HackLibSchool at ALA: A Retrospective

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A little late on the jump here, but here is our wrap-up of the American Library Association’s annual conference. Of the HackLibSchool team, Annie, Micah and Lauren attended the conference. Believe it or not, this was actually the first time we all met face to face! Aside from conference business, which you will read below, we had a great time talking LIS, hanging out and generally enjoying the whole experience, which you can see above. I’d highly recommend it.

In true hackery fashion, we thought it best to attack the conference wrap-up post by breaking it down to bite-sized chunks. We have compiled here a short list of session reviews, featuring us and some guests. The entire conference was overwhelmingly gigantic, so this post in no way attempts to be comprehensive. We just wanted to give you a snapshot of what you might expect. Also, to be clear, many of us might agree that time spent out and about was often more productive and useful for getting a sense of the field than sitting in on slideshows and freezing rooms. But! It’s all part of the game.

Make a point to read the ALA wrap-up from The Pumped Librarian and check in on American Libraries Magazines ALA’11 site.


ALA was my first conference ever. I had no idea what to expect really, so I had scheduled a bunch of sessions back to back. I even scheduled ones that started at 8am, not realizing that I would be out late every night hanging out with library folks. Apparently, librarians are all super heroes who never need to sleep or eat. At these conferences, they stay out all night, then show up bright and early to lead their sessions, etc. How is this even possible? Needless to say, I did not make it to any of my 8am sessions, including the one that I wanted to attend the most.

I also learned that not all sessions are going to be what you think they are, but one session that I found interesting was Working Towards Transliteracy. I had missed the earlier session Why Transliteracy, which went into detail of what it is and why.  Sue Thomas of the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University defines it as “Transliteracy is the ability to read, write, and interact across a range of platforms, tools, and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks…” just in case you want a little background. The presenters at the session I went to talked about how they were using transliteracy in their libraries. One of the key points that all the presenters had in common was teaching their patrons to use all the various tools that could help them with their needs. Libraries are a partner of life long learning so there are many ways that they can enable this process. For example, providing tech classes or having fun activities can promote different types of learning, because literacy can be taught in many ranges. My favorite example was Richard Kong’s  discussion about the Skokie Public Library’s Digital Media Lab. This lab provides the tools for users who have a more advanced tech skills, who need to use expensive programs that they can’t afford at home. They are truly encouraging their patrons to be creative by offering them such awesome services. Overall, I found this session very educational and had a lot of fun at ALA. You can read more about my post-ALA wrap up on my blog.


A good chunk of my ALA time was devoted to Scholarly Communication stuff, as I’m working in that area currently, but I did make a point to attend several student-centric sessions. The How I Landed My First Librarian Job (and What I Did in Between) session was one of the better ones. Sponsored by REFORMA (forthcoming post from them!), this panel featured 8 newish librarians, who offered some good tips on surviving the job market. Here’s a quick rundown:

Now my beef – this session didn’t tell me anything new that I hadn’t already read or planned for. I was really hoping for that “What I did in the meantime…” section, and didn’t really get it. Also, most of the folks on the panel had gotten jobs before things went from bad to worse for the American job market, and the landscape is different now. I think the panel would have been much richer with fewer panelists and perhaps a new graduate stuck in throes of the current job hunt. The good news? REFORMA is putting on the panel again, with the same people, online, for free. Oct. 2nd, 3pm – URL forthcoming (we’ll make sure to repost about it when it comes around.) I’d encourage you all to attend the webinar, if for no other reason to solidify the fact that you are prepared or preparing well for the job search. And keep your spirits high; you will get a job. You WILL get a job.


