I had the chance to attend a new (to me) conference over the weekend: LITA Forum. This annual conference packs a lot into Friday-Sunday. I spoke on Sunday, which gave me the chance to feel out the conference (and find six more things for my slides) before I had to stand up before my audience. Overall, it’s a conference I’m very comfortable recommending. I’ll write a bit more about the conference separately, but I wanted to talk a little about something that struck me as unusual.
LITA is the technology division for ALA. Though the division and the conference are open to all flavors of librarians, I found people surprised that I was attending. In four different conversations, I was asked what I did (Medical Librarian) and the immediate follow up question was “Why are you *here*?” While I doubt they intended it to be as unwelcoming as it sounded*, by the fourth time, the polite answer was starting to wear a little thin and I was beginning to feel that at least some of the attendees didn’t think a reference librarian with interest and activity if not always clearly defined job responsibilities in a systems/digitization/web dept should be there.
I found this odd and rather off-putting. Technology is one of the things that all librarians deal with. Certainly, we may come at it from different approaches but modern technology is pervasive. We all deal with the website. We’re all trying to find a technology solution to problems. We all have technology problems for which we need to know if others have found solutions. I’ve seen librarians bond deeply over public printing issues.
Fortunately, this is not common among the people I’ve met in LITA. I’ve been a member of the division for four years, I chair one committee and serve on a second. I serve as a LITA representative to an ALA level committee. This participation has been both as a reference/liaison librarian at a research university as well as a children’s librarian at a medium sized public library. And I talked to 30-40 people who didn’t ask this question, so even this weekend it was by no means the majority.
But if you were curious:
I joined LITA because I found it to be a very welcoming division when I started poking around looking to become more involved; the division was where some interesting and engaged people I knew and/or respected were; the division crossed library type boundaries; and it was somewhere that wasn’t ALSC that a children’s librarian could have a voice. I stay involved because I’ve met and worked with even more creative and driven people and because technology conversations shouldn’t only happen among the people who have systems/technology/web in their job title. I was at Forum because the topic was Data. One of the aspects of that word for libraries is research data and reference/liaison librarians are really working hard right now to figure out how to reach faculty and students to help them with data management needs.
So that’s why I was there. More about the conference itself soon!
*One kept trying to shoehorn me into a box: “So, you’re the web librarian? No. The emerging technologies librarian? No.”
I guess I should not be surprised anymore that lay people do not know the broad range of what librarians do, are capable of, and interested in, since even some librarians seem ignorant of the fact that we cross boundaries, labels, departments, and job descriptions – “other duties as assigned’ – just about every day.