My Thoughts on Computers in Libraries 2019

Hi all,

I attended Computers in Libraries this year, for the first time ever, which was exciting for me. Here I’m going to summarize and share the key information I got from each session I attended. You can see all available presentation slides for the presentations here.

Boosting User Engagements on Your Website by Shari Thurow

Shari talked about a bunch of different things here including:

  • Making sure that the information architecture works the way a user would expect it to
  • Ensuring social media icons are large and placed in the optimal point on a webpage to encourage sharing to social media
  • Make your site look trustworthy
    • With that in mind, six colors for your site is good
  • Make sure visited links are marked in a clear way from unvisited links

The Bottom Line:

Most of what Shari shared was nothing new to me, and I imagine it wouldn’t be new to anyone who has some knowledge of website best practices and standards. However, she did have information in there that I wasn’t aware of, or suggestions I hadn’t heard of. Overall, I felt it was a good session for both beginners of more experienced people like me, in that we both got some knowledge out of it.

Courage to Be Strategic by Mary Lee Kennedy

Mary is the Director of the Association of Research Libraries. She talked about standing up for what we believe within an organization and bringing others along with us.

The Bottom Line:

Honestly, this session was disappointing. She suggested we all get together within our organizations and talk and listen with one another. She did say that we should create a culture where we are more comfortable with risks and failure. However, she didn’t give any real examples on how to create this kind of environment, especially if you’re not the one in charge. She also suggested we allow for space in job descriptions for innovation; for people to be able to grow and create beyond specific tasks. Finally, when an audience member asked what she would suggest if you have different values than your organization, she suggested that the questioner find a new organization that aligns with her beliefs. I thought this was odd because she was talking about getting people on board with her plans, and listening and having an open mind. So it seemed strange that instead of suggesting ways to convince people to get on board, she suggested that the questioner find a new job where everyone else agrees with them.

Success with Social Media: Impact and Reach by Nick Tanzi and Sara Roye


Sara and Nick discussed ways to increase user engagement with your social media pages as a way to increase your content’s presence in individual’s feeds. They opened the presentation by saying that social media doesn’t work the way we as librarians expect it to. We expect to post about a program, and then a patron will see it, and then register for it, if they are interested. However, Facebook’s algorithm favored posts that users want to see, and it determines this by engagement with the post (reactions/likes, comments, and shares). A post that says “Sign Up for this Program” is generally not going to get much engagement with it. The reality of the situation is that you need to post engaging content that a patron will interact with, which Facebook will attribute value to, and this will increase visibility of your page’s posts.

The Bottom Line:

This was by far the most relevant session I attended for my team as a whole at my library. While I don’t manage the social media, my team does, and we often collaborate to post unified messages across all platforms, so this was pretty relevant. This presentation was pretty much focused exclusively on Facebook, and by extension Instagram, since Facebook owns that platform as well. However, no other social media platforms were mentioned in this. Anyway, most of the information wasn’t totally new, but they did provide examples and ideas that were helpful. Here were their main suggestions:

  • #bookface does pretty well on social media
  • Local History posts are great because people love nostalgia, and often comment on posts like this (which Facebooks ranks highly)
  • Time lapse videos are good because people are compelled to watch until the end to see the end result
  • Any programs with animals are cute and great social media fodder
  • A great way to get people interested in programs is to leverage FOMO (fear of missing out) and show them a great program they missed
  • Lastly, they suggest only one post a day to Facebook (presumably this applies to other platforms as well)

Collections, Partnerships & Engagement: Tips and Ideas! Part 1 by Nancy Howe

This was a two part session that I only attended the first part of, so I can only speak to that. The presenter for this was Nancy Howe, the Public Relations and Outreach Librarian for the Baldwinsville Public Library. She discussed using a software program called TrekSolver which is like a trivia game users can take online as a way to promote upcoming events or library resources.

The Bottom Line:

It’s an interesting idea, but as Nancy said, the Trek by itself isn’t enough; you need to have prizes to get people interested in doing it. At first it seemed like a scavenger hunt type software, which I thought was interesting, but it turned out to be just a trivia questionnaire that you can access when you’re in the library (its location –based).

Website Design Winners & Losers by David Lee King, Marshall Breeding, and Jeff Wisniewski

This presentation involved David Lee King and Jeff Wisniewski looking at a couple of websites, and commenting on what they liked and didn’t like about them. In between Marshall Breeding discussed some general best practices for websites. Collectively they looked at the Seattle Public Library, the Topeka and Shawnee County Library, and the Harvard University Library websites. Seattle and Harvard just did major redesigns to their sites, so those critiques were focused on that. Marshall talked about libraries not having https for their websites will show up as not secure which lowers a patron’s view of the library, which is a valid point. A little less than half of the libraries in the United States have https for their websites, which is really unfortunate. He also suggested learning about any bots that might be on your site transmitting search data to other organizations, as that’s a privacy concern.

