They're Just Tools: Enhancing our work with Technology

By Michael Stephens |

I really enjoyed ALA Midwinter. Touching down in 70 degree weather on Wednesday was a treat and participating in various activities with colleagues and folks who I admire is a great way to spend a few days in the Mile High City.

Last summer, I wrote about the use of Twitter at Annual. This time around everything seemed even more connected and accessible. I'm very impressed with what the LITA folks did with Top Tech trends. I made connections, followed meetings and got to chime in on various issues via my Mac and my iPhone. Other folks participated from afar.

Now I'm back to teaching and watching as folks in our association debrief and discuss the meeting. As part of my duties as chair of the Web Advisory Committee for ALA and mentor for two of the Emerging Leaders groups, I get all of the  ALA Council emails. There is a fascinating discussion playing out there today. Sylvia Head, West European Cataloging Section at Indiana University Libraries in Bloomington, Indiana asked Council:  "Are laptops being used during Council meetings to enhance the work of Council?"

This intrigued me. I am glad Council is having these discussions and I'm thankful to have followed so much of the discussion via Twitter. If we are aiming for a more open and transparent association, these certainly are good steps to take. Into my inbox came many replies to the question, including this well-presented reply from Gina Persichini, Idaho Chapter Councilor:

I can speak only for myself.  I use my laptop for a number of reasons during Council sessions.  Any or all of the following might apply depending upon the day, my mood, how late I stayed up the night before, what’s happening at my place of work, or any number of other factors:

*Taking notes to share with the libraries in Idaho that voted for me to represent them

*Access to my electronic copy of the ALA Handbook -- available in PDF via the ALA website, searchable by keyword, and much lighter weight than the paper version,

*Blogging about my conference/Council experience,

*Twittering to:

  • communicate with other Councilors (don’t have to wander to other side of room),
  • share with ALA members who weren’t able to stay in town through Council II or III, or
  • share with fellow members of the Task Force on Electronic Member Participation who aren’t on Council and couldn’t stay for the meetings, yet were interested to know the outcome of our work

*Check my work email – I still have a job and responsibilities while I’m on the road

*Reading/Referring to electronic copies of the documents that were sent ahead of time (Thanks to Jennifer Grady for those ALA-APA docs)

*Entering Tasks into my Outlook task list for follow-up activities, to-do items, or things to read/research that come up during Council sessions

*Checking in for my flight home (not Council work, but I did it anyway)  :-)

Another message tapped in to the fact that other technology kept us connected. From Barbara Genco, Councilor at Large:

"While I did not bring my laptop this year, I have in the past. I need to stay in touch with my home library at all times. This MW I used my Blackberry for work communications and my personal smartphone to access other Councilors via Facebook. As I needed to leave before the lively discussion on Electronic Communication was concluded, I was able to follow the progress and sense of the Council debate via fellow Councilors' posts and tweets. Very helpful indeed! Thanks for initiating this discussion thread." 

Aaron Dobbs, Councilor at Large, noted:

"I use my laptop to follow along and annotate the documents which were available online - because I usually cannot find (or cannot read my handwriting on) the paper documents when I get home / back to work.

I also use my laptop to participate in intra-council back-channel communications about what we are discussing and share salient points about policies being discussed or voted upon with people following me, or the conference hashtag, on twitter and other social media channels."

The flurry of excited "Yes I used my laptop for council business and so much more" messages like these has been encouraging. It reminded me that I also need to encourage laptop use in all of my classes for many of the same reasons - especially Saturday/Sunday classes. We've seen an increase in student laptop use in our program. This weekend in LIS768, I had 5 Macs and at least that many PCs that students brought in to class. We actually ran out of outlets in the room! Using the tools of the trade if you will - for access to our Wordpress MU site, for access to Twitter, which the class LOVED and for access to any number of links I shared during my lectures - not only grants access but gets students ready for their work. I've long advocated for libraries to give their librarians a laptop as standard issue. 

Chatting with Gina while I prepped this post made this even more clear. "If we stand by the idea that these are just tools and some tools make some tasks more efficient, then it would behoove us all to at least learn about the tools available to us."

But what if someone found a brief distraction while at that meeting or in the classroom? Oh My!

In my mind, the benefits of students being able to take notes and explore during class and to be connected to the Web and the World certainly far exceed the chance they might peek at the score of the big game or check the Facebook! (Heck, I did the same thing this weekend too!) I don't give exams, but if I did, I'd probably still encourage the use of various technologies. It's so ingrained in our work in libraries, my students should have as much access as possible.

I checked in with Sylvia for this post too, who described the flurry of responses: "The answers have been fascinating and educational." Indeed! Just this discussion could prove very helpful for those who might be curious about all of the techie hubbub at MW.

I can't imagine a classroom, faculty meeting, conference or workshop that would not be enhanced with a few laptops, smartphones or the next big thing  - for workflow, for communication, for fact-finding and to make pure and simple connections. I am excited to see how we rally at Annual as more laptop toting, Blackberry wielding library folk descend on the Windy City. See you there!