At ALA 10, I was a shy, nervous library school student. I thought I needed to attend back-to-back sessions to really get the full experience, and while I did meet new people, I didn’t fully put myself out there. At ALA 11, as a recent MLIS grad and new librarian, I wanted to meet more of my colleagues (present and future), and went to more socials and meet-ups than sessions ( it was awesome, as you can see from the slideshow!). However, I managed to make it to the Careers in Federal Libraries pre-conference, which is now an annual ALA event. I recently completed a Student Career Experience Program position at an academic military library, which led to a full-time librarian position (hooray!), and I wanted to hear from and meet other federal librarians. If you’re not already a fed info pro and are interested in knowing more about the hiring process and career possibilities, this pre-conference is for you. Some great resources for learning more about fed librarianship are the FAFLRT (Federal & Armed Forces Libraries Round Table), which is free for students; the Careers in Federal Libraries Google Group; and the FLICC listserv. The CIFL Group also generously posts slides and some recordings of their events on Slideshare. For jobseekers, Helen Sherman’s presentation on How to Find a Federal Job is probably the most helpful part of the pre-conference. They also offered free resume reviewing throughout the day, which was extremely generous. My favorite part(s) were hearing from multiple panels of federal librarians. I knew there were a lot of possibilities for MLIS holders in federal libraries, but I had never heard of most of these positions, and they were very exciting (click here to see some of the presentations given).

However, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about the rampant hiring freezes in government agencies (I NARROWLY escaped the recent Air Force hiring freeze) and the difficulty of actually getting a federal job through USAJOBS (though to be fair, a LOT of tips were offered). They did emphasize the Presidential Management Fellows Program, but I didn’t hear much about other internship programs. Fed internship programs are in a state of flux, but they are a fantastic way for library students to get federal work experience. Overall, the panelists were very knowledgeable, and the ones I got to meet were super friendly. If this year is any indication, the 2012 CIFL pre-conference will be worth your time.

And here are some insights from fellow LIS students who we met and got to hang out with.


Barbarajean Majewski – Detroit transplant to New York and MLIS student at Pratt Institute.  Interested in digital archives, preservation, content management systems, languages and art history.

Session: On Beyond Zebra — Taking RDA Beyond MARC

I’m going to be honest up front here; metadata ain’t my cup of tea.  I attended this session due to the fact that it was the closest in proximity to where I was standing at 10:27 (the session began at 10:30) but I’m happy to say that this is the first time my laziness paid off.

Let me start with the overall sentiment that seemed to run through each presentation – The transition from MARC to RDA is difficult (perhaps the reason that LOC has pushed the date of their transition to RDA back yet again to 2013?).  Some of problems were centered on the faults of MARC, including that it is redundant, the fields are ambiguous, the free text has no format requirements and the format requirements are often rife with hidden assumptions.  Another problem mentioned was that RDA does not fit well into MARC and the backward compatibility from RDA to MARC is complicated.  Then the session became heavy in semantic web talk and the use of “triples” (this was my first exposure to the “triples” concept – this explains it well), which I found to be engaging and informative especially in the relation to MARC and RDA.  It was at this point that the obstacles standing in front of the transition from MARC to RDA were becoming clear.  The discussions wrapped up with the complex yet positive idea of reworking the “Elings and Waibel ‘Metadata for All’” chart in which RDA would not fit in properly.

After the discussion panel ended, I felt the metadata talk seep in and I pondered the fate of MARC; will the functionality of RDA be a sufficient enough replacement? I found this session to be an enlightening glimpse into the intricacies of the semantic web, a subject that still can be mystifying to me but at least I can speak with confidence that the journey from MARC to RDA is a bumpy yet exciting road.


Rose Love Chou – Rose L. Chou is an MLIS student specializing in archives at San Jose State University.  Rose lives in the Washington, DC area where she works as a Circulation Specialist at the American University Library and volunteers at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives.  Rose blogs at AnthroArchivist and tweets as @roselovec.

