American Library Association Mid-Winter Conference 2014 Reflections


This was the only word that adequately described the sensory overload that is the ALA-Midwinter Exhibitors Hall.  I walked up and down the aisles packed with publishers, database providers, and manufacturers and got a better feel for the scope of librarianship in the 21st century.  I am still focused on pursuing a career in an academic (health sciences?) library but have a much better appreciation for the types of policy decisions, collection development budgetary constraints, and patron concerns faced by public and K-12 school libraries and information centers.  I was also able to “shop” for new monograph releases, many personally signed by the author, including new titles from Eliot Schrefer and Shaun Tan.  My two boxes of books will arrival soon from the USPS; a very big kudos to whomever thought to place a post office IN the exhibitor hall, it was a back saver to be sure.

On Friday, I began my day at the Unconference session discussing student retention and instruction with current and future instructional librarians.  After this informal session, I attended the OCLC Member Meeting and “The Hope and Hype of MOOCs” symposium.

Sandy Yee, Chair Board of Trustees for OCLC, (and Dean of the Wayne State University School of Library and Information Sciences) spoke about the interesting times for librarianship today.  She spoke of libraries being change entities serving as foundries and laboratories supporting a culture of rapid and continuous pivots with quick adoption timelines as well as the role of libraries as gap fillers on tension points between communities and technology.  Dr. Yee also shared OCLC’s focus areas for 2014, which included a continued commitment to mission fulfillment, leveraging cooperation and efficiencies of scale to deliver services that drive value up and cost down for members and promoting end-user research and prototyping and experiments in libraries.  I also heard from OCLC’s CEO, Skip Prichard, about his three main goals for the upcoming year: Explore, see what role MOOCs are, and will play, in the changing nature of education; Share, data and resources with cloud solutions and Magnify, the introduction of the WorldCat Discovery Services Suite.  Mr. Prichard also shared the growth of the geekthelibrary movement, a community public awareness campaign aimed at spreading the word about the vital and growing role of public libraries and raising awareness about critical funding issues many U.S. public libraries face.

MOOC image

MOOC (2013) by Duke Innovation Co-Lab for NounProject. (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

The symposium on the hype and hope of MOOCs (massive open online courses) was a very interesting opportunity for me to wear both my library and educational psychology hats.  (To see the backchannel Twitter discussions about the panel discussion you can do a search of the #MOOCdebate.)  Bryan Alexander, a Michigan alum, gave one of the best presentations I’ve ever had the pleasure of being an audience member for about the history of MOOCs.  His clarified the distinction between cMOOCs, which are designed to be used by people on social media, and xMOOCs, which are designed to push out a lot of content primarily through video and focused on individual learner interaction.  He outlined the MOOC business model, introducing me to the term ‘freemium’, offering a chunk of content for free and offering other services at a cost, and shared the names of the current big MOOC providers, which included Coursera, udemy, edX, and udacity.  The future of MOOCs is uncertain and it is possible that MOOCs are entering their descent stage on the Gartner Hype Cycle.  Another feasible path for MOOCs is a fusion of xMOOCs and cMOOCs to a new MOOC model, which will include more participant social engagement while allowing for a continued focus on individual learning.

The panel debate featured: Mr. Alexander; Cathy De Rosa, OCLC Vice President for the Americas and Global Vice President of Marketing;  Anya Kamenetz, a Digital/Edu blogger for the Hechinger Report; Ray Schroeder, Professor Emeritus and Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield, and Audrey Watters, technology journalist and founder of Hack Education.  The panel was moderated by Mr. Prichard and oscillated between exulting the hope of MOOCs and cautioning its hype for the future education.

During my time at ALA-Midwinter I saw old friends from my time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and made new connections with ACRL and RUSA members.  I have already filled out my form to serve as a committee member for next year and hope to be more active in meetings and networking at next year’s ALA-Midwinter in Chicago, when I’ll officially be on the job market!

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