Monday, June 26, 2006

Going Home

It's time to pack up all my stuff, including all the paper attending a conference seems to generate, and head back to Montevallo. It's been a good conference, and I'm bringing back a lot of new information that I hope we'll be able to use at Carmichael Library.

Now that ALA is leaving New Orleans, I wonder what the city will be like in our wake. We know, for one thing, that several of the area libraries are in much better shape because of the volunteer efforts and donations of ALA members and library vendors. Library Journal, for example, worked to raise funds and procured the services of a leading library architect to make over one of the branches of New Orleans Public that was severely damaged by Katrina. But there are also people such as the workers at the Convention Center who will soon be without a job unless other large conventions come to town.

One of the interesting ways in which a major event enters the popular culture is through t-shirts, and the French Quarter shops are filled with hurricane-related ones. Many of the slogans on these cannot be repeated in a public blog, an indication of the anger and bitterness many in the city still feel toward FEMA and their government officials. The t-shirt I bought celebrates ALA's arrival in the city. It reads: Librarians Do It By the Book: American Library Association: Supporting the Big Easy.

Several people have told me how much it meant to them for ALA to be here, and they've thanked me for coming. Each time, I have told them that it has genuinely been my pleasure.

See you back home.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

ALA in full swing

It's been another rich, full day in the Crescent City, and I'm at the point I get to in all conventions when I don't really know what day it is anymore. I haven't paid much attention to news from the rest of the world, and I feel like I wrapped inside a very hot and humid bubble.

I spent the better part of this afternoon wandering through the exhibit hall. I haven't seen a count, but it seemed to me that there were more exhibitors this year than at the last ALA I attended. I happened upon an Alabama author, Watt Key, and picked up a signed copy of his book, Alabama Moon. He has a brother in Montevallo, so it was like finding a member of the family in the midst of the exhibits. And speaking of family, I ran into Kathy Lowe at the Lexis Nexis booth. She's catching a lot of the information literacy programs, and she and Bill seem to be having a great time here, too.

The mood in New Orleans seems to be very up-beat. Some of that is the unquenchable spirit of this great city, but I hope some of it also is the influence of having several thousand librarians wandering around and spending money. While the evidence of what New Orleans has suffered still abounds, there are also many signs of a city that is rebuilding and determined to be stronger than ever, without giving up its unique flare.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Walking in New Orleans

I'm walking down a street on the edge of the French Quarter, and who do I meet but Montevallo's own Dennis Toney? He was also in town for a conference, but one that was overshadowed by ALA. I haven't seen any registration figures for this conference yet, but average attendance at the summer ALA conferene is usually well over 20,000. I know a lot of people decided to skip ALA this year because of what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, but I certainly saw a lot of activity down at the Convention Center today when I was there.

One thing that I"m happy to report is that the food in New Orleans is still wonderful. I don't think I've ever had a bad meal in New Orleans, and this trip is no exception. From crawfish etouffe at the Gumbo Shop to flan at La Mer, it's all been great. I'm going to have to do double-time in the SAC to work off this trip!

Tonight I met a number of other COPLAC librarians. We met together with the COPLAC administrators several years ago at the College of Charleston, and we've been trying to get together when we can ever since. We're talking about trying some cooperative intiatives, and also hoping to plan something together for ACRL in Baltimore next spring.

Tomorrow ALA begins in earnest, and I have a full schedule of meetings and programs. The highlight of the day should be getting to hear Madeleine Albright speak at the opening session. I'm also hoping to get to spend some time in the exhibits checking out some of the new, exciting products from our library vendors. And continuing to sample the great New Orleans food!

I met a young man tonight who came down here to voluteer after Katrina and who has now decided to make New Orleans his home. He's working as a bartender at the Bourbon House and thinking about going back to graduate school. For folks like him, New Orleans seems to be a place of opportunity. There are plenty of service-sector jobs available for those who want to be a part of rebuilding this most cosmopolitan, most American city.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Blogging in New Orleans

I had lunch today with someone who said he thought the weather was wonderful. He's from the Pacific northwest, and he said he actually missed heat and humidity. He's getting plenty of both here in New Orleans!