Session: Leaders Wanted / LIS Doctoral Programs Options Fair: Cultivating Diversity in LIS Education

This session consisted of a four-person panel followed by a doctoral program fair.  The panelists spoke about a large variety of topics related to doctoral LIS programs — why there need to be more people of color pursuing Ph.D.’s in LIS, how to approach the application process, what to look for in a program, and tips for when you become a doctoral student.  The session was a great opportunity to ask any questions about the application process and to talk with representatives from LIS programs.  While the session is focused on recruiting people of color, it definitely was not exclusive.  I think this session is planned at every ALA Annual Conference — so if you even have the smallest interest in pursuing a Ph.D. in LIS, I definitely encourage you to attend a future session.  I gained a lot from attending “Leaders Wanted,” and I think it’s important that ALA Annual hosts this event along with other sessions that focus on diversity.  I would love to see more critical discussions about how ALA can make more of a difference in diversifying the profession.


Jessica Critten – Jessica is completing her MLIS at Florida State University while working as a graduate assistant in FSU’s Strozier Library where she does collection development, research guides, reference and instruction. She is also is scholar of horror/cult films and taught on that topic at FSU for several years. Find Jessica here and on LinkedIn.

Session: Seizing Opportunities to Serve:  Professional Involvement, Local to National

If it’s not yet an idiom for ALA, it should be: the conference means different things for different people.  ALA attendees represent a wide range of educational and professional levels, and as such, twenty different people may want something different from one session. As a soon-to-be MLIS grad, what I wanted from “Seizing Opportunities to Serve:  Professional Involvement, Local to National” was practical advice about how to find opportunities to serve on committees, roundtables, sections, etc. (Also, after walking around non-stop for hours in the heat, I also wanted to Seize the Opportunity to sit down in the air conditioning.) What I got was a number of compelling reasons to join professional organizations, but not as much insight into how to break in to what is, to me at least, a fairly daunting (and necessary) aspect of professionalization.

That said, the session was not without some tidbits of great advice. For one, if you are new to service, it might be best to start out on smaller committees at your state or regional associations.  When asked for practical tips, the panel suggested that if nothing else, it never hurts to email the leader of a committee and ask if any volunteers are needed. Most of the members of the panel broke into their committee  or section work through networking (also in the running for an ALA Idiom: Network, network, network!) Panel member (and founder of the now-annual Careers in Federal Libraries session) Nancy Faget suggested starting a new committee or round table if you can’t find one that suits your interests.

Despite not getting exactly what I wanted from “Seizing Opportunities to Serve…”, I thought that it was one of the more useful sessions I attended at ALA. The members of the panel were all true testaments to how active participation in organizations can contribute to professional success, which was very inspiring to this aspiring librarian.

*Note – Jessica dug up these resources after the session. One and Two.


Yolanda Bustos – Yolanda is a Dual Masters of Archival Studies and Masters of Library and Information Studies student in her final months at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. Her professional and academic interests tend to reflect her interests in film, contemporary art, digital preservation, and copyright law. After graduation she plans to return to her native California to seek gainful employment and once again know what it is like to feel the sun on her skin. She wants you to know it rains a lot in B.C.

While metadata standards for written materials exist and are largely effective, the arts remain an area plagued by the dearth of standards and solutions that address the ephemeral qualities specific to their medium. This session addressed some of these issues as they pertained to music, archeology, architecture, and dance. Jenn Riley, head of the Carolina Digital Library and Archives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, headed up the discussion with a talk about next-generation controlled vocabularies for music metadata. Riley would like to see controlled vocabularies for music move from literary to user warrant, using crowd sourced metadata and social tagging as the basis for contemporary subject headings to allow for the fluid dynamism of language. This was an interesting concept that seems to be coming up more and more in library classes these days. Next, Lucie Wall-Stylainopoulos of the Fiske Kimball Fine Arts Library at the University of Virginia spoke about alternative metadata for archeology. Wall-Stylainopoulos talked about the problematic aspects of current description for architecture and archeological sites, noting a lack of consensus about how much should be captured, a problem that applies to metadata creation across all genres of art description. She then introduced “ArchaeoCore” which creates metadata fields for describing aspects of the site, works, and images generated from archeological digs while maintaining contextual relationships. Finally, Susan L. Weisner, 2011 ACLS Digital Innovation Fellow and member of the Society of Dance History Scholars discussed metadata applications for dance and video. Weisner is working to develop an ontology to describe with the ephemerality of dance and using 3-d motion capture techniques to map the movements of a dance through the university of Virginia Artifact Movement Thesaurus. Each speaker brought a unique and informative perspective to the discussion and managed to make the presentation flow seamlessly while addressing the problems and looking for solutions for the description of arts materials.

