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CONFERENCE CIRCUIT: ACRL explores values in Washington, D.C.: Highlights of ACRL programs at the ALA Annual Conference, Part 1

ACRL members made it through the swel- tering heat of our nation’s capital during the ALA’s 117th Annual Conference, June 25-July 2, 1998. Total conference attendance was 24,884 members, exhibitors, and guests, including 11,799 paid registrants. (Ed. note: A special thanks to the ACRL members who made this report possible by writing these program sum- maries. Their response to a request for reporters was so good that, due to space constraints, we will run Part 2 of this report in October.)

The value of values

W. Lee Hisle, Austin Community College, welcomed an audience of several hundred people to the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Monday afternoon for his ACRL President’s Program, “The Value of Values: Changes and Continu- ities as We Face the New Millennium.” Hisle expressed his hope that, taken as a whole, the program would reinforce our commitment to the ideals of our profession and would en- gender confidence as we practice that profes- sion in the electronic information age.

Next came a 20-minute videotape, “A Question of Values,” in which six academic librarians responded to questions posed by Program Chair Katherine Branch, Anne Arundel Community College, about their professional values. James Neal, Johns Hopkins University, recounted an instance of a very difficult clash of values among members of the ALA Executive Board, when the Board debated whether ALA should accept an award from the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Foundation, recognizing ALA’s commitment to the free flow of information.

In response to a question posed to interviewees, several of them identified “the faculty” as natural allies in our efforts to preserve our values, but one of them had a decidedly different view: “The faculty are hopeless as far as I’m concerned; we’re never going to get anything out of them.” A large laugh followed Lynda Logan’s, Prince George’s Community College, musing about the hypothetical question of whether she would allow someone to put up in her library a display on the KKK: “I hope I would. I probably would. I probably wouldn’t.”

“It’s my pleasure, of course, to be among book people as well as books.” With these words, William H. Gass cast off from the pier and, through his keynote address, carried the audience on a voyage of discovery. An award-winning essayist, critic, and philosopher, Gass is the David May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities, director of the International Writers Center at Washington University in St. Louis, and in his youth he was a sailor and an officer in the U.S. Navy. In lyrical and well-delivered language he shared with us what books (not “information,” but the physical book) and libraries had meant and mean to him and other readers. A small sample:

No fan of the Internet, Gass observed that "The information highway has no destination," and that "Misinformation Alley" is an apt term for the Internet.

—“A library … extends the self; it is pure empowerment. ”

—“Like most books, Discoveries is a library book; that is, it depends for its existence on other books, books within reach of one pair of hands and eyes, one mind.”

—“The aim of the library is a simple one— to unite writing with its reading. Yes, a simple stream, but a wide one when trying to cross.”

—“In a library we are in a mind made of minds.”

—“The work of the institution will often take place far from its doors at a kitchen table, … amid the clatter of a commuter train, even in a sophomore’s distracted head. … Who can predict the places where the encounter will occur? The discovery will be made. … In the library such epiphanies … are the stuff of every day.”

—“The book is a great salvation for the lonely person. And it’s important to be lonely, especially in adolescence, so you’ll learn to read.”

No fan of the Internet, Gass observed that “The information highway has no destination,” and that “Misinformation Alley” is an apt term for the Internet. And he reminded the audience of the oft-overlooked fact that the book itself is a technology.

Our voyage with Gass was followed first by prolonged applause and then by a panel of four librarians, ably moderated by Ree De Donato, undergraduate librarian at Columbia University.

She noted that values unite us as a profession of librarians while distinguishing us as individuals, and she said that one value she holds dear is the ability both to be brought together and to be left apart as we strive to do our work and live our lives. Panelist John

Ulmschneider, assistant director for Library Systems at North Carolina State University, predicted that in 50 years books will not exist in the form they do now, and he wondered what our values would be when we no longer had to provide access to a collection. The “garbage” on the Web is actually beneficial, he observed, because it is garbage that is free of the constraints of “the power structure in which we work.” He and Gass exchanged friendly ripostes on the relative merits of horses and automobiles, manure and carbon monoxide.

The entire program was videotaped, and the President’s Program Planning Committee expects to make “The Value of Values,” including the videotape within the videotape, available to ACRL chapters and other groups via interlibrary loan from the ALA library. The committee has long considered this two-hour program as part of a larger process, including the structured forum at last Midwinter’s meeting and the several articles written by Hisle and certain committee members for C&RL News in recent months.

One values-related question that might be worth addressing in subsequent discussions is the extent to which Gass was correct when he naturally assumed that he was among “book people.”—Richard Hume Werking, U.S. Naval Academy, rwerking@ nadn.navy.mil

Engineering the future

“Engineering the Future: A New Look at Organizational Thinking and Hyper-learning,” the 1998 program cosponsored by the Science and Technology Section and the University Libraries Section of ACRL, was attended by over 400 people. It focused on adapting new organizational theories that center on constant learning and selforganization to current practices in higher education and academic libraries.

