Have you ever had the opportunity to attend one of the national ALA or PLA conferences but never a state show? Tight budgets make it difficult, if not impossible, to attend a national conference, let alone a state show in the same year. This fall, my colleague Mary Clark and I attended a total of five different state library conferences. It’s simply a requirement of my job as Product Manager of our VERSO ILS product here at Auto-Graphics, Inc.
Have you ever wondered what goes on at a State library trade show? Auto-Graphics sends sales people and product managers to state conferences for several reasons: First, to meet with existing customers, talk about new features, and to try and address issues that may have arisen. Second, we attend in order to meet potential new customers and demonstrate how Verso 4 compares with our competitors in the library systems world. We also go to these conferences in order to listen and observe – – what are librarians talking about? What’s the current buzz? In short, state shows help Auto-Graphics stay up on library industry trends.
What did I see during my travels?
Michigan (http://www.milibraries.org/events/mla-2014-annual-conference/) held its annual conference in Grand Rapids, MI in mid-October.
Sessions and presentations covered a wide variety of subjects, as is normal for an annual state conference. I’ll group them into some broad areas:
• Digital preservation and digital collections: Presentations dealing with “getting started in digitization” and “how we created our digital platform”. In Michigan, (and other states – see other notes in this post), even the smallest of libraries are starting to take steps to digitize local documents, photographs, and other unique objects.
• Outreach, social media, and publicity: A number of sessions dealt with “How to win a tax millage campaign” and “Sustainability of the library – making friends with the business community”. Several speakers talked about how to leverage social media to benefit the library, how to tell the ‘library’s story’ to the public, and how to have a positive relationship with the library’s Friends group.
• Library operations: Professional development is frequently a topic at library conferences, and the Michigan meeting was no different. Several panels talked about Library leadership, decision making, problem solving, managing technical services, and similar topics. One interesting session addressed how to achieve the “paperless library”.
• Serving specific populations: These focused sessions – aimed at improving library services for defined groups of library users – are always of interest. Each of these populations was discussed:
o Autistic library users (children)
o Adolescent and teenage boys
o Youth and Youth services (in general)
o Adult literacy
o Teens and ‘tweens (specific)
A few observations about the exhibits and exhibitors at the Michigan conference:
• Although the major book vendors (Baker and Taylor, Ingram, OverDrive, etc.) had booths in the exhibit hall, the only mention of library collections (in the programs) was tangential. Libraries still buy a lot of books, to be sure. But conference program topics suggest that librarians aren’t talking about collection development and assessment very much.
• Materials handling is a perennial exhibit topic. Several vendors displayed their RFID (and related) equipment. One vendor, Tech Logic, demonstrated its conveyor belt sorting technology. Although this sort of equipment is not cheap, materials handling vendors try and make the case that these investments make long term economic sense.
Conclusions: Libraries appear to have more money in 2014-2015 to make capital expenditures (RFID, conveyer belts, and investments in equipment for digitization) than they have had for the last five years. Libraries are eager to modernize and expand their services and are looking into new projects and services.
California: The California Library Association conference was held in Oakland, CA, in early November. There were many more exhibitors in California as the state’s size, compared to Michigan, would suggest. CLA’s theme was “Be the Change”, and most of the sessions followed the theme.
I found the CLA programs to have a broader spectrum, covering a wider set of library interests than in Michigan. Again, I’ve grouped the dozens of sessions presented into a few major categories.
• “Traditional” library concerns: Many sessions at CLA addressed “traditional” library concerns. Among these sessions were presentations on:
o Library architecture – when and what to build
o Cataloging and RDA
o Statistics collection and budgets – making the case for funding
o Collection weeding
o E-books in the library catalog – how and what to do
• Populations – programs and services: California’s diverse population groups create an abundance of targets for libraries to provide focused library services. CLA speakers honed in on the following groups in individual presentations:
o Summer reading planning and participation (mostly children)
o Young Adults (literacy and collections)
o Story time (toddlers)
o Arts and Crafts (mostly children)
o Developmentally Disabled programming
o LGBTQ and their needs
o ESL and new English speakers
o Prisoners and Prison libraries
• Skills for Library Managers – Several programs were aimed at improving library employee skills. Among other sessions:
o New MLS graduates, and how best to use them in a library
o Challenges in employee scheduling – can you make everyone happy?
o How to manage your library well
• Library outreach: Similar to Michigan, California libraries need to constantly reach out to their communities, funders, and politicians in order to retain funding and build community and business support. Several sessions at CLA addressed those needs:
o Leveraging social media to support the library’s mission
o Branding the library effectively
o Using webcasts and podcasts to keep users involved with the library
o Advocacy in the community
o Outreach to citizens and politicians
Some observations about the exhibits and exhibitors at the California conference:
o More materials vendors than in Michigan: Significantly more exhibitors were selling actual library materials. In addition to the major book vendors, there were companies focused on selling children’s books, comics and graphic novels, titles in foreign languages, and reference book.
o The major public library ILS vendors all had booths, including one Open Source vendor.
o Library schools want students – at least three of them (University of North Texas, UCLA, and San Jose State University) had booths and brochures.
o Digital Preservation equipment was on display in several booths, including one company – Click – Scan – Share – that was offering “starter kits” for libraries to use to begin digitizing their photographs and. http://www.clickscanshare.com/
o More and different types of new technologies: For example, library-system based SMS notifications for library programs, 3D-printing, group e-book purchasing cooperatives, thin-client public access computer stations, and similar technology solutions.
Having spent several days at each of these conferences, there are several final observations I’d like to make.
• From a vendor’s perspective the floor activity was minimal. Each show drew a decent number of attendees, but library travel budgets aren’t what they were 10-12 years ago. Libraries are sending fewer staff, if they send anyone at all. Sessions appeared to be well attended, but not packed. Exhibits were occasionally busy, but not consistently so.
• Libraries are very focused on what they’re looking for. This goes for automation systems, collections, services, furniture – just about everything. Libraries are trying to pay less and retain all the services they have at the same time. This is a tricky balance, both for the library and for their vendors. Libraries that are buying are doing their homework.
• Finally, I noticed a disconnect between what’s being talked about (in programs and presentations) and what’s being exhibited by vendors.
As a librarian, that makes me stop and think – are my library’s needs ahead, or behind, what the library industry is selling to me? As the ILS Product Manager of VERSO, it challenges me – are the systems that Auto-Graphics is developing truly addressing the needs of the library?
There is a lot that can be learned by attending a State Library conference. Libraries are always experimenting with new approaches and services. The challenge: seeing which ideas will work well in your library.
Written by Ted Koppel, Product Manager at Auto-Graphics, Inc.