Pondering The Viewing Glass

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

One of the issues coming out of ALA Annual 2009 this year is the matter of transparency. Librarians like technology. Librarians like to use to technology. Price tags are a little daunting, though, when presented for things that seem to be so cheap as to be almost free as in beer.

Norman Oder has a report in Library Journal that outlines the costs of various options in promoting transparency. Oder's report does not explain too much in depth as to how the particular figures are derived. The annual cost of posting audio files of Council proceedings seems to be a bit high on the processing/posting end unless such has included the eventual costs of bandwidth in serving up such files. In some respects the cost of bandwidth in serving up content can be far greater than the cost of producing it.

Accessibility is also a tremendous concern. Simply put, the process of securing transcripts is not cheap. The work of a court reporter is not easy, requires specialized training, and they are quite well compensated for their troubles. The Council's lawyer also quite rightly pointed out that having transcripts of Council discussions could result in lawsuits over remarks by councilors.

Is it really practical to broadcast every waking moment of every panel, session, and hustings at ALA Annual? Is it really necessary? With hundreds of panels and multiple situations where you have concurrent panels, attention is easily divided. A vast army of observers would be required to have coverage at every single panel. Having videographers accompany the observers would only increase the manpower requirements. Post-production would be a situation more like the investigation by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board relative to the sheer volume of materials to digest. There is a reason why tech news outlets like CNET have a couple weeks of vacation prior to the Consumer Electronics Show as they leave a skeleton crew behind at the office as their army converges on Las Vegas. The only known group that would even attempt this with volunteers is PixelCorps and they have not attempted anything on this sort of scale.

Is all hope lost on covering ALA? No! The technology does not yet exist for proper tele-presence structures so that civilians not attending ALA in person could still be there virtually. The funds to outfit an army to cover the event, let alone cover the attendant logistical nightmares, are non-existent. For the cost of hardware to pull this off, one could presumably fully fund the operation of a rural library for several years. In this case one must look outside the walls of librarianship and step away from comfortable paradigms. Television networks like Universal Sports and ESPN do show ways this could be better handled.

A paradigm used as of late by Universal Sports is not to provide full coverage. Logistically they cannot wage the same level of effort all the time that is required for covering an Olympics. This is where the matter of editorial judgment comes into play. Only highlights of events are recorded for air. Not everything is broadcast in real-time as some events are shown on tape delay. The FIVB World Cup series for beach volleyball was one example of select matches being shown on a delay. Coverage of triathalon competitions, rowing, swimming & diving, and more fall under similar presentation rubrics.

Television networks already exist that could carry this programming. One would be ResearchChannel which has coverage via terrestrial broadcasting, cable television, video on-demand, webcast, satellite, and more. Northern Arizona University's UniversityHouse channel, University of Washington Television, and University of California Television are all also available by way of satellite within North America. There are somewhat traditional television-based distribution channels available for pushing conference coverage outward.

In covering only highlights, much of the nightmare of logistics goes away. If you have a smaller team picking and choosing among panels, you can provide a representative sample to viewers at home. The question of deciding what to cover is a matter of editorial control that has no simple solutions, though. In an organization that can seem to outsiders like a confederation of interest groups, the decision-making authority of what to cover is best held not by a committee but by a single editorial official. It could take years for an editorial committee to make a decision in creating a highlights reel like this while a single individual might take action more quickly.

For all the costs of bandwidth, streaming, captioning, and more involved in Internet-based distribution, DVD fulfillment through a publishing arm like what ALA already has may conservatively allow for a start to such. With online video downloads already quite large and quite costly to transfer in some cases, the use of physical media may allow for easier dissemination. Linux distributions like Ubuntu and OpenSolaris do this already through physical media distribution for this who lack the bandwidth to either download their operating systems or download them in a timely fashion. This physical alternative to virtual distribution could become a new stream of revenue for ALA, too. Selling sets of DVDs of proceedings could potentially take events to members who could not be there. As Andrew Tannenbaum wrote in Computer Networks: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.

All of this discussion may be great but it points out a separate issue. Is ALA Annual becoming unwieldy in its size and growth? Could more be accomplished if it was broken down into a set of separate events spread across the entire year? If that were to happen, keeping a court reporter in-house would be more cost effective and would mean an ALA film team could be utilized perhaps.

