From the Archives: My theory of conferences

I couldn't agree more with Bonnie Swoger's sentiment that academic librarians need to stop going to library conferences, although I perhaps might not go that far.

In any case, the last couple of weeks have been pretty fallow blogging weeks for me and I just can't seem to come up with any original commentary on the topic. Fortunately, I have an post from way back in June 2008 expressing many of the same sentiments, though probably neither as well nor as succinctly as Bonnie has.

I'll also not that the post was excerpted in The Library Leadership Network.

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I saw this on the Regenerations blog a few days ago:

I have just returned from beautiful Fredericton, where I was a delegate at the 2008 Conference of the Association of Canadian Archivists. This year's theme was "Stemming the Tide: Archives and the Digital World" and although the sessions did focus primarily on electronic records, digital archives initiatives and the implementation of electronic records management systems, there was a lot of information that could be applied to the library world. Many libraries and archives exist in assorted partnerships, such as Library and Archives Canada, and it is a given that these so-called sister professions have a lot to offer each other.

Of course, a line (usually financial) must be drawn somewhere, and it would be impossible for anyone to attend all the conferences that look appealing. What I am wondering is this. Do you ever attend conferences that are not strictly related to libraries? I can think of librarians who have attended leadership events, and IT conferences, but are there others that you would attend that have particular bearing on your jobs? Does plain ol' interest ever win out in your choice of conferences, rather than attending only those that you "should"?

And I thought it might be worthwhile to briefly explain my own theory of conference attendance.

First of all, there seem to be two overall frameworks for conference attendance out there: go to the same one every year or go to a different one every year. The first leads to integrating into a strong community and more solid networking. The later leads to broader networking and more diversity of ideas that you are exposed to.

I started my career more towards going to the same conference every year, mostly attending the Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference with one or two others interspersed due to travel issues. Lately, however, I've tended to want to go to a different "out of town" conference every year to expand my horizons.

So, over all:

  • Local Library Conference. It's really important to try and regularly attend the local, general conference. For me that's the Ontario Library Association Conference. That leads to building a good local network as well as getting exposure to ideas and innovations from across the library spectrum. I'm lucky that the OLA conference is very large and so affords lots of opportunities to both attend sessions and to present your own ideas. I've presented there several times in the past and will be presenting there in 2009 (on Science 2.0, natch).

  • Diversify your library conference experience. Like I said, I used to go to SLA all the time. Not so much anymore. As my work life has moved more towards supporting Engineering programs, the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) is becoming more relevant for me, that that's the conference I'll probably be attended more often than not in coming years. But it's not like I'll never attend another SLA. As well, I'm really interested in library computing issues so I'm sure I'll attend another Computers in Libraries one of these days. I've also really wanted to attend the ASIS&T conference for a more theoretical take on issues. Another conference I've been long interested in attending is the ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries. So, you can see that my interests are far-reaching and wide-ranging as well as very specific. Getting exposure to all these communities is a good thing.

  • Domain-specific conferences. I'm a science & engineering librarian. So, it's going to be very important to me to keep up with the scientists and engineers -- the state of their pedagogy, how they're communicating with each other, what the main trends are in their various fields, what they're thinking about the future of science. In that case, I also want to try and attend conferences where most of the attendees are scientists and engineers. For me to become part of their communities and to network with them is a huge opportunity, to both learn about them and, hopefully, to educate them a little about my world and what we can do for them.

    In the past little while, SciBarCamp and the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference are examples of conferences I've attended to get that perspective. It's certainly there at the ASEE conference as well, what with over 3000 engineering educators present. Coming up, I'll be attending the Perimeter Institute's Science in the 21st Century conference as well as the successor conference to the NCSBC, Science Online. FSOSS is coming up too. Like I said, these conferences are incredibly important for me. They're both fun and very instructive. After all, we support the education and training of scientists and engineers so their concerns are our concerns, their future is our future.

    Most academic librarians likely find themselves belonging to multiple communities, like I find myself belonging to the library and scitech communities, and it's important to be part of and knowledgeable about those communities. I know several who are attending the ELPUB conference this week which is another great opportunity to stretch out beyond the library world.

Of course, one size doesn't fit all and your mileage may vary. Funding and time are limited, so I take advantage of local conferences of all types as much as I can.

What's your theory of conferences?

