Last week kicked off the six day library extravaganza known as ALA Annual. The conference, hosted by the American Library Association, was held in Chicago, IL to discuss, learn, and exchange ideas about libraries on the theme “Transforming Our Libraries, Ourselves.” With 25,000 attendees, masses of sessions and talks, and a mountain of freebies, ALA can be an overwhelming experience — we managed to find our way, and wanted to share what we did and learned there.

One of our main goals was to present our “Halfway Remarks” poster on behalf of all of the BHL NDSR Residents. Alicia Esquivel of the Chicago Botanic Garden, and Ariadne Rehbein of the Missouri Botanical Garden attended and presented.

Before that, we both volunteered with the Zine Pavilion at the ALA exhibit hall on Saturday afternoon. It was a great way to familiarize ourselves with the exhibit hall and audience at ALA before our poster presentation. Volunteering came with the added bonus of free registration!


Zine Pavilion at ALA Annual 2017.

The Pavilion included tablers, local zinesters with their zines for sale and trade, a collaborative zine making table, and a cube of zines for raffle. We shared information with conference attendees about what a zine is (anything that is self made, self published and self distributed) and why libraries have started acquiring them (representation of underrepresented and marginalized groups traditionally excluded from archival spaces). Additionally, we provided information about how to catalog these types of materials and encouraged people to sign up for the raffle to win a zine starter collection for their library. Check out this poster created by Matthew Murray, one of the Zine Pavilion organizers, for more basics on zine librarianship. We are grateful we got to know the organizers and teach others about this fascinating area of librarianship.

The next day, we talked to attendees in the poster hall about the work and structure of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and our overarching goals: to present our cases for what should come next for BHL on a technical and philosophical level according to research into and application of best practices.


Alicia Esquivel and Ariadne Rehbein in front of the NDSR BHL poster at ALA Annual 2017.

Putting our poster together was another experiment in collaboration. We edited the first draft of the proposal together in the hotel lobby during the BHL Bootcamp in January. As June drew closer, we set deadlines for individual drafts and discussed our ideas for main points, ways to represent them, and how to connect them on the poster. Interconnected projects were placed in proximity, connected with animal images where possible. Katie pulled everything together, organizing text edits and layout changes over the course of several group drafts. It was quite a process, and her end result turned out beautifully!

Several attendees thought so too; the images especially drew people in. Martin Kalfatovic, BHL Program Director, Leora Siegel, Library Director and NDSR Mentor at Chicago Botanic Garden, and a few Smithsonian Libraries staff came by at the start of our session for moral support, and shared some early stories about BHL! Most other attendees we spoke to had not heard about BHL before, so we focused on the basics of BHL and major questions we’re addressing in our work.

Alicia’s reflections on ALA:

To prepare for my first year at ALA, I read and reread the session abstracts online a couple of times prior to the conference. I began by filtering through topics such as: digital libraries, electronic resources, collection development, and information to name a few. I ended up being attracted to sessions with “data” in the title, especially as it relates to aiding patrons in the retrieval, storage, and analysis of their data. I learned about securing licensing rights from publishers to mine electronic resources at the “College and Research Libraries Interest Group: Data and Text Mining” presented by Christine Stamison, Director of the NERL Program at the Center for Research Libraries. Ms. Stamison provided direction and examples of how to negotiate the rights to mine text and data for library patrons, a growing need in many academic libraries, and stressed the difference between the original text and the data output, or analysis, that is not under copyright.

Additionally, Jacob Carlson, Research Data Services Manager at University of Michigan and Amy Buckland, Head, Research & Scholarship at University of Guelph gave a presentation entitled “Show Me the Data! How Libraries Support Research Data Management Plans and Data Sharing Requirements” and spoke about librarians’ roles in aiding patrons’ data research. One major task is helping researchers understand, write, and follow through with their data management plans that are now required by many government funded grants. Librarians should be able to ask patrons: what are you doing with your data? and what would you like to do with your data? and be able to help fill in that gap. As research trends evolve it is important for libraries and librarians to evolve with them and stay knowledgeable on new tools and methods in the research fields.


carla hayden

Dr. Carla Hayden at ALA Annual 2017.

I enjoyed a panel moderated by Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, between Brian Bannon of Chicago Public Library, Tony Marx of New York Public Library, and Luis Herrera of San Francisco Public Library. The panelists discussed challenges facing libraries today and the changing role public libraries hold in their communities. They agreed that libraries are fighting for the public’s mental attention and need to proactively act as an education resource. Panelists also stressed the importance of partnerships between government at local, state, and federal levels as well as partnerships between nonprofit and for profit organizations, not only for funding, but to provide services to community needs, all of which cannot be fulfilled by public libraries alone.