The Bottom Line:

I thought it was good to be aware of what these guys thought were most important for users to see immediately on websites (location, contact information, news), but other than that there was nothing really new. The presenters didn’t explore anything really beyond the homepage, and no one mentioned accessibility at all. In terms of winners and losers, I didn’t feel like this presentation lived up to its name. I was hoping for more in-depth conversation beyond just the basics on making sure your navigation labels make sense. I mean, it’s always a valid point and libraries continue to get it wrong, but I wanted more beyond that kind of information.

Keynote on Day 2: Optimizing the Digital Sharing Economy: Closing the Divide by Nicole Turner-Lee

Nicole spoke about digital inclusion and how libraries can help everyone have internet access, so that we aren’t leaving people behind in our rapidly digital economy.

The Bottom Line:

Nicole didn’t provide much insight as to how she thought libraries could help beyond what they’re already doing. She mentioned lending out Wi-Fi hotspots that several libraries have started doing, and that having computers for patrons to use at the library was great, but didn’t offer too many details beyond that. When a librarian asked her what they can do, she suggested that the libraries reach out to commercial partners like Comcast or Verizon, companies that always want to increase their market, to get some programs for the library. While that sounds good, with everything going on with net neutrality, it’s unclear if doing that will cause those same people who desperately need internet to be unable to access certain sites of information because of that internet provider blocking that information. It likely won’t affect the things they need the most, like accessing email, or paying bills online, or getting benefits information online. However, it could affect students who are trying to find help for their homework, if the provider is blocking certain sites from coming through. It’s a bit of an extreme scenario, but it’s definitely something libraries need to consider in a partnership scenario, since our mission is to provide access to reliable information for free.

Moving to Cloud-Based Knowledge Services by Ben Hope and Andre Long

Ben Hope is an Information Architect at the FDA, and Andre Long is an Enterprise Architect at e-management consultants. They worked together to implement a knowledge management system at the Food and Drug Administration.

The Bottom Line:

The two of them talked about implementing knowledge management in the cloud, and got technical with it. They started the session discussing why you need to have a knowledge management system at a workplace, and then moved into their components of the system. However, it got very technical and abstract somehow, and I had a hard time following what they were saying.

Bot Literacy: Teaching Librarians to Make Twitter Bots by Mark Eaton and Robin Camille Davis

This session talked about teaching users how to code in Python, by showing them how to build a Twitter bot in Python. They discussed the scaffolding learning approach of having each section of the workshop build on itself, and how that was a successful teaching tool.

The Bottom Line:

The session was focused on how they conducted this workshop and used scaffolded learning, which was interesting. There wasn’t any really demonstration of how they taught the class though. It was more about the actual pedagogy and training best practices than it was about coding or Twitter. Lastly, at the end they revealed that they wouldn’t be able to do the workshop again as it existed since Twitter has made it much harder for people to sign up for accounts and to create bots. They did say that the same principles could be applied to Slack and Mastodon though.

ROI and Value: Thinking, Measuring and Talking about What Matters by Mary Ellen Bates

Mary Ellen Bates is a fantastic speaker, and this is a well-known fact. She’s engaging, funny, and relevant. Anyway, she discussed how to measure your own value to your organization in terms of the work that you provide. In her presentation, she opened with this startling fact: 93% of librarians think usage is a key metric when determining value, but only 24% of administrators feel the same way. What we’re left with is a gap in between what the librarians and administrators find valuable. If the librarians only report on usage information, the administrators aren’t going to find value on the librarians’ work, and their funding could get cut. They’re talking two different languages. Mary Ellen Bates discussed how to talk the language of administrators.

The Bottom Line:

Mary Ellen’s talk at first seemed geared towards all libraries, but as it went it on, it seemed more relevant for special, government, or academic libraries, and less relevant for public libraries. Her talk focused on justifying your existence to your organization, which in a public library sense still means the City, but there’s a little more involved with that process than there are for the other organizations. However, she talked about a few things that I think I should mention here:

  • Be aware of external pressures to the library and what your library is writing press releases about, since these are things that motivate the powers that be
  • Follow up on services you provide. One research librarians was able to provide information that patents were x% more likely to be awarded to their organization if they used library resources in the process of the application
  • Consider why you do something and how that translates to the company’s bottom line. One engineering firm library had children’s books, because they had a day care, which was valuable in keeping employees happy, so the library justified their continued children’s items in terms of employee retention
  • Instead if describing what you do, describe the outcomes you provide. One example is instead of saying, “We provide research services,” say “We provide answers to your biggest challenges.”
  • Lastly, Mary Ellen talked about a public library in Australia that would invite all local candidates running for office to a campaign 101 workshop. This was a great idea because that means whomever wins the election is now acutely aware of what the library has to offer. Therefore, they are more likely to be a champion of the library and recognize its value.

