Save the CT state library plus thoughts from the 2011 Connecticut Library Association Annual Conference
May 13, 2011
Update: the state library may be safe, but the details aren’t settled yet.
As I write this post, Connecticut is facing the elimination of funding for its state library. While the mission of the state library is “to preserve and make accessible Connecticut’s history and heritage and to advance the development of library services statewide,” it does that in such important ways. From the CLA website:
If the State Library goes away there will be no more:
- State Law Library
- State Archives (7.67 miles of records dating from 1631)
- Museum of Connecticut History
- Genealogy and Connecticut History Collection
- Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
- State Library Website with its unique resources on Connecticut
- Federal Documents Collection (over 1 million items)
- State Documents Collection (only complete print and electronic collection)
- Premier Research collections (nearly 1.3 million items)
- Connecticut Newspaper comprehensive statewide collection
- iCONN Databases
- Statewide Catalog/Interlibrary Loan
- State funding for the Connecticut Library Consortium
- Access to the state’s aerial surveys
- State Records Center and records management program
- Federal library funds (nearly $2million annually)
- Transporting of library material between libraries (Connecticar Delivery Service)
- Free borrowing from any library in Connecticut (Connecticard Program)
- State Aid to Public Libraries
- Public Library Construction grant program
- Library Service Centers
- Training, consulting and professional resources for library staff statewide
- Public Library Statistics
- Large Print Book Collections
- Downloadable books
- Summer Reading resources and training
- Access to Legislative Histories
- Indexing for legislative materials and the Legislature’s website
- Access over 36,000 digitized images of Connecticut History
- Permanent public access to 12,000 existing and all future digital state publications
- Video archive for The Connecticut Network
- Publication of the Public Records of the State of Connecticut
- Historical Probate record books and files
- Historic Documents Preservation grant program
- Historical Programming in schools
- Resources for teachers such as “Connecticut Invents” (over 18,000 visits to this blog annually)
If you are a Connecticut librarian or resident, please please please call Governor Malloy at 800.406.1527 and tell him that you are a Connecticut resident, that you’re concerned about the elimination of state library funding, and that you want the state library to continue to be funded. Here’s a longer description of what the state library does and what will be lost [PDF] and some talking points [PDF] if you feel like you need them. At the very least, please sign this petition.
The 2011 CLA Annual Conference was last week, and I was able to attend on Tuesday, the second day. It was kind of fun because for the first time, I had an employer who paid my registration, and for the first time I knew people at the conference and didn’t have that awkward moment at lunch surveying the tables and trying to decide who looked friendly enough to welcome a stranger.
I attended four different sessions, checked out the exhibit hall, and then listened to the keynote speaker. Here are a few notes from the sessions I attended.
Trends in paranormal fiction
Presented by Leanna Renee Hieber, who talked about her own adventure in trying to find a publisher for her cross-genre novel The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, drawing a lot of laughs from the crowd with her self-deprecation and theatrical presentation style. She points to paranormal romance (and Twilight specifically) as what “cracked open the genre ghetto” of adult lit. She also cited Harry Potter and Twilight as what bridged the adult/YA divide.
Leanna also talked about current trends in paranormal romance and said that publishers aren’t as interested in buying paranormal stories anymore and that dystopian stories are the next big thing because of the success of The Hunger Games. She pointed out, though, that there will always be readers who want stories of paranormal romance, and she hopes that publishers won’t abandon the genre completely.
In addition to her own gaslamp fantasies, she also talked a little bit about steampunk (“Jules Verne was steampunk before it was trendy”) and its DIY vibe as a reaction against the mass market/prefab choices of today and about what it is about the Victorian period that so captures readers’ attention, arguing that it’s because of parallels between Victorian society and our current society. What I thought was especially interesting was when she touched on the way some authors skirt around problematic issues in Victorian society (what does and doesn’t get changed in an alternate history?) and pointed us to Beyond Victoriana for a more multicultural take on steampunk stories.
Writing for the Wired Web
My library recently launched a new website that more people on staff are contributing to, so a number of us attended this session by Jeff Wisniewski to get an idea of how writing for the Internet is different than writing for other forms and formats and audiences.
I took a ton of notes at this session for a coworker who wasn’t able to attend, but the short version is that reading online is harder than reading in print, and library website users aren’t there to read so much as to find a specific piece of information–and we need to keep both of those in mind when we’re writing for the web. Content should be concise and clear and well-organized with headings, lists, and descriptive page titles. We should avoid jargon and, even though we are Libraries, Those Sacred Institutions of Culture and Learning, we should adopt a friendly, conversational tone. Text for the web should be written in plain language.