Friday Fun: Frantic Steve Jobs Stays Up All Night Designing Apple Tablet

So far, I'm pretty iPad-agnostic -- mostly curious to see if it can burst out of it's obvious niche applications and become a mass device like the iPod or iPhone.

However, The Onion's article just before the big announcement day really struck a funny bone:

Claiming that he completely forgot about the much-hyped electronic device until the last minute, a frantic Steve Jobs reportedly stayed up all night Tuesday in a desperate effort to design Apple's new tablet computer. "Come on, Steve, just think--think, dammit--you're running out of time," the exhausted CEO said as he glued nine separate iPhones to the back of a plastic cafeteria tray.

Best Science Books 2009: Amazon.ca

Oddly and interestingly, Amazon.ca has a different list that the US parent.

  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope by William Kamkwamba
  • Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin
  • Wicked Plants: A Book of Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart
  • The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
  • Green Metropolis by David Owen
  • Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller by Jeff Rubin
  • Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis by Alanna Mitchell

This is one of the last lists I'll do for 2009 -- there are one or two more that will come later in the year but most of the lists that will be published have been. As such, I most likely have enough data such that in the coming days I'll be compiling all the books from all the lists and coming out with a master list of the lists. Should be interesting to see which books were popular enough to appear on multiple year's best lists.

Best Science Books 2009: January Magazine & National Book Critics Circle

I thought I'd combine a couple lists that only have a couple of relevant items.

January Magazine

  • The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York by Matthew Goodman
  • The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants by Wolfgang Stuppy
  • Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
  • Planet Ape by Desmond Morris with Steve Parker

National Book Critics Circle

  • Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes
  • Strength in What Remain by Tracy Kidder

BTW, I'm running out of lists so if you know of any "best book of the year" lists for 2009 that I haven't covered yet, please let me know.

Music Mondays: Five songs I love

It's been a while since I did one of these fairly general entries in the "Five songs I love" series:

  • Forget about Me by Mem Shannon. A great blues/soul/R&B singer, Mem Shannon is terribly underrated. I love his great story-telling ability, of which Forget about Me is a great example. Live: A Night at Tipitina's and I'm From Phunkville are both really terrific.
  • Suite Madame Blue by Styx. The obligatory cheese. Anyways, Styx was the first rock band that I really loved as a young teen, way back in the early-mid 1970's and Suite Madame Blue was the song that did it for me. I still have a soft spot for Styx and especially this song.
  • Toujours Vivant by Gerry Boulet. Boulet was the voice of the legendary Quebec blues rock band, Offenbach, and this is a great song from his all-too-brief solo career.
  • Who Do You Love by George Thorogood & The Destroyers. Not much to say about this one except that this is a great version of a great song.
  • The Real Me by The Who. I've always loved John Entwistle on bass and this song has always really showcased his abilities. I like the comment on the on the Youtube page: "that was probably the most insane explosion of spontaneously awesome rock the world has ever seen, or probably ever will." I'll second that. The John Entwistle Band also does a great version here.

Authorial control

Horror author Cherie Priest has a very nice post from a couple of days ago called Control. It's basically about what mass market fiction authors do and don't have control over in the book production process. Now, the mass market fiction publishing niche is hardly the main concern on this blog, but I also think it's interesting to see what she comes up with and compare it with the list of things academic authors both do and don't have control over.

On some points it's strangely the same but mostly starkly different.

It's also worth contemplating how this list would be affected by an evolution towards a radically decentralized ebook model of publishing which would largely disintermediate traditional publishers. Another interesting way to slice and dice Priests points is to consider more precisely how digital distribution and the Napsterization of the book industry could play out.

In any case, let's see what she has to say. It's definitely worth going to her blog and reading the whole post to see her explanations of the points:

Things Authors Mostly Control

  • The words.
  • How we present ourselves to the audience.

Things Authors May Influence in Some Measure

  • The book's title.
  • Who gets review copies of books.
  • Visibility: Part One. A savvy writer can -- if he or she has enough free time and/or disposable cash -- attend conferences and conventions, manage websites regarding his/her books, and network with other authors, readers, booksellers, librarians, and reviewers. It is also up to the writer whether or not to accept interview requests and the like.
  • Visibility: Part Two. BUT. The vast bulk of the writers I know do not have the free time or disposable cash to pick up and jaunt to every convention in every city, much less send themselves on tour. Obviously authors who have reached a certain level of profitability will be invited around (expenses paid), but more often than not these things are paid for out of the author's pocket.* And keep in mind that most of us have day jobs and/or families to juggle.

