Monthly Archives: June 2008

Why I Won’t Join ALA

Today I went to the American Library Association‘s annual conference in Anaheim, CA. And if I were a member of ALA, I would cancel my membership.

It is the flagship library association in the United States, the umbrella behemoth, the library association that has its own lobbying office in Washington. I have high expectations for their conferences. This year, though, these expectations were not met.

First, the conference website is hard to use. Try finding out how much it costs to park at the Convention Center. Try finding out how much parking costs in the area at the difference hotels and theme parks. Please, try. I did find out that it costs $10 to park at the Convention Center on their web site. I attend several conferences a year. I expect at least an overview of basic travel info, such as “parking fees in the area range from $10 (Convention Center) to $## (conference hotels).”

I suppose that the ALA conference website is a secret test to weed out the librarians with inferior information retrieval skills.

Second, the event planner was difficult to use, to say the least. When the search results appeared, if you clicked on an event title, the planner automatically added it to your itinerary. It did not take you to a page with a description of the event. No, to get to a bare-bones description (that usually omitted a list of speakers!), you have to switch from the search menu to the check-my-itinerary menu. Bad design! Oh, and it was mind-numbingly s-l-o-w.

There was also a conference wiki that contained some extra information scattered among old info. It has a section for programming schedule, but not all of the events that were listed there.

The wiki seemed to have valuable info on California Dreaming game, which brings me to another quibble. I was interested in participating in this “big game” until I read Greg Trefry’s article they cite for explaining what a big game is. He presented it as a new phenomenon of the 2000s in which players create an imaginary gamespace over and within a physical space. He didn’t really do much research on this type of gaming that has its roots in assassin games, live action role playing (aka LARP-ing), human chess games, and storytelling. Maybe I am biased because I was in MIT’s Assassins Guild and even GM’d a game in the last 1980s. Evenso, MIT students were not the first ones to turn a physical space (campus, conference hotel, city) into a game environment. It has been happening at least since the 1970s in the sci-fi/fantasy gaming subculture.

Finally, I ran into one egregious error that I cannot forgive. The mini conference program lists the events in alphabetical order by title within each time period. I am a big fan of alphabetizing lists, it is part of why I love being a librarian. I love how MARC has a brilliant kludge to ignore words, such as the, at the beginning of a title. I love my profession, but my profession’s largest professional association does not pay attention to these details. They put event titles, like The Copyright Top Ten, in the T section, not the C section.

There is no excuse for such laziness.

ALA’s conference site made me do more research than necessary and less research than they ought to have done. Worst of all, they don’t play by the library alphabetization rules.

This is only my third ALA in 8 years. Maybe their conference websites and publications have always been so user-unfriendly and I simply hadn’t noticed or, more likely, blocked the horrors from my mind. Maybe I am feeling too prickly this year and every slight annoyance seems like an iceberg. Maybe I ought to join ALA, get on the conference website committee, and put it in order. But I won’t. I’m feeling lazy too.