Libraries: An American Value

By Lance Deveson

Being one of 10 Australians, of 20,000, registered at the ALA mid -summer Conference in Chicago was an experience that will last long in my memory.

The American Library Association, (ALA) organises 2 Conferences per year, Summer and Winter, to cater for the large number of information professionals in the USA. The 1995 attendance at the Summer conference was by far the largest for some years and Chicago turned on its hottest summer for some 30 years. I thought it was just me coming from a southern winter that was being affected by the heat but when I returned home and read about all the deaths of the homeless and aged, I realised that it was particularly hot.

Registration for the Conference was at McCormick Place, a large conference center on the shores of Lake Michigan. As a Victorian, the only way of describing the size of the venue is to think of the MCG with a roof! McCormick Place hosted many of the Conference sessions and the 1400 sites of the Trade Exhibition. On registering the delegates were presented with a detailed program that included 60 concurrent sessions per day commencing daily at 8.30 am. The logistics of just choosing the sessions to attend, as well as boarding the correct bus to get to the venue, required military precision and resulted in long days at the Conference. Many of the sessions were recorded to enable delegates to "attend" as many sessions as possible.

I attended the Conference as part of a visit to the Chicago offices of Endeavor Information Systems, the Voyager software developers and also to attend the inaugural meeting of the Voyager User's Group. Eighteen of the 23 Voyager sites were in attendance and it was very pleasing to meet, face to face, colleagues I had got to know over the past two years by email.

A pleasing feature of the Conference proceedings was the recognition by ALA that school librarianship plays a vital part in the information learning and skill development of library users. To this end, every day there were concurrent sessions of special interest to school librarians alongside those for special librarians, public librarians, university and college Librarians, and technical services staff. In an effort to get as broad a picture of the Conference as possible I chose a number of different sessions. These sessions ranged from an explanation of the role that Structured General Markup Language (SGML) will have in the future of libraries, a session on the need or not for inhouse cataloguers in schools compared with "buying" the data as per SCIS, the role of Super catalogues in school districts, a union catalogue, the (now almost mandatory at any recent conference), "how to get more out of the Internet" and the session I enjoyed most, the American Association of school librarians ( AASL) -"ICONnect" project.

ICONnect is a joint project between AASL, A.LA and Syracuse University, who provide the ERIC service and the young users version, ASK ERIC.

ICONnect hopes over a three year period to connect students, school librarians, and teachers to learning using the Internet. ICONnect resources will:

  • help students develop information skills
  • provide school librarians and teachers with training to effectively navigate the Internet and to develop and use effective electronic resources with teachers and students.

The initiative was developed by Pam Berger, school librarian and editor of Information Searcher journal, often mentioned in Connections, Have you read this section, and Dr Mike Eisenberg, Professor, School of Information Studies Syracuse University and Director of the ERIC clearing house on Information and Technology. Mike Eisenberg has been invited by the ASLA Conference organisers to be the SCIS Orator at the opening of the Perth conference in October this year and after hearing him speak at the ICONnect session he will be a worthy SCIS orator and well worth the trip to Perth to hear him speak. ICONnect has been launched in a school district of 350 schools in Dade County, Miami Florida and the acceptance so far by staff and students in the county has been wonderful.

ICONnect has a world wide web Home page that can be viewed on the Internet at School librarians who have the capability can have a look at what the AASL has begun and where they hope to take the project over the next 3 years.

No Conference would be complete without a trade show, and at ALA there were plenty of exhibits to view, (1400 stands in all). In addition to the mandatory Internet room where delegates could read and send mail, there were many technology exhibits of both library systems and multi media as well as the very pleasing book stands from the major publishers. It was particularly pleasing, on one day, as I ventured through the literature area to see Mem Fox, signing copies of her books, with a large queue waiting to meet her. In an age where everyone at the Conference had an Internet email address, some with home pages also, it was great to see that that books and the "meet the author" opportunities were still important at such a large gathering of library professionals. To do the trade exhibition completely would have required the full five days and I attempted to visit as many stands as possible that related to library automation and also to discover if there is in America a service similar to SCIS for school libraries. Whilst I came away with the impression that the library systems offered or recommended for school libraries in Australia are world class, (OASIS is even marketed in America now as ANNIE), there is nothing available for school libraries in America, by way of a national cataloguing service expressly created for and with established standards for schools, as SCIS. Delegates I spoke with at the Conference were amazed that there was a service in Australia especially for schools and clearly were envious of the service and what it has provided for Australian schools over a 12 year period.

The visit to Chicago for ALA was most rewarding professionally for me as once again I was assured that the path Curriculum Corporation has commenced with the implementation of the Voyager software was the correct decision, as is the company commitment to ongoing development of the SCIS database. On a personal note I also achieved a lifelong ambition to visit and watch a game at Wrigley field, the home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

Lance Deveson

Assistant Manager: Information Program