(Re-)Introducing the ALA Library
Some members are surprised to learn that ALA has its own library--and has had since September 30, 1924. The purpose of the library was then, as it is now, to provide information needed by ALA staff as they carry out the work of the Association and to provide information to members and others who contact ALA with questions about librarians, librarianship, and ALA programs.
With this post we are initiating the new iteration of our blog, now called Ask the ALA Library, in our own space on the ALA website. At the same time, we'll provide an update on our work.
What's the same:
- The ALA Library has about 8,000 monographs, subscribes to some 250 periodicals, and adds about 350 volumes a year, both paper and digital, and monographic and serial. The library’s staff responds to over 4,000 inquiries each year. More than half of these are received—and answered—via e-mail or other electronic means; another 40 percent are phone, with the rest being in person, fax or mail inquiries. The scope of the collection is limited to librarianship, association management, and general management, with a few special collections. With the exception of ALA publications, the ALA Library is not a library of record, but a working collection that supports the information needs of the headquarters staff, plus the materials needed to answer the questions received.
- As with any library, the range of questions is broad. Some are simple (when is National Library Week?), but others are complex and challenging. For ALA staff and officers, we frequently assist with historical research using the published record, seeking out when and why a particular activity or policy began. For practitioners, we provide links to current resources needed to help with the problem at hand.
- When we do get questions from the general public—and we do!—we answer when the question is about libraries and their work, of course. For out of scope questions (e.g., what is the temperature on Mars?) and the exceptions to our service mission (extensive background research for graduate projects, compilation of extensive bibliographies, requests for information connected with contests, or completion of school or work assignments), we encourage people to visit their local library—whether public, school, or campus—to tap into the enormous expertise we know is available among our members and other library workers.
- As we answer a question, we consider whether it is a "one-off", unlikely to be asked again. For those questions whose content is a frequent topic, we develop content for others to access. That is the same; what has changed--and continues to change--is how.
- First, and most basic, the entire ala.org website has been migrated to a Drupal 7 platform. Although the migration is already a year old, we have been working with our colleagues to develop several information resources, as well as to reposition some of our own.
- ALA Library Fact Sheets. Number 1 answers the perennial question, how many libraries are there? Its initial format was a one-page sheet we could mail (remember paper mail?) to inquirers, and later fax. Other Fact Sheets are just that, fact sheets, some are annotated bibliographies or webliographies, and others quick guides answering a common question. All are updated regularly.
- Topics A-Z. The ALA website is a rich resource, and we frequently pull from the work of several other ALA offices and divisions as we answer questions. Putting these "pathfinders" online provides us with a space to collect additional information on a topic and answer subsequent questions more quickly, but also gives visitors to the site a one-stop overview. If some of these pages look like they were part of the Professional Tips wiki, it's because they were. We are migrating that wiki to the main website, as the Drupal software allows much of the same flexibility we had with the Wikimedia software.
- Calendar. We have maintained for some time a hard-coded calendar of upcoming celebratory weeks and months. We get asked for this, and it does make answering "when is National Library Week?" faster. This calendar is now database-driven and includes much more than the celebratory weeks. Look for it in several manifestations around the website.
- FAQs. We built the first version of a database-driven FAQ over a decade ago. We're now pruning and migrating it to Drupal. Like the calendar, it will be flexible and able to be deployed on several pages on the website.
- The blog. We're testing out the Drupal blog module by moving our blog from under the protective wing of American Libraries Online, to our own space. We'll move the archives ... and continue to blog. Note that we are recognizing that it isn't just "the ALA Librarian" who receives, researches, and responds to questions, but all of us. We receive questions from across the country—and from around the world, wherever there are libraries and library workers. We’re hoping that by sharing these questions and our answers, we’ll help others who have the same question.
- Second, we're making greater use of various "social" tools for information delivery. We provide all content for the @ALALibrary twitter feed, as well as answer questions received there. We have our own Facebook page. We have a Delicious account, where we capture news stories and web pages on the topics we track as we come across them. We create bibliographies in OCLC WorldCat, where these lists enable us to do two things: we can capture a reference to a book we think might be useful to someone in the field, but which is limited reference value in our own collection, and we can refer to the list on Fact Sheets, the A-Z pages, and in emailed answers.
That's the update on how the ALA Library supports ALA's mission to "provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all” by being the resource for questions about librarianship and ALA. Please watch for posts (we think they'll continue to be highlighted in ALDirect) and comment with additional information when you can.