Agile Information Management for Success by Richard Husler

Richard basically went over what Agile management principles are and how they can be applied in a library setting.

The Bottom Line:

Agile management is the “new” way to go, and it seems to focus on making small, quick decisions with minimal discussion about it. I thought this presentation was a good overview of the principles, as someone who’s never formally learned what Agile management is. However, I did have questions about this management style that people seem to favor. It seems to pride itself on not spending too much time with other people, but I find that can be challenging for team building and getting everyone to think along the same lines. In addition, because it seems to favor individual action, it doesn’t seem like it’s very supportive of brainstorming ideas. I could be off-base here, and maybe I misunderstood this management style, but those were my initial concerns. Richard dis talk about how to use these in a library setting, but most of his stories involved volunteers helping him out in his business, and I had a hard time seeing how that would connect to a library team setting, so I didn’t really write any of the examples down.

Engaging Library Spaces – From Collection to Connection by Carmen Pereira and Fedele Canosa

This was a session I was excited about, since learning about creating engaging spaces has been an interest of mine. However, the two presenters were architects from Mecanoo Architects and they talked about library rebuild and renovation projects, instead of how you can change up an existing space without tearing items down. They went over some projects they did, including library in Delft in the Netherlands, the Birmingham Public Library, the Mid-Manhattan Library, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

The Bottom Line:

I thought the projects they worked on were interesting, and I liked their ideas they had for all of those spaces. It was interesting to see what different libraries wanted and what people wanted to change about the former library spaces. However, as I mentioned, there wasn’t much information on how to create these spaces without the help of an architect, or what to look for, per se. So, that aspect to the session was a little disappointing. However, overall, I found it to be really interesting.

Computers in Libraries Magazine Tech Forum with Dick Kaser, Jessamyn West, Marshall Breeding, Terence Huwe, and Jan Zastrow

This forum talked to the columnists at Computers in Libraries about trends they’re seeing in the technology as it relates to patrons and to libraries.

The Bottom Line:

There were two things that I found thought provoking from this tech forum. One came from Jessamyn West, who said that people she interacts with have a lot of trouble using technology because several products they use will be from different companies than one another, and the companies don’t like each other, so the products don’t interact well. She was specifically mentioning Apple, Microsoft and Google, and phone and software manufacturers, and that Microsoft products don’t really work on Apple devices, and how confusing that it for the end user.

The other thought-provoking conversation came from Jan Zastrow, who talked about archives and the environment. Archives need temperature controlled environments, and we also back up a lot of that data on servers, and this does come at a cost to the environment, with the energy we have to expend to keep all of these items. Some questions archives are facing now is to what extent do we keep everything, and what do we do about the environmental impact we have? Should we think about preserving some items using more traditional “preservation” methods like oral histories?

Tech Tools to Transform Culture by Christine Tracey and Vickie Drake

Christine and Vickie discusses transforming their library to a single service desk, and the ways they went about doing that. The presentation wasn’t as focused on using specific technological tools to do this, as much as it discussed helpful strategies and ideas they used to help transform the culture and the library’s service model in the organization.

The Bottom Line:

Christine and Vickie discussed examples of what they did in their process, but the main takeaways I got from this presentation was their approach to this change in terms of leadership. Here are some of the most striking ones:

  • Acknowledge the past to move forward, especially if a project has stalled
  • Reward the journey, and not just the end result
  • Leadership is a combination of expertise and honesty/integrity, and you need both to have people follow you
  • Keep people engaged throughout the process of change is critical
  • Make the proposed change tangible and real to the employees, so that they know why they’re doing it

Preparing Libraries for the Digital Future by Peter Velikonja

Peter’s presentation looked at how to use Google Ad data to improve libraries. Peter signed up for a Google Ad account and looked at what Google found to be the top keyword searches in different topics, based on location. He aggregated that data and put it on his company’s website. The idea is to suggest ways libraries can see what people are searching for, and use that to either create programs and resources for those items, or to boost relevant items in search results.

The Bottom Line:

This was an interesting presentation, and it was mainly about the possibility of doing something like this. Peter’s team has yet to implement this at any library (although they are working on it). I think his idea of meeting people at Google to help them out is an interesting one. As librarians, we are constantly trying to convince people to use us first, before Google, but that’s not very realistic. Peter’s suggestion is that we use Google to get people to come to us, and it’s a good idea. I’m definitely interested to see how this project works with the library’s he’s working with. But even if we don’t boost our search results, Google searches can give us insight into what people in our area are interested in, and possibly help us add more relevant programs (for instance ASL is one of the most commonly searched for language classes).

Overall Thoughts:

Overall, I thought the conference was a bit of a mixed bag, but I didn’t expect much else. Here were some relevant sessions, and then some less relevant or interesting ones, but that’s to be expected. What I did learn, I felt was valuable, and information I probably wouldn’t have learned without this conference.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s