Not-So-Chilly Philly

By Tom Peters |

Last weekend I made my third trip to Philadelphia to attend an ALA Midwinter Meeting.  The first Midwinter I attended (early 90's?) in Philly was very snowy, and the second Midwinter (2003) was extremely cold.  (I have a vivid visual memory of watching Jay Jordan stoically traverse an arctic, windswept parking lot near the Convention Center.)  The most recent Midwinter weather was just about as good as it can get for Philly in January – relatively mild with a shower of rain, not snow, on Sunday evening.  I feel like a satisfied Goldilocks.

Release your inner GoldilocksALA Midwinter always is a hodge-podge of seemingly unrelated conversations and events.  Rather than try to impose some order on my Midwinter experience that simply was not there, I will briefly recap a few of the interesting things that happened.

In the Exhibits Hall I heard lots of news about projects and products that are being developed but not yet ready to be announced.  That's typical for vendors, but I heard this type of talk so often last weekend that I've concluded that 2008 is shaping up to be a good year for new vendor products and services.  I hope these projects come to fruition quickly and are announced at the PLA Conference in Minneapolis in March, ALA Annual in Anaheim in June, and elsewhere.

The coolest new product I actually saw demonstrated at ALA Midwinter is biomedexperts (BME) from Collexis.  Like most information and networking resources, it is better understood experienced than described.  I often think in analogies.  BME seems to me to be like:
Eugene Garfield

  • Citation analysis taken to the next level (Eugene Garfield would be pleased, I think)

  • A pre-populated slice of Facebook of biomed experts you need to know, if so inclined

  • The idea of the semantic web made into a specific, useful tool

  • A great mash-up of citation, social networking, and even geographic information.

There is no cost to register to use this service.  Collexis reps told me that eventually they plan to have some tasteful advertising associated with this resource. 

The Jim Rettig Presidential Initiatives Advisory Committee had a productive -- albeit staple-less -- meeting on Sunday evening.  Many interesting initiatives are being planned for Jim's presidential year, which begins in July:  social networks, unconference events, salon conversations, etc.  For a brief preview, watch and listen to the presentation Jim made to the Chapter Relations Committee, as recorded and blogged by Curtis Rogers on Jan. 12th. 

Joined at the liverThe inaugural meeting of the ALA VCL MIG (Virtual Communities and Libraries Member Initiative Group) was fantastic.  About 27 people attended in person, with another five participating through live web conferencing.  Given a good Internet connection, it was easy to enable online participation and recording.  To listen to a streaming audio recording of the meeting, click here.  I'm one of the designated organizers (kinda like a designated driver) for this MIG.  We're planning lots of events for ALA Annual in Anaheim to help ALA members learn more about virtual communities, virtual worlds, and the prospects for library services to these communities and worlds.  I think MIGs are a great way for our association to re-energize itself and pursue some interesting new directions.  May a thousand MIGs bloom.  At Midwinter I heard that at least one other petition drive is underway to form another MIG, which I hope is approved and announced soon. 

ALA Publishing has an excellent group of authors and editors.  The reception Saturday evening was invigorating, as always.  It was held in the Mutter Museum.  I arrived late, so I didn't take time to peruse the exhibits, but I heard later that, if I had, I may have passed on the hors d'oeuvres.  According to their website, “The Mütter Museum was founded to educate future doctors about anatomy and human medical anomalies.”  Their collection of interesting medical artifacts includes a plaster cast of Siamese Twins joined at the liver, a collection of skulls, over 2,000 objects removed from people's throats (gag me with a spoon), and the actual cancerous growth removed from President Grover Cleveland. 

Spot the cancerous growth, win a prizeThe Library Journal Mover & Shaker luncheon on Saturday was a great two hours of lively conversation as we huddled in small groups to discuss several key topics.  It was held in the Plastic Club, a haven for artists of the visual and plastic arts, with nary a hint of medical anomalies.  All of us are hoping that the growing group of M&S designees will become a force for positive change, collectively as well as individually. 

At the LITA RFID Interest Group meeting I learned that NISO just published a report (PDF file) with recommendations (not a set of standards) about the worldwide use of RFID in libraries.  The report covers not only the technical details, which are legion, but also the social and security issues, including privacy and vandalism to the RFID tags, which could include both brute force as well as nefarious re-coding of data on the chips. 

Although I'm skeptical about the future of in-person-only conferences, because of the time and cost involved and lack of opportunities for truly broad participation, I have one parsimonious tale to tell.  I spent a whopping $13 on ground transportation in Philly.  The regional rail service between downtown and the airport is excellent, and the downtown district is very walkable, assuming the temperature is mild and the snow is not flying.