News for Pennsyslvania Libraries

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.

Karen Hilbert

Karen Hilbert


by Karen Hilbert

Lower Merion Library System received a professional development grant that allowed me to attend the Computers in Libraries conference March 27 to March 30. I feel fortunate to have attended and want to share my enthusiasm for the conference with my colleagues. The theme was “Upping Our Game.” Speakers used the new buzzword, “library ecosystem,” to emphasize how the library, librarians, patrons and all other elements in the community are interconnected. Other terms repeated by many speakers were community engagement, community building, open source, data curation, fake news, data visualization, reinvention and repurpose. Attendees learned how to use new tools and resources to add value in a world where most people feel overwhelmed by too much information. Speakers shared tips on using visual mediums like video and makerspace tools. It is clear that librarians and libraries have reinvented and repurposed their identity and roles along with both their digital and physical spaces.

Monday was a full-day Searchers Academy workshop presented by WebSearch University that looked at what is new in advanced web search, research and analysis. Speaker Greg R. Notess of Montana State University Library gave us insight into Google and its new emphasis on the mobile device platform. What device a patron is using matters. If a librarian on a desktop computer and a phone patron on a mobile device execute the same search, they get different results. Google has divided its index. Take a look at Accelerated Mobile Pages Project. Google’s RankBrain technology uses machine learning to continue to improve search results. The artificial intelligence predicts which results are clicked by users better than Google engineers. Its tech is so smart, users should forget operators or advanced search features – Google is no longer spending time or money on these. My favorite speaker in the workshop was Gary Price who gave us resources to add value to information glut. Don’t search the open web when you can let the experts help you by using curated websites like WHO’s MINDbank and business resource

Each morning, keynote speakers inspired us and validated our choice to work in a library. Gina Milsap spoke about her library becoming Library Journal Library of the Year. Her team showed off their artistic and video production skills. Her recommended reading includes Biblio Tech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey and The Aspen Institute’s Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries. Author Patricia Martin, a cultural analyst, talked about engaging millennials; how digital is changing us; and how institutions that used to confer identity have lost their impact and relevance. Although trust in organized religion and corporations has decreased, trust in public libraries remains. Getting a library card is still an identity ritual. Her talk inspired us to redefine ourselves as librarians. Lee Rainie, Director of Internet, Science and Technology Research at Pew Research Center, repeated this finding. Trust in traditional organizations like government and banks has experienced a catastrophic decline; however, librarians, teachers and firefighters remain trustworthy. Public libraries play a part in the educational or informational ‘ecosystem’ of patrons who are life-long learners. He says that patrons want librarians to be fact-checkers as well as technology and data experts. Librarians and libraries have already begun the process of reinventing ourselves as tech experts and technology hubs. For more, check out his slides: The Internet of Things & Libraries and Libraries & Perpetual Learning.

With over 70 sessions, it was hard to choose which fourteen presentations to attend. Check out slides of any presentation online.  In the User Experience and Digital Presence track, UX Toolbox: Customer Journey Mapping showed how to create a visual map of a “patron journey” as they accomplished a certain library-related task. By following the patron, we understand the usability or touchpoints and barriers in the task or process. The visual component of this mapping is easy to share. A toolkit is available online.

In the Community Engagement track, Digital Literacy & Coding Program Models gave an overview of two very large, labor and staff intensive technology class models. Both programs seemed way beyond what we could do at a small library system due to cost, staffing needs, staff training and the time investment required. Some products and clubs mentioned included Osmo Kits (for ages 4-12), LegoWeDo 2.0 (ages 7-12), Code a Robot Ozobot, Google Computer Science First and MIT’s Scratch. In the same track, the next presentation Online Community Building: Create, Connect, Collaborate promised to share insights about successfully supporting learning, customer engagement and information sharing but at the end of her presentation, Helen Blowers announced their Columbus, OH neighborhood website and efforts were a failure. Ms. Proffitt’s talk on librarians’ involvement in Wikipedia did have value so the session was not wasted. Attracting New Library Users with SEO told of an experiment by Trey Gordner CEO of Koios, a library software entrepreneur, and Chattanooga Public Library whose director wanted to get on the front page of Google search using Google ads. They invested $1000 and made keyword decisions based on the popularity of how many local people searched for that term. The ad asked, “Why buy when you can get it for free from your library?” Since Polaris is session-based with no permanent link, Trey put the ILS book data as a MARC dump into his product, Libre. The experiment gave click-through rates that were exceptionally high. In fact, Google has been moving them up in the ranking to make it less expensive for them as they move forward. As of right now, it is considered SEM (search engine marketing) since it is still too early to move up much in ranking yet. He invites librarians to email him to get his data.

One of my favorite sessions was Active Tutorials with “Guide on the Side. Katie Bertel (Outreach and Engagement Librarian at SUNY Buffalo State) and Trevor Riley (Engineering and Emerging Technology Librarian NY State College of Ceramics) showed us a better way to present material. Guide on the Side (GotS), an award-winning open source software based on <iframe> web browser code, solves these current tutorial problems:

  • Lack of control over the systems we use;
  • Interoperability between systems; budgetary issues;
  • Lack of longevity of tools like handouts; lack of future support;
  • Doesn’t allow for an immersive experience; generic;
  • Keeping content up-to-date is time-consuming; systems are always changing;
  • Different users have different needs; teaching practices change;

It is free, and you don’t need to know how to code. Visit their project website to learn more. To download the tool for your library visit:

Another favorite session was Visualizing Funding for Libraries. Try out the data tool created by Foundation Center, a Knight Foundation grant winner. Check out Kate Tkacik’s slide presentation online. Training for the data tool will come out in June 2017. Get the data you need to find the funds for your library. The ‘pathways’ button allows you to see the “library funding ecosystem.” Inform your proposal process. Do not miss trying this free online tool.

In the Metrics & Management Track, I attended a session called Finding Your Social Media Voice. A panel of librarians shared tips on developing a personality or “voice” for your library’s social media accounts. Step away from making announcements and constantly re-evaluate your brand. Also, I recommend viewing the online slides for Changing Models/Roles: Competencies & Professional Development to see how technology is now integrated into all roles in library. Staff need more and better support and instruction.

In the Enterprises: Tools, Tech, & Special Collections track, a presentation called Knowledge Management provided a link to a tool every library could use to develop training classes for patrons or even staff. Visit Another presentation, Augmented Reality and Learning, gave tips on using a free app in libraries called Blippar to “harness powerful augmented reality, facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and visual search technologies.” Patrons can access an additional layer of video by pointing their smart phone camera at a flyer or any visual medium. Librarians can easily create an ad campaign video about library programs and services to make flyers come to life.

The last 3 sessions I want to highlight are about makerspaces. The first session in the Funding track, Crowdfunding a Library Makerspace, used, an online funding engine, to raise money for making the Creativity Studio at Gloucester County Library System in New Jersey. Check out their campaign. They were great presenters, and the slides tell a fantastic story of how they re-purposed two spaces into library Creativity Studio. Another makerspace session, Zero to Maker: Invention Literacy & Mobile Memory Lab showed us that “making” is not just about 3-D printers. By offering classes and technology for patrons to convert analog formats (cassettes or photos) to a digital format, a public library engaged its community. The last session, Sparking Innovation & Entrepreneurship with Makerspaces, by three speakers from two universities, gave insight into how to promote critical thinking in the library, how to create an entrepreneurship center, how to get administration support and funding, and how to cultivate “maker culture.”

I encourage you to visit Computers in Libraries website. The exhibit hall was small but interesting. Overall, the conference was worth the time, travel and money. I would love to attend again in the future.