The matter now stands at a question point. What is it the membership wants? What is your ALA?


Stephen Michael Kellat received his Master of Science in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 2004. He presently is a librarian in private practice in southern Nevada after having worked in academic cataloging, private sector retail, and alpaca husbandry.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

LISNews Podcast Disses Judith Krug Unwittingly

LISNews is a excellent news source for those interested in libraries. In addition to its daily activities, it podcasts weekly on library issues. Unwittingly, but justifiably, it mocked the American Library Association's [ALA] former de facto leader in the very publication dedicated to that leader.


Why ALA is bad on ethics, part 2

Interesting post over on Llyfrgellydd {It’s Welsh for librarian.}
Why ALA is bad on ethics, part 2
Laura writes: "Overall, my impression of the ALA Code of Ethics is that it is written for librarians as agents of the library, rather than librarians as people, and I resent that."


Professional associations stand up for librarians

Tracey Caldwell looks at how the professional associations are embracing upskilling, specialisation, networking and Web 2.0 to help the beleaguered librarian

“Professionals work at a higher level and need to network more. This creates a need for continuous upskilling and more specialisation. Librarians are expected to have cross-functional skills to enable them to negotiate and communicate with other professionals.”

Palinet and Solinet Teaming Up to Become Lyrasis

Vote results were released yesterday; according to Library Journal more than 95% of members voted yes on the merger. The regional library cooperatives SOLINET and PALINET, which announced plans for a merger in February 2008, will merge April 1 into a new organization: LYRASIS.

From the merger website: The proposed combination of PALINET and SOLINET creates a new, more powerful organization with a regional base and national scope to enhance value for all members. A new name has been created for the new organization – LYRASIS. The name was inspired by the constellation of Lyra , host to one of the galaxy’s brightest stars and guiding lights, and the suffix sis can designate a process, often associated with change (as in metamorphosis). Together, they position LYRASIS as your guide through the ever-changing world of information services.

The agreement creates a regional powerhouse. PALINET serves libraries in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and beyond. SOLINET (Southeastern Library Network, Inc.) serves more than 2500 members in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and the Caribbean.

Wanting to follow ALA Mid-Winter via Twitter?

Plugging this link into your feed reader will help provide you with tweets appropriately hash-tagged:


Something disturbing

It disturbs me that the US Department of Homeland Security and the FBI return my calls/inquiries/e-mails quicker than the ALA's press office. I think I am still waiting for a reply on a question related to ALA Annual 2008.

Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

"New OIF Blog Deletes Free Speech"

Mr. SafeLibraries stopped by to mention a new post he wrote. A brief excerpt:

Town Hall @ ALA Annual Relative To Concerns For President Obama

This popped up in the past couple hours on PNLA-L relative to ALA Midwinter in Denver later this month:
What Do Library Staff Want President Obama to Know: Special Membership Town Hall Meeting Saturday, Jan. 24, 3 PM to 4:30 PM What library issues are most important to ALA members to share with President Obama? The ALA Town Hall Meeting will discuss this topic on Saturday, Jan. 24, 3 PM to 4:30 PM, in the Four Seasons Ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center. Share your views at the Town Hall Discussion wiki corrected link: What: Special Membership Town Hall Meeting When: Saturday, 3 PM to 4:30 PM Where: Four Seasons Ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center
Any Mid-Winter attendees planning on participating?

Stevens, Oliver seek 2010 - 2011 ALA presidency

Stevens, Oliver seek 2010 - 2011 ALA presidency: Roberta Stevens and Kenton L. Oliver are candidates for the 2010-2011 presidency of the American Library Association (ALA). Stevens is currently outreach projects and partnerships officer at the Library of Congress and project manager for the National Book Festival.

Since 2001, Oliver, executive director of the Stark County District Library in Canton, Ohio, has overseen a library district serving an area of 256,000 residents with 11 locations. Prior to that, in a career spanning more than 30 years, he has been associate director for branch services for the Johnson County Library in Overland Park, Kan.; library director of the Olathe Public Library in Olathe, Kan.; and head of public services for the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia, Mo.



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