Internet Librarian 2018 Conference Review

By Shawn Flecken

With the support of the Pinal County Library District and the help of a scholarship from the Library Development Division at the Arizona State Library & Archives, I was fortunate to attend the 22nd annual Internet Librarian Conference in Monterey, California, October 16-19, 2018. A key theme of the conference emerged in Tuesday’s opening keynote by Nina Simon, from OF/BY/FOR ALL (ofbyforall.org).  She asked, “Are our institutions really for a diverse public, or are we just hoping that diversity will somehow walk through our doors, love what we’ve done, and thank us for it?” Later presentations–such as “Designing the Web for the Future” by Peter Morville of Semantic Studios, and “Transforming Library Experiences with User-Centered Design,” by John Bentley of OpenAthens–applied the of-by-for model to the library’s web presence. Bentley made the importance of this explicit, saying we need to know who our users are, because they’re the reason we’re here. An application of the overall philosophy emerged in “Website Design Winners & Losers,” by Jeff Wisniewski of Chicago Public Library, David Lee King of Topeka & Shawnee Public Library, and Roy Tennant of OCLC. In Wisniewski’s words, the user experience goal for our websites should be to “figure out 5-10 things people want to do when they come to your site, then make those possible from the homepage.”

Having attended fourteen programs over the three-day conference, I cannot hope to address all the ideas presented at Internet Librarian 2018. As an Emerging Technologies Librarian, I particularly enjoyed David Lee King’s Wednesday program (“Tracking Emerging Tech Trends”).  I was also intrigued by Jason Griffey of Harvard University’s Metalab, whose Thursday program, “Measure the Future–Next-Gen Metrics for Libraries,” described a series of projects that used digital cameras to measure which library spaces and displays drew the most attention from library patrons (see measurethefuture.net). But throughout the conference, a key theme kept emerging: that libraries must be more than nice amenities in our communities; we must be institutions that matter to our communities.

In Thursday’s keynote, “Accelerating Your Market Impact,” Susan Schramm of GotoMarket Impact, noted that while many libraries are helping to “upskill” our communities–72% of libraries surveyed had held STEM programs, 63% had makerspaces, and 54% did workforce development programs–we must remember the difference between what the library offers and what value we bring. Providing what our communities value is how we make an impact. This idea was further developed by Rebecca Jones, of Dysart and Jones, in a presentation titled “What Our Library STOPPED Doing.” Jones compared library services to a financial portfolio, saying that just as financial companies must invest in the stocks that perform well and divest those which perform poorly, so we must make sure we’re supporting the stars and discontinuing the dogs in our library’s portfolio of services. I thought this rather harsh insight concluded the conference perfectly. As libraries continue to become more “of, by, and for” their users, it will inevitably require us to let go of some previously cherished ways of doing things. But as Jones pointed out, when we discontinue one program or service, it frees resources that we can invest into another more valuable service.

I return from Internet Librarian 2018 ready to play a role as my library district pushes forward with technical upgrades, web redesign ideas, and filling the shoes of a retiring colleague. I would highly recommend next year’s conference to any library staff interested in web-based librarianship. I am grateful to Arizona State Library and Archives and Pinal County Library District for making my attendance at this year’s conference possible.

 

Shawn Flecken

Emerging Technology Librarian, Pinal County Library District

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