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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Our Experience at ALA Midwinter 2012

A few weeks ago, we posted about our upcoming booth at the ALA Midwinter 2012 meeting in Dallas, TX, 20-24 January. After an extremely successful experience, which included the opportunity to collaborate with our friends at EOL on the booth, as well as the chance for two of our BHL staff members to give talks at the conference, we wanted to briefly fill you all in on the experience.

The American Library Association (ALA) was founded in October 1876 and is the oldest and largest library association in the world. It's mission is "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." ALA hosts two meetings annually: the Midwinter and Annual meetings. The Midwinter meeting was a collection of
events, exhibits, and sessions aimed at discussing the challenges and opportunities facing libraries today. With 6,236 attendees and 3,693 exhibitors, it offered us a fantastic opportunity to showcase the resources available through both BHL and EOL.

BHL, along with EOL, collaboratively hosted booth 1157 at the Midwinter meeting. EOL staff member Breen Byrnes, BHL staff members Grace Costantino, Martin Kalfatovic, Chris Freeland, and Suzanne Pilsk, as well as Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) staff member Mary Augusta Thomas, operated the booth throughout the four days of exhibits (Breen and Grace pictured above at booth). We not only engaged in meaningful conversations, answered a multitude of questions about the projects, and highlighted the beautiful images in our Flickr account, but we also gave away great goodies, including brochures, pens, notepads, Post-It notes, bags, cups, and, of course, candy.

Happily, many people were already familiar with BHL, and those that weren't were shocked and thrilled to learn that we were a free, open access project. In the midst of so many commercial vendors, and with the reality of constant cuts to library budgets, the word "free" truly stands out. Eighty-five people signed up for the EOL and soon to be coming BHL newsletters. We also engaged in conversations with several librarians at diverse institutions that were interested in sharing their digitized content with BHL. BHL and EOL were particularly popular among librarians working in educational environments, one of which stated, "They're free?! I can't believe I wasn't aware of these projects. My students will love them!"

BHL Technical Director Chris Freeland and SIL metadata librarian and BHL metadata guru Suzanne Pilsk gave talks about BHL at a panel discussion on scholarly communication, identifiers, and linked data.

Chris Freeland discussed the recent addition of DOIs to BHL content, and the struggles we went through to implement such identifiers. Most vendors, although recognizing the need for a policy to address the situation, were unable to work with a consortium (as opposed to a legal entity) that isn't a publisher and doesn't own all of the content it hosts. Furthermore, since not all of the content in BHL has an ISBN, an additional layer of complication is added to the mix. While CrossRefDOIs, available as Open Linked Data, are now available for BHL content, there are still many bugs to be worked out - bugs that are a direct result of issues mentioned above.



Suzanne Pilsk discussed the recent Index Animalium and TL2 projects at SIL, both of which also involved BHL. She outlined how traditional librarianship (involving card cataloging and dusty volumes on shelves) was not meeting the needs of taxonomists and other researchers calling on libraries for help. But of course, libraries rose to the challenge, and SIL began digital projects for both Index Animalium and TL2, which linked the citations in these two works to the corresponding digitized texts, available via BHL.



Thus, in short, our presence at ALA Midwinter 2012 was extremely successful. We shared our existence and resources with the nearly 10,000 people at the conference. We hope to host booths at future ALA events, the next of which is the ALA Annual Meeting in Anaheim, CA, 21-26 June, 2012. We hope to see you there!

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