Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CLA Conference 2011: A Reflection

In the whirlwind of change that defines the library profession, it seemed more than appropriate to attend the CLA Annual Conference at a time when they are making tremendous revisions to their bottom line.  Wearing many hats including that of  a department head for an LIT program, librarian, former technician, and instructor, I ventured to Halifax this spring for an eye-opening experience.

MacDonald Bridge view from the Citadel in Halifax.
Having a library conference against the backdrop of a lovely city, filled with incredible (and often tragic) history and old-world pubs certainly has its allure.  The conference itself was held in a very efficiently designed trade and convention centre in the heart of town.  I could appreciate the no-frills style of the conference in light of the tremendous financial pressures the Association has been wrestling with.  Yet, lunch was provided in the trade show and there was definitely a buzz there as people from across the country enjoyed casual chit-chat and trolled the trade show booths.

CLA made some notable changes to its structure by reducing the executive and eliminating divisions and interest groups to make way for "networks".  These networks are intended to be grass-roots focused where 10 or more members sign a petition for creation, appoint a moderator and develop a terms of reference.  Funding will be based on an as-needed basis for projects and these networks can encompass any area of interest.  Although it will be some time before the results of such changes are measurable, it is an attempt to restructure the organization so that it is more inclusive.  I do wonder, however, if it is enough to garner wider support and participation when CLA has ignored the interests of library support staff and the wide range of library workers for so long.  I do not want to dismiss the significance of the population weight in Central Canada and national issues that require the Association's attention but there is a sentiment that the Association has not spent enough energy tending to the needs of its members or would-be members.  This attitude appears to be shifting as necessity forces the CLA to look at it sliding membership  and revenue issues.

Inside Alexander Keith's Brewery selling the infamous India Pale Ale
The increasingly sophisticated library landscape suggests that national representation and improved communication between provinces, provincial associations, library workers of all types and educational programs is imperative.  At the "town hall" meeting to discuss CLA's changes, one participant noted that the lack of academic discourse through a scholarly journal is problematic.  He voiced his frustration that all CLA has to offer members, by way of publications, is the "gossipy" news and events piece,  Feliciter.  He suggested that resurrecting a more scholarly publication, may give CLA a more credible and weighty standing in the greater library community and foster empirical research from budding library folks.  I could not help but also mention the need for a greater willingness to listen to the needs of non-librarians and, while the new CLA mission statement is more inclusive, there is much work that still needs to be done.

With apprehension, I attended the latest session discussing RDA (Resource Description and Access) and its next steps towards global implementation.  We were also carefully walked through the general practice of cataloguing using all of the RDA chapters.  Three things became abundantly clear to me at that time.  One, there are some interesting and rather worthy changes made to the way one looks at cataloguing.  Two, the task of cataloguing, despite RDA efforts to simplify, will be grossly more complex. Three, no one could tell me WHO was going to EDUCATE the educators (beyond a half day workshop) the intricacies of the new tool or WHO was going to PAY for curriculum re-design and staff training required.  When Chris Oliver, presenter and ardent RDA supporter, responded to my concerns with an admission that it was somewhat of a "miracle" RDA had made it this far, I took it as an omen.  One cannot develop new catalogue practice that drastically transforms the way work is performed on a "miracle".  The complete lack of consultation with those who must actually perform most cataloguing duties will greatly inhibit the success of this endeavor. I walked away from the session intrigued by some of RDA's qualities but also frustrated at not really having any better sense of precisely how one is going to catalogue - the nitty gritty.   As someone who teaches library staff to CATALOGUE, I continue to wonder who is going to teach me?

Another interesting session was that of a plan to take the Library Association of Alberta's Certification of Library Staff to the national level.  Having begun preliminary work with the American Library Association and their certification program for library support staff, I was keen to know if this was  a better solution.  The fact that the coordinators of this program were unaware of the ALA initiative, an ill-defined costing of the program and the lack of auditory control for certification, suggests that there is much work to be done if such a program were to have teeth in Canada.  Again, I wondered why library educators were not included in the discussions around such a program.  Their experience and perspectives could provide valuable insights into such initiatives as we are acutely familiar with the process of program review, outcomes assessment, curricular development and so on.  I am hopeful that questions from participants inspired the developers to investigate some of these issues.

Amidst these sessions, I did have the wonderful opportunity to meet with other LIT program instructors and heads, connect with some of my colleagues from all corners and examine some great poster session presentations.  One noteworthy one was focused on professional ethics.  Since I have been trying to infuse ethic discussions in most courses, I am eager to see what headway is made in this area.   In the end, there was a great deal more for me to follow up on when I returned.

I completed my session activities with a disheartening and mind boggling update on Access Copyright and copyright legislation revisions.  The session was incredibly helpful in re-igniting my concerns for our information freedoms in the not-so-distant-future.  I encourage everyone to keep one eye trained on Access Copyright and the Copyright Board because these two forces have undeniable power and influence with very few reasons to look out for the interests of libraries.  For Access Copyright, the increasing use of databases and other digital media means that libraries are somehow skirting paying for reproduction rights.  Indeed, HYPERLINKING to digital media appears to be a problem for Access Copyright.  The fact that many libraries now provide digital access to licensed databases appears to be a poorly understood practice by Access Copyright and they are seeking blood - well, really, money.  We were cautioned that public libraries may be AC's next target.  I felt chills....

The 2011 CLA Conference provided me with new and interesting insights that frequently surprised me.  While I will continue to observe the effects of the recent constitutional and leadership changes to the organization, I fear that we, collectively, continue to think that simply having good ideas negates the need to perform the often laborious, time-consuming, but incredibly necessary, work of substantiating our projects with evidence-based research and consultation.  On the other hand, library professionals accomplish a great deal with diminishing resources.  Returning to a peer reviewed and professionally minded journal might be the perfect forum for inspiring us to expect more of one another.