John Jackson

John Jackson – John is an MLIS student at San Jose State University and a cataloger at the University of Southern California. He blogs at http:\\inkandvellum.com and tweets as johnxlibris.

Session: Executive Board Meeting, Friday 8:00a-12:30Did you know that the Executive Board meetings are open to all members? Well, I didn’t until I sat in on one Friday morning. Board meetings are headed up by the ALA President, include an official stenographer and parliamentarian, and always provide food. If you ignore the discussions about finances, Board meetings can be a quick and dirty way to see what direction the ship is sailing, so to speak, and discover what issues are important enough to float to the top of the ALA hierarchy. I had the pleasure of hearing the latest news out of Brett Bonfield’s Future Perfect Task Force, the results of a study by the Young Professional Task Force, and ALA’s strategic planning initiatives. Surprisingly, the discussion repeatedly turned to ALA’s student members! It was heartening to know that our voices were being represented and heard. The Executive Board isn’t the most entertaining session you could attend, but it is certainly an enlightening one for ALA newbies.

Sara Ellsworth

Sarah Ellsworth-  Graduate Student in Fort Wayne, Indiana

I received a BA in Folklore at Indiana University Bloomington. Currently, I am working on my MA of Library Science at Indiana University Indianapolis. I also work as a front desk receptionist in a private oral surgery practice. I am interested in a career in Health Informatics and Academic Libraries. My free time is dedicated to my neo folk rock band and saving the world.

This Saturday morning session, What Are Interviewers Really Looking For in Successful Candidates,  was not a let down. As a graduate student in my final year, I found the information to be helpful and relevant. I was impressed with Pat Hawthorne from Texas State University. She was the prime example of a good speaker: she spoke clearly, had interesting things to share, and the confidence and experience to back it up.This session focused on how to prepare when you land the interview for a professional library position. I was initially surprised by the fact that some professional interviews can last a day to a day and a half long. It is much like a marathon, meeting the persons of hierarchy (members of the hiring committee to the Dean), Power Point presentations, and interview panels. If they do not tell you, be sure to ask about the recruitment process so you know what you are in for.

Besides the preparation required for the interview, here a few things to tuck in your hat as I did.

  1. Ask Questions. If they ask you if you have any questions during the interview- for the love of coffee, do not say “No”.  You may be viewed as uninterested or uninformed. Develop a list of questions.
  2. Be interested and eager for the particular job you are applying for. Do not say “ I will take anything”! You want to tie everything you say into why you want this particular job.
  3. With interview questions of opinion, be flexible but have your own personal view. You do not want to appear rigid nor wishy-washy. A good start for an answer is “Based on what I know today….”
  4. Do not be afraid about how long you plan to stay in a position. In today’s world, most people do not stay in the same job for the rest of their career. Although I would not say “ Hey, I’m just interested in a few years experience before I apply elsewhere…”, you do not have to answer how long you plan to work there. It may not even come up, but you can always state what you hope to gain from this job.

I really appreciated the time Pat Hawthorne took to answer questions, the tips handout I had to take home, and her contact information if I had questions. There were sessions that were entertaining, but this one was the most satisfying of my 2011 ALA Conference.

