I was faced this year with the unhappy task of having to choose between attending Book Expo or the New Jersey Library Association spring conference, both of which took place this past week. After some agonized deliberation I chose the library conference, in no small part because I thought it was important to support NJLA, a group that has had the library community's back during such difficult political and economic times. That, and the chance to stay at Revel, Atlantic City's newly opened resort/casino which, at times, felt as if it required almost as much walking as a stroll through BEA's Javits Center.
So what were the hot topics for NJ librarians this year?
Although technology, ebooks, and services for children and teens appeared to take the largest share of programming slots, the offerings at this year's conference were spread out over a wide range of topics including privacy of library records, book blogging, disaster planning, Tumblr, pop music resources, gaming, teen advisory boards, and the 2010 census. Conspicuously absent from the program schedule were sessions dealing with Google, Facebook, and podcasting.
Sadly, what was also conspicuously absent from this year's conference were big name or even mid-list authors, possibly because of the conflict with Book Expo but also possibly because of how much it would have cost to bring a broadly recognized name to the conference. Happily, one exception was an appearance at the Garden State Book Awards luncheon by Lauren Oliver, an absolutely delightful young woman who managed to completely captivate a roomful of mostly children's services librarians with her account of how she came to write Before I Falland the dystopian trilogy Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem, all titles for young adults . Although I have never felt much of a compulsion to read YA literature before, she did an excellent job of making me curious enough to actually consider reading her stuff.
What perhaps struck me most at the conference was the fact that everyone seemed to be putting on a brave face in spite of the very real challenges that libraries and librarians are up against. Both of this year's keynote speakers were from the world of academia and both exhorted librarians to embrace change as the only way to continue to be relevant and thus remain viable. The other buzzword that continually came up was "partnering," something that we were encouraged to do early and often, be it with other libraries, schools, non-profits, or businesses. In the face of constant technological advancement, I do understand that libraries will wither away and die if we can't find ways to keep up with it all. I am, however, having trouble embracing the idea that libraries will have to morph into something that can best be described as equal parts social services agency, video arcade, recording studio, and Kinko's in order to remain relevant.
The other thing that was noticeable at this year's conference was the number of younger librarians in attendance. I am sorry that I did not more actively engage in discussions with members of this new generation of professionals to learn more about what they consider to be the best hope for the future of libraries and librarianship. I myself am at that dangerous age where I find myself constantly questioning my own opinions - are they based on a good reading of the situation at hand or are my opinions based on professional principles that have become outmoded? Time will surely tell.
Postscript: As good a time as I had at the conference, I am still bummed out by the fact that I missed out on the possibility of meeting Josh, Erin, Benjamin and Dana for that very special Dead Guy episode from the floor of the Javits Center.