Guest author: Anthony Wright de Hernandez
Resident Librarian, Virginia Tech
The 2015 LITA Forum was held at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis in Minneapolis, MN from November 12 to 15. The Forum is an annual gathering of those in the library and archives communities interested in existing and emerging technologies and how they are being used to increase information access. This year’s conference was held in conjunction with the Library Leadership & Management Association (LLAMA) and had about 275 attendees.
There were three keynote speakers for this conference. The first was Lisa Welchman, President of Digital Governance Solutions at ActiveStandards. She spoke about the challenges presented by the rapid development of technology and who will get to create standards and governance for how we will interact with digital technologies in the future (hint: we can all be involved). The second was Mx Matienzo, Director of Technology for the Digital Public Library of America. His keynote was about how societal bias affects cataloging and archival projects and will bleed over from those into linked data projects as well. His ultimate message was that we all need to be aware of and examine our privilege and how it impacts everything we do. The final keynote was from Carson Block of Carson Block Consulting Inc. It was the final session of the conference and focused on how to take the conference experience home.
Beyond the keynotes, there were regular sessions. The conference usually has session “tracks” that provide multiple sessions on certain topics. This year’s main topics were linked data and management with shorter mini-tracks for gaming in libraries, digital security and privacy, and altmetrics. There was also one preconference session focused on using Google analytics to examine user search behavior. And there were lightning talks where anyone could sign up to talk for five minutes on whatever topic they wanted to.
One of the most interesting sessions was from Sarah Park and Lora Smallman of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. They presented on a project designed to digitize and fully transcribe over 22,000 individual pages of naturalization records from Madison County, Illinois spanning a period from 1816 to the 1950s. For the project, they applied for and received a grant focused on digital history projects and targeted to collections of this type. They used some of the money to outsource the bulk digitization and then used the rest to work on the full transcription of the documents. They began with direct transcription and discovered that their transcribers often had trouble with reading the handwriting on the documents. After reviewing the types of documents in the collection, they determined that most were standardized forms and that a simple transcription helper web tool could make transcription faster and more accurate. A simple web form was set up that contained the standard language of the documents and prompted only for the variable language such as names and dates. Using the new tool, the transcription process has accelerated and is easier and more accurate. This has also enabled the project to move on into other areas such as analysis of the data using geocoding.
Arguably the most entertaining and informative session was presented by Bill Dueber from the University of Michigan. Bill’s session was titled “Does anyone even click on that? Using click-tracking and statistics to justify doing nothing.” His presentation style was outrageous and kept everyone awake and engaged in this late-day session. The ultimate message of the session is that we must all look at why it makes sense to do something before we endeavour to do it. The case he presented concerned a button on the library website that wasn’t functioning as desired. Rather than working hard to change its functionality, he examined how often it was actually used and discovered that a miniscule number of users actually clicked on the button and, therefore, it was not a good use of time and resources to work on changing its functionality.
Other sessions included consolidating multiple digital repositories into Islandora, creating a “Snow Fall” -like presentation for use in special collections and archives work, integrating institutional repositories with other library technologies, and more.
Beyond sessions, there was a great deal of opportunity for networking. Networking opportunities began before the conference via a conference wiki, the messaging system Slack, and the social conferencing site Lanyrd. Before and during the conference, the wiki was a great spot to learn about planned social events (or plan and announce an event of your own). The wiki was also the spot where presenters shared slides and notes from their presentations. Discussion of the conference began early on Slack and continued throughout the conference. Conversations among attendees were easier to follow with Slack than they would have been following Twitter hashtags. Lanyrd was set up with information about each session and allowed social connection with other attendees while creating a schedule of sessions to attend.
Organized via the wiki, there was a morning running group and networking breakfasts and dinners. The dinners consisted of groups of 10-15 people heading out to local restaurants to socialize. It allowed for some fine dining and good social interaction with fellow conference attendees. There was even a game night.
Overall, the LITA Forum is a great laid-back conference for anyone interested in the technology we use in libraries and archives. The sessions provide a glimpse into what’s possible and what others are working on. There are tons of opportunities for networking with other technically-minded information professionals. There are games, social events, learning events, and inspiration lurking everywhere at the Forum. If you’re interested in technology and how it is being used in libraries and archives, I highly recommend attending the Forum. So far, the location for the 2016 LITA Forum hasn’t been announced but keep an eye on the LITA Blog to see where it will be.