Today is the first day of the American Library Association's conference, and the city has certainly taken notice of us. The concierge at my hotel is greeting all guests with Mardi Gras beads and complementary beverages. The local public radio station has run reports during both the morning and the afternoon news broadcasts about what ALA means to New Orleans. This morning, ALA President Michael Gorman said he'd never been prouder to be a member of ALA. Hearing him talk about the volunteer efforts underway today to rebuild the city's libraries and hearing people talk about what the local libraries have meant in the city's efforts to rebuild, I agree with him.

This morning, I was one of 5 presenters at a program on electronic resource management systems. We use a system developed by Serials Solutions, the same group that brings us Central Search and the catalog records that link users to journals in full text in our databases. It was a bit daunting to be on a panel with librarians from places like Yale, Princeton, and Ohio State Universities and Swathmore College, but I was pleased to see that we are in many ways much further along in our implementation of ERMS (one of the most unfortunate acronyms yet) than these much larger libraries. Electronic resource management systems are relative newcomers on the library landscape, and the standards that drive these systems are still being developed. The goal is to make it easier for us to do the behind-the-scenes work of tracking licensing details, collecting usage statistics, and linking resources together so that our patrons can in turn move from system to system much more seamlessly.

And that harkens back to the ideals that make Michael Gorman, me, and others proud in this day and time to be a librarian. We enjoy learning new technologies and figuring out how to make our own work more efficient, but our goal is to provide our patrons with the best access to the information they need, whether it's a mystery novel to read on vacation or information on navigating the bureaucratic maze of disaster recovery.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Driving to New Orleans

The American Library Association is holding its annual conference in New Orleans, and I drove down here today from Montevallo. ALA is the first major conference to come to New Orleans since Katrina, and the city is rolling out the red carpet for us.

Driving on I-10 through Mississippi reminded me of driving through the Francis Marion Forest in South Carolina the spring after Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston. All along the highway, I saw trees that had been broken by wind. There were pine trees that were at least 18 inches in diameter that were snapped in two like tooth picks. There were also areas where all the trees seemed to be dead. I suspect these were areas where the flooding was heavy and perhaps the trees stood in salt water for too long.

Those of you who've driven on I-10 into New Orleans know that it crosses the lake. I'm not a big fan of long bridges as a general rule, and it was disconcerting to cross this bridge in the rain with the guard rail missing in several places. I-10 enters New Orleans through the suburb of Slidell, which looked like a ghost town. From the interstate, I saw several apartment complexes that were completely abandoned. There were very few cars on the surface streets, and many of the businesses I saw looked closed. Here and in Mississippi there were a number of billboards advertising various construction companies and, of course, attorneys.

I'm staying in a hotel right on Canal Street, and my room looks out over the French Quarter. I can see a number of tarped roofs, and the foot traffic on Bourbon Street looks lighter than what I remember from my last visit here. But the Gumbo Shop on St. Peter Street is still open, and it's about time to go in search of dinner.

Stay tuned for additional reports from ALA and New Orleans!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

News and Photos: City Stages

Local blogger Wade Kwon has been covering Birmingham's annual music festival City Stages, which took place this past weekend. This year's lineup included a wide variety of artists, from newly-minted American Idol Taylor Hicks to Snoop Dog. One of Kwon's recent posts mentions Flickr's City Stages photo pool. As I write, there are other 650 pictures there from the festival. Check out these shots on your own desktop!

New Databases

Click here to check out the new databases brought to us by the Alabama Virtual Library,

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Wikipedia and the Hive Mentality

My blog entry on April 26, 2006, Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Britannica discussed the contentious debate between Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia. Well, things are heating up again.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports in the June 12, 2006 issue that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wants to get the message out that "college students shouldn't use it for class projects or serious research."

