Learning from relatives: academic, school, and public libraries

Librarians and information professionals who work in special libraries often stick together. This makes sense, of course, as they tend to serve like-minded users, provide similar information services, and face challenges unique to special libraries. Librarians in corporate, non-profit, law and “non-traditional” information centres must rarely (if ever) consider some of the fundamental and everyday decisions of their distant relatives, the public and academic librarians. While public librarians debate the impediments of children’s literacy, or academic librarians struggle to teach undergrads how to find a peer-reviewed journal article, the special library community faces entirely different user-needs and information management concerns. Despite these inherent professional differences, I believe there is much that can be learned from one another.

The Ontario Library Association’s annual Super Conference takes place each Winter at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. This past January I attended the Super Conference with the hopes of reconnecting and networking with colleagues, liaising with vendors, and most importantly, learning from the experiences of other librarians.

Traditionally and informally, the OLA Super Conference is more or less a platform for library technicians, academic, school, and public librarians. There seem to be few special librarians in attendance at OLA. This year I pondered if librarians from special libraries could benefit from what the Super Conference has to offer. Coincidentally, the theme of this year’s conference was “The Power of C – Collaboration!” OLA President Mary Ann Mavrinac writes, “Collaboration makes us smarter. The power of collaboration is a catalyst for community engagement, communication, cooperation, connectivity, conversations, crowdsourcing, collectivism and collegiality” and further, “helps us make better choices for communal and collateral benefit” (source). I felt energized by this message of teamwork and camaraderie, and think that despite differences in the users we serve, that both groups can take away valuable and transferable lessons from each other’s major conferences.

When the Super Conference session schedule was released, I read some abstracts out of curiosity for what might be available. To my surprise, more than a handful stood out as innovative, interesting, and helpful in the context of my library’s current projects and workflow. Fully aware that I’m not the ideal audience for this conference, I registered reluctantly but excitedly.

Below are some sessions from the 2011 Super Conference that I enjoyed:

“Library Mashups: Exploring new ways to deliver library data” presented by Nicole Engard (Bywater Solutions): Highlighted various examples of how your library can incorporate the API (Application Programming Interface) from your current subscriptions (e.g. The New York Times) and embed that code within your library’s OPAC or website. Hypothetically then, you can present your users with seamless and immediate access to the latest content related to your organization’s focus. Additionally, introduce things like Google maps and other applications to your Library’s web page.

“Using Open Source Software in a shared integrated library system” presented by A. Rivers-Moore (Hanover PL), S. Leighton, (Grand Valley PL), W. Allen (Grey Highlands PL), and R. Dotten (Shelburne PL): Explored the challenges and successes of implementing the open source ILS, Koha. My library uses a number of open source platforms, Koha in particular. As the only librarian (and one with amateur open source abilities) it was a terrific opportunity to speak to others in the same situation about some of the obstacles and rewards involved in introducing free and open source software.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the diversity and depth of most sessions, though disappointed by the elementary coverage of some others. I heartedly recommend browsing the list of sessions for the 2012 Super Conference. You may be surprised at what you find! As the leaders of access and information management within our organizations, we should actively keep abreast developments, technologies and projects throughout the wider profession of librarianship in order to anticipate and meet the needs of our users. There is much to be learned from our librarian relatives in the academic, school and public environments, and there is much that we can teach them as well.

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