The program featured Peter Denning, director, Center for the New Engineer (CNE) at George Mason University; Paula Kaufman, dean of Libraries at the University of Tennessee; and Kenneth Frazier, director of the University of Wisconsin Libraries.

Kaufman’s introduction included mention of management theories, such as quality circles, TQM, re-engineering, etc. Theorists such as Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers are taking the findings of scientists who now look at organizations as living organisms with values-based management; values being defined as enduring beliefs that affect actions. Emphasis is shifted from task-driven management to management defined by commonly shared ethical values. They have also observed that living systems learn constantly and are self-organizing; that life is attracted to order, but uses chaos to get there; and that because we are living systems, most people are intelligent, creative, adaptive, and self-organizing.

Denning’s research and scholarship at CNE recognizes the implications of these findings and is using their premises to transform organizational structures within universities and particularly engineering programs.

Denning asserts that the new market and commercial forces are profoundly affecting the university educational system. These forces include employers’ expectations regarding job competence and students’ demands that they be treated as customers, as well as the inevitable political forces affecting funding and support.

Relaxing at the Rare Books & Manuscripts Section Preconference are: (I to r) Laura Stalker, Mary Ellen Davis, Gary Menges, and Pat Bozeman.

In particular, Denning stressed the impact of the development of “hyper-learning” as represented by the use of the Internet in distance education. Gestated on the Internet, hyper-learning involves a nonlinear, decentralized system in which the path one takes to attain knowledge and the time it takes one to achieve it will vary. By contrast, the traditional classroom model of teaching is linear and centralized, occurring within a fixed path and a fixed time period, yet entailing variable outcomes in the form of grades. Together these forces mandate structural changes in the curriculum and in the ways we teach and learn.

Denning’s work concentrates on redefining engineering curricula, but it also has relevance for universities and libraries as a whole. He feels that in the past engineers have been trained to be primarily problem solvers. In the future, engineers will need to do more than solve problems to satisfy the new forces at work. For example, they will need to be good listeners and effective facilitators of their clients’ projects.

Denning’s solution to this situation is called Sense 21, which he defines as “a new engineering common sense for the 21st century.” In order to discover and adjust to the new common sense, Denning believes we must first discuss how our current common sense is constituted. This means evaluating shared sets of beliefs, values, suppositions, myths, and habits that are usually taken for granted.

In teaching his experimental classes at CNE, Denning seeks to put the vision and values of new organizational theories into practice by pursuing what he terms a “hermeneutical pragmatics.” One aspect of this approach involves asking his students to attempt an “ontological mapping” of their lives. Ontological mapping is the ability to map out one’s domain of action by his or her background assumptions; or, more simply, to know how one comprehends the world. Since this is a complicated multileveled procedure, Denning’s students must go through several skill levels as they dissect and define their ontological maps. Among other skills, they must learn to identify and control their individual identities by managing the human tendency towards storytelling and (auto)biography. Once this is achieved, they can move to managing and mobilizing others.

Those who can attain the highest hermeneutic skill levels, Denning notes, gain the ability to centralize practices that were formerly anomalous. Denning points to the Internet as a prime example of an arena that those skilled in hermeneutical pragmatics have managed to normalize.

Ken Frazier, director of libraries at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Paula Kaufman followed Denning’s talk with some observations on how his work and theories can be applied to academic libraries, since the emphasis is on the joy of learning and solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Working together on trust and commitment to collaboration are valued by librarians. In an environment that may not be favorable for libraries, opportunities are there to apply new organizational practices, which will require shifts in librarians’ attitudes. Accountability must be to a shared organizational mission.

Frazier commented that while many people fear the influence of market forces on academia, he sees reason to be optimistic. He avows that libraries are accepting the challenge issued by market forces by increasingly embracing collaborative projects. An example is the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), a partnership project of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and other educational and research organizations whose mission is to create a more competitive marketplace for research information.

Kaufman also senses that libraries are well placed to embrace the challenges of values-based organizational thinking. She points to the shifting interpretations of once conventional wisdom with regard to organizational leadership and planning. Where before we tended to lead by declaration, she noted, we now tend to lead by example. And where before we would chose five to six goals to pursue, today we recognize that goals are constantly shifting and that we must constantly plan and evaluate our goals,—Anne Garrison, Georgia Institute of Technology, anne. garrison@ibid.library.gatech.edu and Lois M. Pausch, University of Illinois, l-pausch@ uiuc.edu

Michigan was well represented at ACRL meetings. Here are (left to right) Elaine Didier, Barbara MacAdam, and Patricia Breivik.

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