This was my second Charleston Conference, and I have some thoughts, in no particular order:
Publisher presence: One obvious strength of the Charleston Conference is the integration of vendors and publishers as collaborators with librarians, rather than merely as sales folks in a huge exhibit hall. Hearing publishers give substantive talks and engage in thoughtful dialogue with us about the current and future state of libraries, publishing and higher education is refreshing.
Diversity of libraries present: I really, really want to count this as a strength of the conference, but I’m not so sure. It seems to me that the differences between large research libraries and smaller libraries are becoming more pronounced. This parallels the well-established trend that the gap between rich and poor increases in times of economic scarcity. I just wonder if our shared challenges and opportunities are maybe not so shared after all. Frankly, sessions on Speed Weeding, Serials Gone Wild, and all kinds of patron-driven and/or just-in-time instead of just-in-case acquisition models are just not that relevant for the Stanford Libraries. Sure, we are selecting items for off-campus storage, but we aren’t de-accessioning anything, and we aren’t really cutting back on our commitment to deep and wide collection building. I wonder if the plenary talks on the need for Linked Open Data, collecting and preserving Data Papers, and exposing Hidden Collections (all of which require significant resources) seemed just as irrelevant to my colleagues at smaller institutions. I fear this all sounds really elitist, and I certainly don’t mean it that way. I was just really struck by the very different perspectives across kinds and sizes of libraries. I guess I don’t see it as much at conferences like ALA, because I tend to self-select into sessions and meetings focused on large research libraries.
Long Arm of the Law: I loved it last year, and am very glad it got an encore this year. What I would love to see next year is a panel with both University Counsel and Library administrators. Let’s have a dialogue about what librarians need to know about copyright. Let’s find out how University administrators, especially University Librarians, make decisions about when to play it safe, and when to move ahead with projects that put their institutions at risk of being sued.
Tweeting Charleston: The Charleston twittersphere got awfully lonely at times! Despite having a pre-designated hashtag, the percentage of active tweeters seemed pretty low to me. Clearly there were plenty of lurkers though, as several folks either DM’d me or told me in the hallway (apparently my avatar photo actually looks like me) that they enjoyed my tweets. Actually, some people just said they were reading my tweets, without noting whether they liked them or not … I think I might be too snarky for some tastes. Several of the speakers mentioned things they saw on the tweet stream, and I overheard conference organizers talking about what they saw there. As one of the more active tweeters at the conference, I have to say I wish the lurkers had chimed in. I really enjoyed the online dialogue with those who did engage, and would have enjoyed it more if more folks shared their thoughts, questions, lunch recommendations, style critiques, etc.
Size and identity: The Charleston Conference strikes me as a medium-to-large sized conference that still thinks of itself as a small, intimate gathering. I think it’s cool that there is a cadre of folks who have been to Charleston every year for 31 years. I have to assume that it is those bonds that inspire all the inside jokes, personal references, singing and skits. But, those same things which make Charleston feel personal for some, can feel cliquish and alienating to newbies. And some of us just aren’t that into skits and sing-alongs.