Wednesday, June 25, 2008

ATLA in Ottawa (Day 1)

I've been in Ottawa, Canada for the past two days now. I'm attending the ATLA (American Theological Librarian Association) conference. I've never been to Canada, in spite of the fact that I only live about 5 or 6 hours away by car. I flew into the Ottawa airport, which I've been told is a whole lot better than the Toronto airport by the locals. Quite a difference from Newark, which is total chaos—I was surprised to see the radio tower popping up from a green hill, a grassy clearing surrounded by what appeared to be pine trees. Our passengers were the only ones at the airport, besides the folks who worked there.

On the shuttle bus over, I met a gentleman who was attending the conference, and he introduced me to a few others that he knew at the hotel. A group of us ended up heading to a pub in the Byward Market (Marché By), and having a number of interesting conversations about Canadian politics, beer, travel, library systems, and life in general. It was a great evening, but I was really tired this morning.

Today's conference sessions were optional workshops, and I ended up going to two sessions. The first session was on writing for Theological Librarianship, the new peer-reviewed journal published by ATLA. Beth Bidlack was the main presenter of this session, and she gave a lot of excellent tips on researching, writing, and revising in general for scholarly articles. The main thrust of her talk included three things: 1. Use questions to narrow your interests into a specific topic, 2. Read your work critically (and have others do the same) to find areas that are overdeveloped or underdeveloped, and 3. Think about who your audience is, and what you want them to do with the information you are giving them.
We then had breakout sessions to discuss different types of contributions: bibliographic essays, reviews, and articles. I was in the articles session. Dr. Ron Crown, one of the editors, led the session, and discussed specific guidelines for submission and answered questions about specific topics. Overall it was very useful, and Beth provided a bibliography of resources for writers that looks very much on target.

The second session I attended was on the new CONSER standard record for serials. (Non-catalogers can just skip right over this paragraph). It was presented by Judy Knop, ATLA's digitization coordinator. I could tell that these were modified from a PCC CONSER presentation, most likely one given by LC. Judy did a great job of modifying the slides to make them clear, concise, and helpful. The biggest change in serials has been simplification to promote access and decrease description. Apparently RDA is also going in this direction. Currently, if one follows the CONSER minimum standards, it will be simple if one only does serials cataloging, but if you also do monograph cataloging, there is some contradiction with AACR2, though Judy said the LCRIs have been updated to reflect the CONSER changes. It's both good and bad; the simplification of the standard makes it easier for the average non-serials librarian to enter CONSER level records, but you lose your breadcrumb trail through the record's history. If there are no notes, how the heck do I know what was done before and for what reasons? The CONSER committee has a proposal in to MARBI to add certain 5XX fields for CONSER standard notes; having separate fields would allow the sys admins to suppress those fields in the OPAC, but still allow them to be available for the catalogers. One way that notes are being eliminated is by adding $i's to the 710 added entries (similar to those added to linking entries), so that you can see the year(s) that a particular corporate body was involved in the publication (this is still a MARBI proposal, not a fait accompli). At the end of the session Judy asked about interest in a CONSER funnel, with the only requirement being NACO corporate body training; independent status was not necessary. I'm definitely interested in doing this, and let her know.

OK, there were too many acronyms in that last paragraph. Such is the plight of the librarian. This evening I skipped out on the receptions and took a long walk through town, hitting a couple of different pubs for dinner and drinks (and a visit to the drugstore for some things I forgot to bring). Ottawa is not really like any other place I've been. The best description I can come up with is that it's like an integration of Oxford, England and Madison, Wisconsin, without Oxford's ROS (Really Old Stuff). The buildings are gorgeous, and the town is overflowing with culture. Even with all of the college kids out on the town, it still feels more like a European city, though one could easily imagine the Madison farmer's market, or the night life on State Street. So far, I like it a lot.

I will write more tomorrow, after the day's session.

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