Conference Report – ALA 2014 in Las Vegas

palmThe theme of the 2014 conference was “Transforming our Libraries, Ourselves” and there seemed to be an upbeat feel to this year’s event.  The venue likely had something to do with the energy and, of course, one of the advantages to attending a conference in Las Vegas is the opportunity to see some great shows.  We saw Cirque du Soleil’s “O”, which was unbelievable, and then I convinced my husband to see the still-amazing Bobby Vinton perform.  I adore Bobby Vinton so it was a special treat, even though we were the youngest people in the audience by at least 30 years.

The opening speaker was game designer Jane McGonigal and she truly changed my opinion of gaming and how it improves learning. She showed the trailer for a game she developed for the New York Public Library’s centennial that drew 500 gamers into the Library to explore artifacts and books. Her goal in designing games is “to turn players into superempowered, hopeful individuals with real skills and ideas to help them change the world”. She was very inspiring, despite my complete lack of knowledge in gaming.

The exhibits are always spectacular and this year Gale even had an aerialist performing at their booth. I think sometimes that I’m a public librarian at heart since one of my favourite parts of ALA is having the opportunity to browse through the publisher booths and see all the new books that are coming out in fall 2014.  I even discovered Ragtales, a beautiful company from the UK that specializes in cloth books for children.


1. ACRL-LES meetings

The Literatures in English section has been an invaluable support in my liaison work, with an active and helpful network of librarians with whom to share ideas and questions. Each year at the conference, meetings of the Collections and Reference committees of LES are the best place to find out what other librarians are doing in the Humanities and how we are dealing with issues of weeding, collections, and instruction. Notes:

MLAIB Update

  • New from Gale is access to Artemis, a platform that draws together GVRL ebooks, Literature Resources Centre, and other resources.
  • One exciting development from EBSCO is the inclusion of two new source types in the advanced MLAIB option: translations and editions. We also learned that EDS will soon allow you to link into a standalone database and launch a new search.
  • A new article from Journal of Library Administration analyses performance of the MLAIB across vendor platforms and discovery services, but with no clear conclusions about which platform performs best. It continues to be a complicated but highly useful database to search.

Collections/Reference Meetings

  • A common theme was frustration with statistics (esp. from discovery services) for collection assessment.
  • should we be marketing print collections?  ideas included creating a display of “100 Books that have never been checked out” and sending a weekly list of new titles to faculty.
  • sharing circulation statistics with faculty?  many are unaware how low the usage of monographs is in their areas. LES is still working on weeding guidelines for academic literature collections.

2. From Stumbling Blocks to Building Blocks: Using Threshold Concepts to Teach Information Literacy

This was a popular program and the room was filled to capacity. Several of the speakers maintain this website where you can see a bit more of their presentations and publications. Everything the speakers presented seemed to make sense but, as I think we all feel, there were really no clear explanations (at least that I could take away) for how to actually teach and assess threshold concepts.


  • Threshold concepts work best in a program, but they can have an impact in a one-shot session
  • Learners move through the “liminal space” and “threshold” at different paces
  • There are benefits to learners and instructors: engaging (e.g. you can bring in timely topics), transferable (the concepts carry over into life and other disciplines), gaining disciplinary expertise.
  • How do we assess? Design assignments where they can show their expertise. *this was vague –here is one example assignment from their site:
  • One interesting idea from the session was when one of the speakers discussed how to pitch information literacy to learners by making it explicit that this is how librarians see information – “try it on for size”.

3. Are you gambling with your academic career by having a baby or two? 

I came away from this session (which focused mainly on American librarians) feeling incredibly grateful for the generous leaves we have in Canada. Brock has a much more welcoming atmosphere for parents than many of the schools where the other participants were from.

The presenters each have twins and have been researching the conditions for academic librarians involved in telework. For this session, they also pulled together the research on career and parenting for academic librarians.

  • There are a few recent books that cover this very topic: Do Babies Matter?, Lean In, and Maxed Out among others. Ultimate takeaway? Work/life balance is difficult to achieve and gender inequality exists in the tenure process.
  • There is little research on academic librarians, who face unique challenges such as a more 9-5 schedule than professors.
  • Among the research that is out there, academic librarians felt anxiety that having children would affect tenure.
  • Implications: Yes, it is a gamble; we compare ourselves too much to our childless colleagues and we need to switch this to look at what we can bring to librarianship as parents.
  • Speakers noted that the federal government was taking steps in this direction, mentioning a quote from Council of Economic Advisors member, Betsey Stevenson: “What I would really like to convey to businesses and to the world, and what I think the White House has internalized, is that if you only choose to have the people who can be there 24-7, you’re going to miss a perspective…You can’t staff the White House with only people have no kids, or who have grown kids, because you will miss a perspective, the range of voices you need to formulate policy that works for all people.”
  • Ideas for change include building support networks in the Library, allowing staff members to bring children to events, recognizing diversity of talent.



I finally read a book!

What I mean, of course, is that I finally found the time to read a novel.  The whole thing.  Not an easy thing to do with a toddler underfoot.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. 

I had requested it from the public library when it was first released but (and this always happens) it lingered in my library bag before being carted back to the library.  Then I happened to see a preview for the new film, starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, which drove me to give it another shot.  The trailer was just eerie enough to capture my interest!

It’s typically a good sign to still be thinking about a book a few weeks after one has finished reading it.  The opening image, in particular, of Nick envisioning Amy’s brain as centipedes is one that I can’t seem to shake out of my head: “Her brain, all those coils, and her thoughts shuttling through those coils like fast, frantic centipedes.”  It’s an appropriately unsettling beginning to a novel about two characters that are compelling, despite their horrifically narcissistic and cruel behaviours and thoughts. 