Things Over Which Authors Have Virtually No Say

  • The cover.
  • The book's cost.
  • Size and format.
  • Distribution.
  • Quality control.
  • Digital availability.
  • Schedule.
  • Foreign availability.
  • Foreign availability in other same-language countries.
  • Turning the book into a movie.

Is Cherie Priest's business model about to be disrupted?

In any case, she also talks a bit about sharing and lending books at the start of the post and I really like what she has to say about the relationship between (mostly public) libraries and mass market publishing.

Libraries are very good markets for books, and we writers love them to bits. You see, if enough people line up to borrow a book, the library will purchase more copies of that book in order to reduce the wait. Therefore, the more people who want to borrow books from the library, the better. Also, libraries tend to be very supportive of writers from a promotional standpoint. They invite us to read, host our events, and often let local booksellers come in to sell copies at these events. To sum up: Libraries are good for authors.

Friday Fun: Five things John Scalzi doesn't miss

Excellent post with a lot of great comments. Let's take a look at what Scalzi doesn't miss:

  • Stupidly expensive long-distance charges.
  • Crappy old cars.

    Which cars qualify as crappy old cars? In my opinion, pretty much all of them. Pre-catalytic converter cars were shoddily-constructed, lead-spewing deathtraps, the first generation of cars running on unleaded were even more shoddily-constructed 70s defeat-mobiles, the 80s were the golden age of Detroit Doesn't Give a Shit, and so on. You have to get to about 1997 before there's a car I would willingly get into these days. As opposed to today, when even the cheap boxy cars meant for first-time buyers have decent mileage, will protect you if you're hit by a semi, and have more gizmos and better living conditions than my first couple of apartments.

  • Physical media for music.
  • Smoking allowed everywhere.
  • Pull tabs on drink cans.

I can't say I agree completely with all his points, but they are all well thought-out and amusingly presented.

What do I not miss? Getting lost. I have a famously poor sense of direction and the ability to use GPS, the maps app on my iPhone and just plain old Google Maps for printing out customized maps with instructions, well, let's just say that they've all made my life much easier.

What don't you miss?

Best Science Books 2009: Reference and User Services Association

The Reference and User Services Association of the American Library Association has released it's list of 2009 Notable Books.

  • The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes

Best Science Books 2009: The Times

A pretty extensive list from The London Times, across multiple categories: science, stocking stuffers, biography, graphic novels and nature.

  • Mad Science: 100 Amazing Experiments From The History Of Science by Reto Schneider
  • How To Make A Tornado: The Strange And Wonderful Things That Happen When Scientists Break Free by The New Scientist
  • Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
  • Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides Are Wrong in the Race Debate by Kenan Malik
  • Your Inner Fish: The Amazing Discovery Of Our 375-Million-Year-Old Ancestor by Neil Shubin
  • The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins
  • Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer--and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets by Jo Marchant
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes
  • What's Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science edited by Max Brockman
  • A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster
  • Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna
  • The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle by Sara Wheeler
  • To Sea and Back: The Heroic Life of the Atlantic Salmon by Richard Shelton
  • The Running Sky: A Bird-Watching Life by Tim Dee
  • A Sleepwalk on the Severn by Alice Oswald

Friday Fun: If the Manhattan Project worked like college group projects

This one is pretty funny, from McSweeny's:

INT. UNIVERSITY FOOD COURT. SUNDAY AFTERNOON. JULY 15TH, 1945.

HANS BETHE, EDWARD TELLER, and ROBERT SERBER sit at a table. There are notebooks, laptops, and expensive coffees arranged on the table. All three wear hoodies, basketball shorts, and flip flops. Serber is texting on his Blackberry Storm. Teller checks his own cell phone for the time.

EDWARD TELLER: Where's Oppenheimer?

HANS BETHE: I've got Chapter at six.

TELLER: Serber.

ROBERT SERBER: (keeps texting) Yo?

TELLER: Did you hear anything from Oppenheimer?

SERBER: (keeps texting) Nah.

BETHE: He said five o'clock on Sunday. I can't believe he's not here.

That pretty well sums up the state of my library's group study rooms as well...

Also, Feynman would have been a natural for a scene like this...bongo drums and all.