Annette Smith – 2007 LITA Forum Travel Grant Winner

Ms. Annette Smith from Barbados, West Indies, was the winner of the 2007 LITA-IRC Travel Grant to the 2007 LITA Forum. Ms. Smith is the Director of the National Library Service, Bridgetown, Barbados, WI. In her candidate’s report, she gives her impressions of the 2007 LITA Forum in Denver, Colorado.
2007 LITA Forum

Phew! The flight was touching down in Denver, I had made it. I hadn’t dared to say this before; it wasn’t unheard of to have an aircraft turn back for one reason or other.

I arrived in Denver on October 5 late at night, too late even to buy a toothbrush. I didn’t care; I had made it. I was the lucky recipient of the 2007 LITA Travel Grant and I had made it to the main conference of the National Forum.

I had registered in August to catch the “early bird special.” My plan was to arrive in Denver on the afternoon of the third, attend the pre-conference, the main conference, and spend two days, through the courtesy of the Denver Library Association, visiting public libraries and looking at services and programmes.

My plans, to quote the old adage, had nearly “come to naught” as local conditions conspired to prevent me from leaving Barbados. So here I was, arriving at almost 10 PM on the night of the fifth, two days into the Forum, looking for a taxi and a toothbrush! I found the taxi; but, instead of wending my way to the room I had originally booked at the Denver Marriott Center Hotel, the venue of the Forum, I was now on my way to the Marriott at Cherry Creek, $ 17 US per trip from the venue of the Forum.

The Forum was all I had expected. The theme was Technology with Altitude. I had checked the schedule and had narrowed my list of “absolutely must attend” sessions reluctantly to six of the concurrent sessions, two general ones, and all of the poster sessions. I had also decided that I would try to register on the spot for the second pre-conference if there was still space.

My late arrival should have forced me to reduce the number of concurrent sessions I could attend. This would have been the sensible approach but instead I tried to regain lost time by hopping around from session to session. On hindsight, I should have relied on the conference papers to cover the areas I could not attend. Eventually I attended David King’s, The Future is not out of Reach: Change, Library 2.0 and Emerging Trends; Corrado’s, http://Library 2.0; some of Catherine Dannik’s, It’s Up and Running. Now What …; Martha Chantiny, Using the Street Print Engine for Digital Image Collections at the University of Hawaii; all of the Poster Sessions and Jeremy Frumkin, In our Cages with Golden Bars. I was also able to spend one day visiting libraries.

It seems to me that technology and library go hand in hand, like the proverbial ‘hand and glove’. Every time a new application comes on the scene the library community finds a way to build it into the programme or service delivery system. However, for some of us, the new technologies are creating an operating environment that, if not totally unfamiliar, at least appears a lot different from the one to which some of us have grown accustomed. It may well be, as Toffler wrote way back in the 70s, that the time lag between the idea of a new technology and the application of that technology has been drastically cut. More than 30 years later this analysis is probably truer than it was then.

In the past, when the librarian and libraries guarded access to the portals of knowledge, when we stood between the customers and the technology, change went on around us but if we could not afford to buy it we could keep quiet about it. For some of us this has all changed. The customer now not only knows what is on the market, he knows how to use it and when the new release is out, long before some libraries and librarians even see the outdated beta version.

At the time of writing his Future Shock, Toffler identified the impact of the application of technology at different levels separating people into three groups:

– People of the past whose lives were still geared to the slower rhythms of agriculture making up 70%;
– The industrialized people of the present who had only lingering memories of the agricultural past making up more than 25%; and
– The people of the future, about 2-3%, the earliest citizens of the worldwide super industrial society always looking for a change.

I feel Toffler could have pegged a fourth group; a group of “wannebees” a group that understands, even though it cannot climb on to the bandwagon, that the synergies created by the evolving customer needs and new technologies would force change; that the change would affect tasks, requiring different skills and qualities to perform these tasks as well as requiring different styles in management and leadership.

I would like to think that even if I was not in the 25 or 2 % that at least I had left 70% group and could be in the fourth group. So I arrived at LITA 2007 with my checklist of questions:

– What’s the latest in the new ICTs?
– What discrete technologies do I need to know about?
– How relevant are they to a small library in a developing or country-in-transition stage?
– Are these technologies affordable?
– Who needs these technologies?
– Can one afford to ignore these technologies and for how long?
– What competencies will the library need to embrace these technologies to remain relevant?
– What structures will need to be dismantled or rebuilt to adjust?
– Is it possible to compensate for the lack of these technologies?

I had gotten to the Forum late but I was glad that I had made it. I was glad that I had had the opportunity to attend. I left with papers that would help to narrow the information gap created when I missed half the sessions, with ideas, answers, more questions, but at least with the names of contacts I had made; maybe, and more than likely, finding answers in the future would not be so hard.

I owe thanks to a host of people for providing this opportunity. Some of them I may never find out about and some I hope I have thanked already but here I should like to thank my friend and mentor Carla Stoffle for bringing the Grant to my attention; to Claudia Hill for working her own brand of magic when it seemed as if planning and effort would lose the day-thank you so much Claudia-and to Rochelle Logan of the Douglas County Libraries who was gracious enough to clear a slot in her busy schedule to show me around some of the libraries.

To the 2008 lucky candidate enjoy yourself, enjoy the intimate environment of a small meeting, ALA participants know what I mean!

Annette Smith

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