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Tech takeaways from the SLA Annual Conference

Colleen DeLory, Editor Library Connect Newsletter | Aug 27, 2013

This year, I was fortunate to be able to attend my first Special Libraries Association (SLA) Annual Conference here in my hometown of San Diego, California. In her Not Dead Yet column for Library Journal, Cheryl LaGuardia invited readers to share how they “bring it back home” from conferences. Sadly, the most common response was that people were too busy to report back. With this in mind, I’d like to encourage librarians to share their conference experience with their colleagues and with Library Connect by doing a little sharing myself. So grab a sandwich and brown-bag with me.

Four tech trends and ideas to implement at your library

The conference kicked off with an opening address by Mike Walsh (@mikewalsh), author of Futuretainment and CEO of the research lab Tomorrow. As the mother of a seven-year-old, I apparently have a main line into the future sitting at my dinner table. Walsh posits that children under 10 are the ones we really need to watch when we think about engaging with the next generation of information users. For parents of teens with vehicles, consider this: Would they rather give up their car or their smartphone? The answer tells you much about their need for connectivity and instant access to information.

Walsh’s presentation had four key themes:

Next generation — Don’t look at what is here already; look at what is coming. The next generation will have a radically different approach to making decisions and using information. Set up a youth lab.

Latency — Organizations will compete on the speed of their networks (and he doesn’t mean your T1 line). How adept is your library at sharing and collaborating? Try using an internal social network rather than email for some projects.

“Shanzhai” — Learn from the technology pirates. They not only build it cheaper, but also improve upon the original. Close the disconnect or imagination gap between senior managers and users. Talk to an anthropologist.

Big data — Build a virtual data war room to enable consumption and insights. What is the one big data insight that would make your chief executive spill her coffee? Delight your users.

Walsh’s presentation and future updates are available by signing up at

Social media

I attended a few sessions focused on social media and also sat down with some individuals at the IT Division Speed Geek session. I spoke with Michele James, a graduating LIS student who had helped the UCLA library measure its social network reach using the free tool Twitonomy. Michele also showed me UCLA’s site for creating branded shortened URLs — what a great idea!

Cheryl Yanek, a senior associate librarian at Catalyst, shared some really useful tips for using social media:

  • Don’t control or censor. Instead, contribute, listen, follow, share, friend, like and ask questions.
  • Disagreement is interaction, and interaction is at the heart of social media.
  • Don’t overshare or say the same things over and over.
  • Work with your marketing department, but don’t cede control.

Lastly, Linda Galloway (@lmg13066) of Syracuse University shared information on social media and citation metrics. She looked at the field of altmetrics, which measures research impact from articles, datasets, blog posts, slideshows and other online mentions via tools and networks such as CiteULike, Delicious, Faculty of 1000, GitHub, Mendeley, SlideShare, Twitter and Zotero. If you are interested in the topic of altmetrics, I encourage you to read the article "Helping scholars tell their stories using altmetrics" by Paul Groth and Mike Taylor.

New technologies

In a morning session, Amy Buckland (@jambina) of McGill University and Kendra K. Levine (@tranlib) of UC Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies gave an excellent roundup of new technologies that librarians might want to explore. These included hardware such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino, project management software like Asana and Basecamp, and data analysis and visualization software like R + D3 and Many Eyes.

But amid all the talk of cool tech, they cautioned against using technology to solve a nonexistent problems — and to understand that the technology may be free, but your time to learn, implement and maintain it is not (i.e., it’s free like kittens that grow up to be cats rather than free like beer). They also encouraged librarians not to forsake face-to-face encounters with each other and with people across the university and from other walks of life.

Slides at:

Hope to see you next year

Next year’s SLA Conference will be in my former hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. Upon hearing I was from Vancouver, a neighbor here in San Diego exclaimed, “I love Vancouver!” When I asked her where she had stayed, she replied that she’d never actually been there. That’s how great Vancouver is! So I hope to see you there, or at another library conference sometime soon.