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Session Notes: Computers in Libraries 2017 Conference

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Lauren Pfender
Lauren Pfendner


by Lauren Pfendner, MSLIS
Adult Services Librarian
Indian Valley Public Library, Telford,

Indian Valley Public Library was awarded two Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. These grants made it possible for both my colleague Melanie Ford, Digital Services Librarian, and I to attend the 2017 Computers in Libraries (CIL) Conference in Arlington, VA. While there were many highlights, the focus of the conference was clear: how to use technology to “up our game” in libraries and the information professions. I found this is be a nuanced call to arms for using technology in more refined, thoughtful, and consistent ways in order to better serve our users, whether it be for more accurate information retrieval, a clear and intuitive digital presence, or addressing the shifting tides of collection management.

The first day of the conference I spent mostly in Track A: Discovery & Search. In the three sessions I attended from this track, various search resources and strategies were covered – because there is a world outside of Google. In Super Searcher Strategies presented by Mary Ellen Bates and Taking Search to New Heights presented by Marydee Ojala, there was a heavy emphasis on Google alternatives, as well as tips and tricks to make the most of searching with Google. Both Bates and Ojala also discussed the restructuring of Google, Inc. into Alphabet, Inc., which points to Google now functioning as more of an SEO-fueled advertising subsidiary than a search engine. These are important developments to keep in mind in the age of fake news and information bubbles; both Bates’ and Ojala’s presentations with further details and tools can be found here.

In Apps, Sites, & Tools, Gary Price, co-founder of INFODocket & FullTextReports, presented on a plethora of useful tools for searching, archiving and linking web services together which can be useful for both helping users in information retrieval and for personal use. Again, the utility of these tools, many of which increase accountability and traceability of web activity, cannot be overstated. Price’s wealth of resources can be found here.

The sessions that I attended for the rest of CIL can be roughly grouped into two categories: redesign of online resources for improved user experience and the leveraged use of strategic data for collection management decisions.

Ideally, libraries change in response to shifting user needs and expectations, both online and “IRL” (in real life.) However, sometimes these changes are met with resistance as Dana Haugh, Roy Degler, and Emily Mitchell discussed in their presentation Website Redesign: Techniques & Tools. As the presenters stated, consistency and intuitive design with a clear, concise focus are integral to a successful web user experience. These points were confirmed with rigorous usability testing at each of the presenters’ respective institutions. Yet oftentimes there are institutional “sacred cows” that also need to be overcome, or at least addressed. Interestingly, this was a topic that was also covered in Sarah Arnold’s presentation Maximizing New Tools. In those situations, as Sarah Arnold discussed in her Lessons Learned slide, it is best to “find a (stakeholder) friend or two; go with the flow; and take advantage of change” while it is happening. Again, slides for both presentations can be found here.

Lastly, the Analyzing Collections session provided insight into how to use data to make collection management decisions, especially where weeding is concerned. As the adult services librarian who manages the adult print and electronic book collection at a midsize suburban public library, it was reassuring to see collection management covered in a clear and consistent way by much larger institutions. While I do not have access to OCLC WorldShare Management Services’ Analytics like presenter Lutgarda Barnachea of University of Maryland, I do think that all libraries are experiencing how the shifting perception of Library as Place creates a need for greater clarity and discretion when it comes to managing print collections. Diana Plunkett and Angie Miraflor, two librarians from Brooklyn Public Library and the other presenters for this session, illustrated the ease and utility of presenting circulation and attendance statistics in Tableau for robust and easy to understand data visualization. After this session I felt both reaffirmed in my own collection management decisions and also emboldened to try new tools such as Tableau Public for statistical analysis.

While there were a number of other sessions that I attended during the Computers in Libraries Conference, the aforementioned were the sessions I found most instructive. I found it interesting that many of the other CIL sessions that I attended felt somewhat repetitive of sessions I attended while part of the 2016 Pennsylvania cohort of ILEAD USA. These CIL sessions, while still interesting and informative, also served to affirm that Pennsylvania libraries, with the support of the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, are on the cutting edge of “upping our game.”

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