Sunday, August 20, 2017

The First Annual Central Georgia Libraries Unconference Report

By Tim Wojcik
Ina Dillard Russell Library

In an increasingly crowded field of library and information education sector events, Georgia College in Milledgeville hosted the first Central Georgia Libraries Unconference.  It was my first experience with an unconference by such a name.  It was, as the event handout stated, a “low-cost, low-travel professional development opportunity that is unique for its impromptu breakout sessions and minimal lecture-style presentations.”

Besides the screen projection used by keynote speaker Emy Decker, I didn’t see or hear the use of electricity in any of the sessions.  The experience was an all live, all conversational exchange by the librarians who sat in with each other at the breakout sessions.  Each breakout session was moderated by one or two leaders who guided the conversation.  At times, these leaders  kept the conversation going during the “no one’s saying anything” points of the session.  It didn’t take too long for the conversation to flow.

In the keynote, entitled From a Seed to a Flower: Professional Development  in the Contemporary Library, Emy Decker  - Georgia Tech Library NextGen Public Services Manager discussed the essential uses of librarian professional development. Whether outspoken or quiet, the librarian who harnesses their passion for the profession can reap welcome rewards .

In a charming homage to 20th century messaging, the flipchart and whiteboard were the recording devices used during the breakouts – at least the ones I attended.  Librarians were encouraged to take a phone photo of the messaging.  My hunch is that, at some point, the event will have a published record.  I have my notes and my fuzzy phone pic of all the breakout sessions topics to jog my memory.

Since my focus was support for distance learning, I chose the breakout group with that topic on the agenda.  I found this group space and – settled in.  The space was pleasant, including comfy chairs with a writing surface and a view of the street beyond which made for a pleasant distraction.

The Distance Learning Breakout

Some of the Lingo
Blackboard – an LMS with products for K-12, academic, government and business
Brightspace -  a product of D2L Corporation  Desire2Learn
Canvas – a product of Instructure -  it is an open source LMS
LMS – learning management system
LTI – Learning Tools Interoperability – offers the usability of  third-party tools in an LMS
Springshare – created  the  LibGuides suite of products

Some discussion centered on how much of the library’s presence should be embedded in the LMS.  If the LMS offers a simple portal to some library resources, the student may not use the full range of library resources available to them.  Alternatively, if the LMS has only a cursory mention of library resources, the student may be discouraged from seeking library support at all.  Getting the student to engage the library’s resources directly is the goal.

One embedded librarian had the benefit of access to a stream of direct student feedback via the LMS. The students were given a series of questions about library services.  This librarian had the experience of real time comments as the students answered the questions.
One librarian was identified as a “faculty guest” in the LMS.  This produced a sideways effect of students asking the librarian to resolve instructor and administrative issues for them.
There  was  agreement  that  students  benefit  from  an embedded librarian as a consistent go-to person in the library.
Discussion of learning styles recognized that some students prefer reading the text of a video rather than to watch/listen to the video.
Recognition that some students don’t even read the syllabus – and so what does that say about paying attention to the library’s fine print about accessing resources, etc.
Make sure the video that you produce is in a most accessible format.  Why make something that many students can’t access.
The vendor is often a valuable resource for instruction on using the LMS.

Other Breakout Sessions

Fake news is a sensitive issue since “news” has been increasingly politicized.  Some students now reject traditional sources of information, ie the New York Times.  The question becomes: what are the sources of information that are recognized as objective by students/faculty from all over the political spectrum?   How do librarians present themselves as bias neutral?
Find the courage to engage in the awkward conversation of the validity of a patron’s information sources.
One school’s requirements include students attending events that involve civic discourse – exposure to opposing viewpoints.

The cost of serials and other scholarly publishing created demand for sources such as Sci-Hub.
Should the research efforts of a scholar who is paid by the state be available at a discount (or no charge) to the citizens of that state – state funding implies citizen rights of use.
Websites for librarians about open access resources include and

The problem of sharing space in the library with heritage “protected” groups such as genealogy patrons and protectors of the archives is still vexing.

The tour of the Ina Dillard Russell Library of Georgia College was lively and informative.  The school appears to value their library as a strong partner in student success and as a venue to try specialty products such as 3D printing and a variety of study space configurations. Many study/collaboration rooms now feature video screens which enable connection to up to six devices.



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