for more timely funding letters, pointing out that 30-40 percent of requests are under $5,000, and would be well-served by some sort of fast track for smaller discount requests.

From the FCC end, John Chambers wanted to drive home the fact that the FCC is not on the other side, and said that modernizing E-rate is a priority for new FCC chair Tom Wheeler. He also reminded attendees that “the goals of the White House are school goals,” adding that libraries have played a “me too” role in past E-rate conversations. If libraries want more of a say in how E-rate is administered, he argued, they’ll have to speak more loudly on the issue.

Of course, E-rate is not the only place where library funding and the federal government intersect. During Sunday morning’s update, the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) shared program and process news relevant to libraries. In an effort to provide more flexibility to grantees, the ILMS is changing its granting process this year, moving to a two deadline system, in October and February. Maura Marx, deputy director for library services at IMLS, also noted that ILMS was interested in seeing grants that moved away from traditional collections and into newer fields like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and programs that can provide insight into what makes a successful makerspace.

IMLS director Susan Hildreth was joined by Dubis Correal from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which is partnering with libraries across the country to present a Consumer Financial Education Pilot Project. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) representative Elizabeth O’Brien was on hand to talk about how libraries can help new and prospective citizens. “We’re not expecting librarians to give immigrant patrons advice, but we can help them guide those patrons to USCIS resources,” O’Brien said. The Department of Education’s (DOE) Adrienne Will was also there to discuss the role of libraries in helping low-skill American workers get training they need for modern careers. That role will be more fully addressed when the DOE releases a national action plan on the matter later this spring.

Inside ALA

Going into the conference, debate frequently centered on ALA’s new Code of Conduct. It drove a significant part of the discussion at the Intellectual Freedom Roundtable, as well as being one of the top trends cited at the annual LITA Top Tech Trends panel. But despite concerns that it might do so, the code did not dominate LITA’s Challenges of Gender Issues in Technology Librarianship panel, which instead focused on the importance of intersectionality. Despite some technical difficulties, panelist Cecily Walker (attending via Skype) struck a key note when she spoke to the importance of getting beyond anecdotes of deliberate harassment to address the structural systems that perpetuate discrimination. Chris Bourg, assistant university librarian (AUL) for public services for the Stanford University Libraries, called on librarians to put muscle behind solving the “pipeline problem” of recruiting diverse candidates. Search committee participation was particularly highlighted as an opportunity for librarians who are not necessarily in positions of high leadership to both push for diversity and push back against considerations such as “gravitas” which often function as coded or unconscious ways to rule out candidates other than cisgendered white men. Asking members of marginalized groups what support they want and need and reviewing existing practice for barriers were also mentioned as concrete first steps. Panelists also offered further resources, sanf recommended those interested in the issue presented regularly check #LibTechGender on Twitter for more info.

While reports from the final Council session are not yet in, so far, ALA’s internal governance has been proceeding in an incremental and evolutionary way. Council established a task force to study communication methods for council itself, which will provide an interim report at this year’s Annual conference and a final one at next Midwinter. A resolution to allow programs at Midwinter was referred to the Budget Analysis and Review Committee (BARC). The controversial resolution in support of Edward Snowden was postponed from the first to the second Council session, before being eventually defeated.

The proposed changes in the draft revised standards for accreditation of MLS programs place a greater emphasis on systemic planning and assessment, but do not impose more proscriptive standards for program content, admission standards or numbers of students, nor do they propose rankings or dramatically more data collection and dissemination (though ALA staff did mention that the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which accredits ALA as an accreditor, is pushing in the direction of additional data). Other proposed changes include making a greater distinction between the roles of tenure-line and non-tenure-line faculty; making a stronger statement on diversity of both students and faculty; and emphasizing measuring outcomes over inputs (echoing the discussions pervading librarianship).

A few other nuggets of interest include news on a national invitational summit, entitled Libraries from Now On: Imagining the Future, to be held this May in Washington, DC. The Programming Librarian Interest Group was recognized and held its first meeting. A fun new award to be funded by Lemony Snicket was also proposed. It would honor a librarian “who has faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact” with $3,000 plus $1,000 in travel “from Mr. Snicket’s disreputable gains, along with an odd, symbolic object from his private stash, and a certificate, which may or may not be suitable for framing.” Public Library Association (PLA) conference locations were approved for 2020 of Nashville, TN, and Portland, OR, for 2022. And College & Research Libraries, the official scholarly research journal of ACRL, adopted an online-only publication model beginning in January, after studying how to “balance the ways readers prefer to engage with ACRL publications with the financial realities of the changing scholarly publishing landscape.”

The financial realities of the changing publishing landscape are not impacting ACRL alone: According to BARC’s report, ALA’s publishing revenue, at $3.1 million, is off the projected budget by $738,762, in particular seeing lower online sales in ALA Editions/TechSource, lower sales related to library promotions in Products & Promotions, and lower royalties in Booklist.  Publishing aside, according to BARC, ALA’s past three months have also been off budget in dues income (by $61,681), and Division Revenue (by $206,579).

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