Finding the Beast

(a belated string of thoughts from the ALA Web Planning Retreat)

I am on my way to Midwinter in Seattle and this is the first chance I have had to sit down and collect my thoughts about the ALA Web Planning Retreat in December. I know some of you are thinking I need to get a life, but really it was life that got in the way (Christmas and all that) and interfered with the completion of this post.

I was the youngest ALA member in the room and there was only one other “member at large in the meeting” besides myself. It was interesting and a bit overwhelming at first to be in the room with all of the people making the decisions for my national organization. The awe did not last forever as by the end of the day I was throwing paper airplanes across the conference table. Every meeting should be fun, you know. Besides, why else could they have possibly asked me to this conference of minds if not to add a touch of whimsy here and there.

With so many disparate minds, there were a lot of varying priorities in terms of content, but everyone wanted a better website. Absolutely no argument there. Audience came up repeatedly. In previous versions, including the current one, audience was passed by in a way that created websites that strived to serve everyone and thus served no one well. Libraries often have this problem. We strive to be everyone’s savior and fail when we are spread too thin.

It is imperative that ALA define its audience before building another website. I think this was a general feeling in the room. It only makes sense to build something with a person or people in mind. Many websites have task-based navigation and I am hopeful that ALA will eventually go this route.

Much of the day was brainstorming. For instance, if you had the website you wanted, what would people say about it? The top five answers, after a vote were:

  • Morhpable/customizable
  • Participatory/Collaborative
  • Intuitive
  • Integrated
  • Commercially Competitive

Besides my joy at getting to see Chicago in December and have some cold air against my skin, I am filled with renewed hope for my organization. I am an optimist by nature and I have never read doom in ALA’s tea leaves, but I sometimes wonder at the beast that is ALA. I am beginning to think that a convergence of actions, experiences, and the influence of forward thinking souls is steering the beast into becoming a prince.

The wiki from this meeting can be found here. You should feel free to go, read, and add as you see fit. ALA belongs to us all.

–Jane, “if you’ve never been frog kissin’ then you don’t know what you’ve been missin’.”