I found this article interesting: Digital Maosim: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism by Jaron Lanier. He asks us to consider the appeal of online collectivism...wikis and meta sites ...and ask is the collective all-wise or is it just a hive mentality? Lanier also grieves for a real author, a connection between writer and content often absent in wikis and Meta. Commenting on web design and authorship, Lanier says " in the last year or two the trend has been to remove the scent of people." I love that image ...scent of people. It's what authors do for readers, add the scent of people. ..the perfume of the page if you will.

Another article, The Real Bias in Wikipedia: a response to David Shariatmadari by Robert McHenry refuels the Encyclopedia Britannica debate. Mr. McHenry accuses the Wikipedia of bias and imbalance. He also employs the hive analogy to describe the collectivism of Wikipedia but instead of bees he sees young children playing soccer "a game involving the youngest children will consist of a swarm of twenty or so players buzzing ineffectively about the ball."

If all of this discussion is bringing you down, check out a little bit of humor. Here's a link to the world's funniest joke.

Article: Tips on How to Pay for College

The rising cost of a college education seems to be a perennial topic in magazines and newspapers. A piece from USA Today yesterday highlights the problem: while the average college senior graduated this year with $19,000 in debt, some students are leaving college with debt that is much higher. What's the college student to do?

Enter this piece from U.S. News & World Report (free, via Yahoo! Finance), which offers a few tips on loan consolidation programs and other strategies to ease the burden of your loans. For example, some companies will offer a rate discount for consecutive payments made on time. It's definitely worth a look for those students who are trying to manage their debt as they consider their entrance into the workforce.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

UM Baseball's Magnificent Run; Alabama Votes

Here are a couple of updates to our recent posts:

Falcon Baseball

A few of us were watching live stats at our desks last Thursday evening when the Falcon baseballers lost to California State University-Chico in the NCAA Division II national championship series in Montgomery.

While UM didn't go all the way the 2006 squad became the first in school history to place in the top five at season's end. The Falcons are ranked third in the nation behind University of Tampa and CSU Chico after a remarkable 43-18 (.705) tally on the year.

Winners of the NCAA Division II South Central Region and the Gulf South Conference East Division, UM also has the honor of being the first Alabama team to reach the national semis since former Gulf South Conference member Jacksonville State University in 1991. The last Alabama team to reach the national championship series was North Alabama, in 1999.

Our baseball club's success comes on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance by the Men's Basketball team in March. Winners of the NCAA Division II South Regional, the Falcons posted a record 29 wins and went 12-2 in GSC conference play.

For more details on this year's winning baseball campaign, check out Sports Information Director Alfred Kojima's writeups on the UM Athletics page. Thanks for a great season, guys.

Primary Elections

The primaries were held yesterday and nearly 925,000 Alabamians cast their votes in the gubernatorial race. Also on the ballot were other state and county races and one constitutional amendment.

Registration for November's general election will be open until 10 days prior to the election date. As always, you can pick up your voter registration form here at the library or visit the Alabama Secretary of State website for more information.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Google Earth

Click here to download one of the free versions of this incredible resource. Use Google Earth to fly into New York City, the Grand Canyon, Saint Peter's Basillica, or more exotic locations. You can also use Google Earth to find restaurants and schools in your local area.

Decision 2006 Resources

Our thoughts are turning to the future of Alabama as we host Boys' State here at UM and the library this week. The primary voting is only days away and will take place on Tuesday, June 6th. The general elections will follow in the fall on November 7th.

You can follow these links to learn more about the upcoming elections:
  • Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform - Read the advocacy group's questions of the candidates
  • Elections - News stories, analysis of issues, candidate bios and more at this page from
  • For the Record - Watch Alabama Public Television's Tim Lennox put the questions to candidates for statewide office. Interviews are streamed free to your desktop
  • Lexis-Nexis - Dig deeper: read pieces from the Birmingham News to learn more about the issues. Access restricted to members of the UM community
  • Office of the Secretary of State - Official site with voter registration forms, deadlines, etc.