As other reviewers have noted, the book made me think of my own marriage and how well we really ever know someone.  It also made me think of all the times I have been swept up in a Dateline episode and what drives that snap judgment I typically have about a case….is it the way the show pieces together the victim and the accused?  Or is it something more instinctual? 

I have always liked Rosamund Pike since seeing her in an adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate.  She certainly seems capable of portraying Amy’s indifference and distance.  I will be waiting anxiously for October when the movie is due to be released!

Dealing with Change

“We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever…”

This line from J.L. Carr’s slim and moving novel, A Month in the Country, has always stayed with me.  He captures the bittersweet feeling of looking back at the past and knowing it’s beyond our reach.  Change has never been an easy thing for me: I can’t even bear to watch the latest season of Downton Abbey because I’m still mourning the changes that took place in Season 3 (Matthew…sniff).  In my own life, the past few years have held many changes; some have been marvelous my daughter) and others have left me unsettled and looking wistfully to the past.  Returning to work after maternity leave was difficult.  Of course there were the mixed emotions, but what I found most frustrating was the reality that things had changed and my role had changed – a year is a long time.  

And now, there are many more changes on the horizon here at work. I am trying to find some kind of Zen-like tranquility that will help me through this uncertainty. I am also beginning to accept that I have a tendency to look to the past through rose-coloured glasses, and that is one reason why change can be so difficult to accept. It’s easy to look back and wish that things could stay the same forever, but our minds have a way of editing out the less-appealing aspects of our memories.  Numerous changes in academic libraries have improved the research experience and I don’t think anyone would willingly go back to the days of the MLA Bibliography on CD-ROM, for example.  Even changes that I resisted at first, such as our Discovery Layer, have opened up new avenues for students and faculty members in my liaison areas.  So while there are definite moments of missing the way things were, I can’t deny that these changes have made things better.  Looking back to a rosy past, real or imagined, can also mean missing out on the present and Carr also has some lovely lines that sum this up:

“If I’d stayed there, would I always have been happy? No, I suppose not. People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvelous thing around each corner fades.  It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies.”

Change is never easy or comfortable, but I do hope that what comes in the near future will continue to improve the way we do things and reinforce the Library as an essential part of the University.  

Next step: revisiting Downton Abbey.  If the Crawleys can move forward, surely a viewer can too.

Who’s Reading my Book? Upcoming Faculty/Graduate Student Workshop

Next week, my colleague, Jennifer Thiessen, and I will be presenting a session on assessing the impact of book publications as part of our Library’s Faculty & Graduate Student workshop series.  While past workshops have included sessions on journal citations and the emerging field of altmetrics, this will be the first time we have offered one exploring the research impact of a monograph publication.

Why a workshop on books?  The idea emerged from a conversation with a faculty member who was concerned about collecting all available reviews for her most recent book.  As in most research endeavours, the tendency for faculty and students (and, pretty much, all of us) is to gravitate towards the databases that we are most comfortable with, forgetting that there are specialized tools that can do the job more efficiently and comprehensively.  In this case, Book Review Index Online and CBCA Complete picked up on some additional reviews that were not appearing in the tools she was using (CBCA being particularly important for Canadian reviews).  After a further conversation with the faculty member, I felt it could be useful to put together a guide for faculty to use when gathering book reviews for annual reports, etc.

After reading some interesting blog posts about using Google Books for acknowledgements (see Jacque Hettel’s helpful instructions at; and Aaron Tay’s further experiments at, we felt it could also be valuable to show faculty and graduate students how to mine some full-text databases such as JSTOR to find articles that are using their books in citation, and tools like Google Books to find other evidence for how their book is being used.  There are many other exciting ways to explore the impact of a book (Twitter, blog reviews…) but we chose to stick with library databases and Google.

We are looking forward to offering the session, particularly as it’s the first time we have been able to offer something geared more towards those disciplines that are “book-centric”.  The difficulties of applying the metrics of Web of Science to the more humanistic disciplines is well-established.  Exploring the various ways that a book is received and used by readers and researchers is one  way for an author to measure the impact of his or her work, and we hope to point to some of the best tools and techniques to use.

The New Literature Online

Our Library just switched over to the new Literature Online (LION) interface and, with no exaggeration, it was one of the most exciting moments for this English librarian. Over the past few years I have struggled to find a good tool to direct English students to, relying on a hybrid of “best resources” that included our library catalogue, the MLA International Bibliography, and LION. I tend to be a bit old school in feeling that English students should know the intricacies of the library catalogue and MLA and not gravitate exclusively to databases or the discovery layer (which we launched last year). MLA results always seem a bit buried in discovery, and Literature Online had always seemed a bit clunky and confusing (I was never certain exactly what content was available and what were the best searching methods).

The new site is an amazing improvement and does an excellent job of laying out exactly what content is available to be searched and offering an easy way for students to locate subject terms. I’m excited to show this tool to students and faculty in the winter term because it aligns so closely with the skills that I think English students should develop:

  • identifying critical articles AND books/book chapters (many students dive right into articles, without considering the merits of beginning with books)
  • being aware of both the MLAIB & ABELL for research
  • the benefits of using high quality reference sources, esp. the Cambridge Companions, as starting points

I’m hoping to do some research comparing searches in LION with other databases, ideally when working with  classes during the winter term.  At the very least, Literature Online has done a fantastic job of integrating a number of excellent sources with an aesthetically appealing design.  I love opening up a literature database and seeing images of authors front and centre!

new interface for Literature Online

new interface for Literature Online