Hillary Rodham Clinton at ALA Annual 2017 closing session .

And lastly, I was able to attend the closing session with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mrs. Clinton reflected on her love of books and reading and her admiration for libraries. She argued that reading creates a more empathetic and critical thinking society and that libraries have always been concerned with and taught information and media literacy. It was an inspiring way to end the conference.

Ariadne’s reflections on ALA:

This was my second time attending ALA (Chicago was convenient as a Hoosier student and now a St. Louis Resident!) Like Alicia, I filtered down sessions of interest by themes such as digital libraries, metadata, archives, preservation, and community engagement. I balanced top sessions with available time and each theme of interest. My final sessions were “Collaborating to Promote Cultural Identity in Public Libraries through the Portal to Texas History, Metadata Migration: Managing Methods and Mayhem”, “Government publications preservation in action: how it works and what it costs”, and “The Library of 2020 – Building A Collaborative Digital Collection of 4 Million Books.”

Beyond being very cool to hear about, each of these presentations offered something of value to my work, either to try out myself or to integrate into my knowledge of the landscape of current practices. For example, in the Portal to Texas History session, Ana Krahmer, Manager of the Digital Newspaper Program at the University of North Texas, spoke of the primary audiences of the collection and educational resources created to support them. In the Metadata Migration session, Maggie Dickson, Metadata Architect at Duke University Libraries, and Gretchen Gueguen, Data Services Coordinator at the Digital Public Library of America, described issues and tools for metadata cleanup, mapping, and visualization to communicate with stakeholders. The Library of 2020 session provided a demonstration of grant-level planning and ways to convey such initiatives to others; Brewster Kahle and Wendy Hanamura of the Internet Archive described the proposal to digitize 4 million in-copyright books and make them available in collaboration with libraries. They presented the need for this work (highlighted through various personal examples/user stories,) the prior work it build upon, major hurdles in the process, current partners, and statements from stakeholders regarding the benefits this work would provide. It was confidence-inspiring to recognize that our own BHL NDSR projects fit into the same vein of big-picture planning; and relieving to see that every single detail doesn’t need to be worked out prior to gaining support and partnerships.

Two other events were highlights in my experience at ALA and were reminders of the ethos of library work.


Sarah Jessica Parker and author Stephanie Powell Watts at ALA Annual 2017 image from American Libraries Magazine.

Encouraging reading and protecting the free exchange of information: I couldn’t resist the Sarah Jessica Parker event, where she talked about the inaugural ALA Book Club Central selection and had a conversation with the author of “No One Is Coming to Save Us,” Stephanie Powell Watts, on stage. Parker’s love of reading and appreciation of the “shelter” offered by libraries was palpable. While she explained the security to learn in terms of her childhood experiences, this philosophy of serving as a haven for literacy and knowledge underlies the work at the most authoritative levels of ALA, such as the Intellectual Freedom Committee.

Leadership and practice: I would not have missed the IU Alumni Reception for anything. During the IU Department of Information and Library Science Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony for Dr. Jim Mullins, I was reminded of my chat with a friend just before, inspired by a talk given by Maureen Sullivan: people intrinsically want to do their work; a manager is there to give them the resources and opportunities they need. In statements of support, and in Dr. Mullin’s own talk, it was clear to me that he exemplified this value in his work. One of the highlights from Dr. Mullin’s speech was his illustration of “what librarians do,” a question posed to him by a faculty member. Librarians build connections, bringing people and information together. Their speciality is the preservation of, organization of, and provision of access to information in the broadest possible terms, from special collections to research data management, in which Dr. Mullin has played a leading role at a national scale.


All of us Residents are thankful for the opportunities we have had to attend and present at conferences during the first half of our residencies. Our next professional meeting will be the BHL tech meeting in September where all of the Residents and Mentors will join the BHL Technical Team in St. Louis to discuss our findings of best practices and recommendations for BHL. Later that month, Alicia will be traveling to Kyoto for the International Conference on Digital Preservation, iPres2017, to present a poster on her project findings.



One thought on “BHL NDSR at ALA

  1. Well done! It’s good to hear that libraries are recognizing the need to “go digital” and the expertise required for librarians and archivists to help the rest of us navigate the intricacies of data management.


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