Midwinter Round-up, the not so good bits

The not so good bits being two things I did not see but heard a lot about about one thing for which I was present and accounted for.

Most of my complaints about ALA Midwinter are about things having to do with the division in which I spend most of my time: LITA. As we say down South, Bless your heart. Bless your heart, LITA, I know you try, but let us consider the ways in which the brain was left behind in the planning of some of the aspects of ALA Midwinter 2008 and how your members have lost touch with reality and the word leadership.

In the past, LITA sponsored a Blogger’s room, which has become more popular as more people found out about it’s existence. At Annual 07, there were always people hanging out in the room, chatting, blogging, and surfing the internet whenever I chanced by. The room had multiple tables, chairs, wifi, and many power strips. BIGWIG usually has its meetings in this room because it is available, convenient, and has all the equipment we needed (wifi and power strips). At Midwinter 07, the room was bumped back to only be a couple tables in the back of the ALA office, but it still included power strips and wifi. Members of LITA have been thinking of ways we could use this service of a plug and wifi as a way to market LITA as a technology provider guru to ALA at large. I think this is a wonderful idea and an even better service.

(As a disclaimer, I did not see said table, but I did hear about it from multiple people. I wanted a picture, but ran out of time on Monday. If anyone snapped a picture, please share it in the comments.) This year the idea of the room or properly equipped tables seems to have gone awry somehow. This year, we again had a Blogger’s Table at Midwinter in the ALA office. But it was one table with two chairs, no power strips, and no wifi. Welcome bloggers, you would be better off sitting on the floor by a plug in the hallway instead of using this service we have not put much thought into providing. I am not sure who thought this would be a good idea, but clearly it is not useful and a waste of space besides.

The Blogger’s Area should be something, by now, that LITA leadership and admin have realized is a “good thing” for their image, but BIGWIG has to ask and advocate for it before every conference. It should be something that LITA wants to provide, not something they must be cajoled and prodded into doing.

At Annual, LITA, I will not be there to enjoy it, but please provide a real room, with numerous tables, chairs, power strips, and wifi . We know it costs money, but think of it as much needed advertising to all the techies hiding in other ALA groups that see you not as a technology leader or innovator, but as an innovator and leader that has forgotten what it means to do so.

I again must write a disclaimer as I was not present at the following meeting, but I did hear about it after the fact from multiple people. At Midwinter, the Top Tech Trends Panel holds an open discussion meeting in which they throw out ideas about new trends and the audience is able to comment on the panel’s assumptions. Other then the President’s Program, the TTT Panel at both Midwinter and Annual are the most popular LITA events. The thing that makes the Midwinter program stand out is that, instead of the panel talking to the audience, as they do at Annual, the panel talks with the audience about tech trends in libraries.

You would expect that such a largely attended and well received program would not have the problems getting the right room and equipment they need from LITA to hold their events. Indeed, they should not have the kind of problems a little IG would have, say getting a blogging area, but the TTT Committee had similar connectivity and set-up issues. It is possible that these issues were a problem with the conference staff and not LITA. If I am wrong in my assumption, I want to be corrected. Someone, please correct me!

Instead of a large room, set up for a lively discussion and debate, the room TTT was given was small and set up for a traditional committee meeting with a table in the center and chairs around the table. The chair of the committee, Maurice York, had to run around, fetching as many extra chairs as he could cram into the room. During the discussion, the room overflowed into the hall. LITA – we do not have room for you.

The connectivity in the room was not wonderful. One of the committee members, trying to participate virtually on Skype, had issues connecting to the group because of the wifi. Wifi can be problematic, so I am hesitant to really lay that on LITA’s door. I applaud the committee for trying Skype. Who says ALA does not have virtual participation?

Lastly, the LITA Town Meeting ended in a debate over which we should be: Innovative Leaders of Technology (in which we often blaze the trail as the first) or Leaders in Technology (in which we do not care about innovation but instead create best practices and know the best tools in hopes that others will seek out our expertise). The conversation made me want to cry, scream, and rip my hair out. It is the conversation I hear repeated in MPOW and in libraries all over the nation. It is the reason a lot of libraries talk about doing something but never actually get around to doing anything at all and thus never lead anyone anywhere.

Why try to be first, when you can be last? I have a news flash for the people in LITA who think we should give up trying to be first and be the ones who make great policies and practices. All those groups who blazed the trail we are sauntering down, already created all the policies and best practices they need because shortly after being first, they realized they needed some guidelines. When you wait for others to do all the dirty work and then step in later to save the day, you only look like an attention grabber and no one believes you have anything to contribute that is worthwhile. If you did have something meaningful to say, you would have said it at the beginning, when the innovative group was hacking through the jungle, not later when the road is built.

I am not bringing this up to say that age is the factor, but someone asked all of us under 30 to raise out hands and there were less than 5 of us in a room easily holding about 60 or 70 people. I know LITA used to be the leader back when they had the Internet room for people to use and you were all young. I know because you tell us about it all the time. I am proud you blazed that trail and it is part of our history. You know what though, you are the only ones who remember that and that remembrance is not enough for the rest of ALA to keep believing you are a leader of anything. One good idea will not ensure your status as an innovator. It just means you had one good idea.

People no longer see LITA as a leader in technology because we are not. Not in innovation, policies, or best practices. If we really want to reclaim our position as a leader in technology we have to actually lead the way to be taken seriously. I want LITA to be great. I want us to blaze a technology trail others can walk down. I want us to partner with other divisions who are also using technology in innovative ways so we can be leaders again. We do not always have to be the first ones down the trail, but we should try to be in the lead group, leading.

–Jane, not ready to sit back and let others have all the innovative fun