Web users tend to scan, to read only the first few words of headings, and to move their eyes in an F-shape across the screen, so web pages should be designed around this. People also tend to click on the first likely link they see, so organizing information well and having link text with “strong scent” (i.e., words that describe what content can be found on the next page) are important. Content also needs to be written with an inverted pyramid style, with the conclusion or main point first, a summary of important items next, and then details at the end.
I found this presentation really helpful in its simple, clear directives and the research and reasoning that support them. Jeff also provided a number of concrete examples and plenty of jokes to keep things moving. His slides are available on Slideshare, and they’re pretty useful just on their own.
Perspectives from library directors who started in youth services
I am still very new to the profession–I just celebrated the one-year anniversary of when I received my MLS this week–so I’m certainly not making plans to become a director anytime soon, but even during library school, I wondered if it was something I might want to do someday. I’m torn because I feel like, with years of experience under my belt, I might be able to use my opinionated nature and interest in librarianship as a profession and in libraries and their place in society to create a vision for a library and lead it into the coming years. On the other hand, what I love about my job is working with teens and moving into administration would force me to leave that behind.
So I attended this session, where three directors of Connecticut libraries (Bernadette Baldino, Barbara Blosveren, and Christina Nolan) reflected on their career paths and offered advice to aspiring directors, hoping I’d gain some more clarity or insight. I still feel just as conflicted, but it was interesting to hear their very different paths to directorship and get some long-term perspective on what a library career looks like. They offered a lot of very specific advice, but I’d say the general gist of what librarians who want to become administrators should do is twofold: first, act like a professional in your dress, in your work, and in your relationships. Second, do as much as you can possibly be doing–at work, professionally, and in the community. Directors need broad skills, broad perspectives, and broad networks, and this is how you develop those.
Confronting the Digital Divide
This was definitely the highlight of the conference for me, as I not only got to hear Jessamyn West speak but also got to meet her afterward! When I was getting started in library school and discovering the world of librarianship, Jessamyn was one of the first people who showed me that there were real issues in this field that I could care about, deeply, and pursue for the rest of my life.
In addition to being totally rad and inspiring, Jessamyn’s also an engaging, witty speaker. She talked generally about the technological literacy landscape both nationally and in Connecticut, and explained that tech literacy is going to become more of an issue in coming years, not less: there will never be a point at which everyone knows how to use a computer (or any other digital device). And knowing this, librarians need to step up and accept responsibility for being the ones who will educate people and teach them and guide them.
Jessamyn provided some statistics–21% of Americans don’t have access to the Internet at all, either at work or at home, and 90% of those people don’t want broadband. (She pointed out that if you can’t read, the Internet isn’t super-appealing.) The reasons people don’t want broadband are cost, a lack of digital literacy, and that “broadband isn’t relevant to them.” Adoption rates are slowing down–but not because everyone has the Internet. People who are disabled, poor, non-English-speaking, or in any number of other marginalized groups don’t have access.
But it’s not just about access; Connecticut’s broadband coverage map is pretty thorough, but there are still a lot of people who aren’t great with technology–and you need some basic level of tech literacy before you can trust technology enough to start learning on your own or to feel comfortable using it at all.
And even if, to put it crassly, we just wait until all the oldsters who can’t work a mouse up and die, there are still going to be people who aren’t tech literate. We hit a lot of people through our public schools, but anyone who doesn’t go through the public school system–because they drop out or because they didn’t grow up here–isn’t going to have had that introduction to technology.
Furthermore, when she was showing us a chart of teens’ cell phone use, she pointed out that all of those kids who are texting at high rates aren’t texting the kids who don’t have phones. There’s not a lot of cross-education between the haves and the have-nots–something I guess I hadn’t thought about within the context of texting before.
She also broke down the digital divide: it’s really an economic divide, a usability divide, and an empowerment divide all rolled up into one Big Issue.
So because libraries are a public space with computers, broadband access, and staff, we “do” technology. (Jessamyn also asked if anyone else remembered when people were predicting that we would all go to the post office to to use computers to get our “e-mail,” which, as what I guess you would call a digital native, just sounded completely silly to me.) We will always be teaching “my first email” classes, and we need to embrace that as part of our mission and get better at doing it.
Jessamyn’s made her slides and tons of other citations and resources available and I’d definitely recommend checking them out, especially since she includes her notes for each slide.
I really enjoyed this conference. I liked being able to meet up with some fellow YA librarians and chat with them and I liked seeing coworkers at the conference and discussing what we’d learned. I’m also not sure if I’m getting better at choosing which sessions I go to or if Connecticut librarians just put on awesome conferences, but I wasn’t disappointed with anything I went to. And there was a chocolate bar! Yum. I left feeling invigorated and inspired and ready to tackle awesome new things. What a great experience.
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