Glenda Barahona –  is a recent graduate from the Pratt Institute SILS program. While at Pratt, she was an IMLS M-LEAD Scholar, working on metadata, digitization, and digital asset management at the Brooklyn Museum. Glenda is currently the Archives Assistant at the NYU Ehrman Medical Archives, where some of her projects include digitizing the card catalog and finding aids; providing research for a historical book for the NYU Langone Medical Center; and working on a committee to develop a strategic plan for the preservation of digital objects. Her professional interests include hidden collections, metadata, IA/UX and lite programming, Her goal is to smash these interests together to build better, more accessible archives. Most of her web presence can be gleaned from http://about.me/gsbarahona.

Having the unique opportunity to attend a ALA on a Pratt SILSSA scholarship this year, I focused my workshop planning on topics that related at least tangentially to my work as an Archives Assistant at a medical archive in New York. One particular session looked interesting, and it was probably the most academically enriching session I attended: Creating Multimedia Metadata: Controlled Vocabularies Across Time and Space, from the ACRL Arts division. This session focused on ephemeral artistic works like dance, architecture, and archeology, and the difficulty in developing standards that are adequate for describing these works.

One of the more relevant presentations was given by Lucie Wall Stylianopoulos from the Fiske Kimball Fine Arts Library, who discussed their development of a metadata schema for archaeological resources called ArchaeoCore. This schema was developed due to the inadequacy of other arts-centric schema currently available to describe
archeological objects. The beauty of ArchaeoCore is that it can describe an item in and of itself, but also describe the object within the context of where the item is located. This schema then provides much more information to the end user about the object and its use.

In archives we often deal with non-textual material that is ephemeral and tricky to describe using just EAD, so learning how a library can plan and develop a new schema that best fits their particular needs was enlightening. Lucie Wall Stylianopoulos showed us that metadata schemas can evolve and even be created to address unmet description needs in our field, and that you will not go crazy doing so!

What were your best/worst experiences at ALA ’11? Please feel free to add your own session reviews in the comments. 

Categories: Hack ALA

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7 replies

  1. Great write ups, love how you combined snippets from a variety of people here.

    @Micah, where you say, “Now my beef – this session didn’t tell me anything new that I hadn’t already read or planned for. I was really hoping for that ‘What I did in the meantime…’ section, and didn’t really get it,” re: REFORMA panel. If you’d like to email me or Jessica Hernandez (panel organizer/moderator) with any other thoughts/detail about this, we’d love to hear it before we offer the webinar again. Talking about how we got experience in various aspects of librarianship between school and employment maybe wasn’t specific enough? Or focused too much on the during-school time? Anyhow, thanks for attending and sharing your thoughts!


  2. Great recap – thanks to everyone for putting this together. This applies to all, but Jessica in particular – if you want help breaking into ALA, email me at jlevine [at] ala.org and I’ll help point you in the right directions.

    And John, good for you for going to the Executive Board meeting. ALA can be tough to understand if you don’t take the initiative to learn about it, and you did. I hope someday we’ll see you sitting at that table, welcoming student observers. 🙂


  3. Thanks, Jenny. By the way, now that I think about it, there was some discussion about pushing more people to ALA Connect, too (which you built, right?). One of the board members, I forget which one, talked about the need for the Board to use ALA Connect for their own operations and to “set an example for the membership” (their words, according to my notes). =)

    Hope to actually run into you one of these days face-to-face. I think we met in passing at the Gaming Night in D.C. last year, but I was on the opposite team of whatever game we were playing, and we weren’t allowed to mingle with the enemy 😉


  4. @Rose, thanks for sharing! I had wanted to catch the end of that session but ended up at the wrong hotel. And it’s great to finally meet you in person!

    @John, good to know that Exec Board meetings are open to everyone and that ALA student members are making some noise! Very excited to be on a student ALA chapter; hope to continue to collaborate locally with you this year!


  5. I’m just beginning a library program at the University at Albany–I’m finishing up my first course, non-matriculated, but I plan to enter the degree program soon.
    I’m wondering–is it ever too soon to attend your first conference?


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