June 23, 2001: Part 2

I've been attending the American Library Association's twice yearly conferences since the summer of 1985, a little before graduating from library school at Emory. During my first nine years I think I missed only one conference, the 1989 annual conference in Dallas which occurred just a few days after my daughter Emily was born.

Over the past several years my attendance has been somewhat more erratic. I attended the annual conference in San Francisco in 1997 but I skipped the 1998 conferences. I attended the midwinter conference in Philadelphia in January 1999 but I spent only 24 hours at the annual conference in New Orleans that year. So when I went to ALA Annual this year in San Francisco it was the first time I'd fully attended an annual conference in about four years.

Which is too bad because it immediately reminded me of how much I enjoy attending ALA and how much I get out of it.

In addition to catching up with friends and seeing new things I did what I usually do best, i.e., making connections.

Saturday I attended three different programs / discussion groups that all -- in some form or fashion -- had to do with managing electronic materials and/or serials in general. The very first program, "For Whom the Bill Tolls," featured Nancy Markle Stanley from Penn State. In my experience, Nancy can always be counted on to report on new and different approaches to the work facing collection managers, acquisitions librarians and serialists. This time she talked about ERLIC, Penn State's homegrown web-based tool for tracking electronic resources. From what I can tell it pretty much has everything I would want in such a system -- and it's something all of us desperately need.

"Do we have any systems vendors here?" I asked during the Q&A session. There were none, of course, and as I pointed out then, that's too bad. They're the ones who need to be looking at tools like the one Nancy and her crew have created and then incorporating it into the integrated systems they're offering libraries.

The next session was the Electronic Materials Discussion Group. The featured speakers discussed Serials Solutions and jake, two different products (one proprietary, the other shareware) that do basically the same thing, i.e., identify all the ways in which electronic versions of a periodical title are made available. I'm not sure that Serials Solutions has quite glommed onto the fact that we're ALL doing webpages with links to our electronic titles, which seems to be their chief selling point. I think they'd probably have more luck marketing themselves as an uber-collection management tool but that hasn't quite penetrated their consciousness, as far as I can tell. Jake pretty much does the same thing without putting it all together for you in a nice list.

The third session, on what a serials system should include, dovetailed neatly with the first two, giving three different perspectives -- that of the library looking for a new serials system, that of a library currently in process of implementing a new system, and what an ideal system might include. As with the first two I took the Q&A session as an opportunity to encourage folks to nag their systems vendors. They've done a lot of work on the front end (developing tools that allow patrons to pull together disparate sources of information, whether that's print, electronic, audio, video, etc.) but next to nothing in terms of providing us with tools to manage these resources.

The next day I spent several hours in the ALA exhibits, a massive gathering of systems vendors, library materials vendors, publishers, suppliers of photocopiers, library furniture, etc. I told everyone I talked to that they needed to take a look at ERLIC and begin beating the drum for systems that will allow us to manage this critical resource. and I especially made it a point to talk to our new systems vendor rep, who promised to pass it along to their development team.

Maybe it doesn't amount to a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but I've found that there's some utility in belaboring the obvious. Too often people don't say what's on their minds -- and too often they don't take heed of the rule maintaining that you have to say something seven times for people to really HEAR the point you're trying to make.

Maybe in a year or two we'll see some fruit...


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