Thursday, July 05, 2007

ALA Stupidest Program Titles

One of the things I like about the ALA Conference is the relative straightforwardness of the program titles. "Informing the Future of MARC: an Empirical Approach" and "Interviewing Strategies," while boring, are clear and no-nonsense. But a conference wouldn't be a conference without stupid program titles, so let's take a look at some from ALA Annual '07. I'll note in advance that I didn't go to any of these programs, so I don't know if they were good or bad. I only know they sound bad.

"Why Can't Johnnie and Jane Get Published?" What a sad allusion, and increasingly dated. Why Johnny Can't Read was published in the 1950s, after all. And why change the "y" in Johnny to an "ie"? It's just dumb. Besides, the answer is obvious. They can't get published because they don't have anything to say and can't write well. I say this because I see a lot of the abysmal stuff published, and if they can't get published the problem is definitely with them. Johnnie and Jane needing tenure isn't a good enough reason to publish their crappy articles.

"Break on Through to the Other Side: Cultural Programming for New Librarians." This is the title of a song by the Doors (except for the "Cultural Programming" part. Don't know what Jim Morrison would have made of that). Another sad dated reference that seems to have no connection to the topic. Maybe the titler just likes the Doors.

"Can Blogs be Trusted?" seems straightforward enough, except it's a stupid question. Can the New York Times be trusted? Can your mother be trusted? How do you know?

"Librarian Overboard! Are You Navigating Stormy Issues without an Ethical Compass." Obviously the people who came up with this title got confused and thought they were going to the ACRL conference, hence the stupid nautical theme. I'll just say if I ever navigate any stormy issues, I'll be sure to pull my ethical compass from its secure location inside my nautical knapsack. However, if I'm already overboard, I'm not sure my compass will do me much good, unless maybe I had a little library raft and now I'm trying to find my way back home.

"Teens Read!" I had to nominate this one, because it has the exclamation point. Teens read. What a surprise.

"The Ultimate Debate: Do Libraries Innovate?" I include this one because I can't figure out who would really think this is the ultimate debate about libraries. Some people debate whether they should even exist, and it seems to me that should take precedent. After all, if they don't exist, then they can't innovate. So this is, at best, the penultimate debate, and probably not even that.

"Walking Hand-in-Hand: Librarianship & Social Movements Today." I bet you can figure out which ALA round table put that together. I'm very picky about which social movement I move hand in hand with, because it might be the Second Life Liberation Army.

"Moving Mountains: Exciting Trends in Library Delivery Services." I'm sure some people get very excited over library delivery services, but perhaps they could show their excitement without lapsing into cliche. One problem with most people trying to come up with a catchy title is the stupid cliches and mixed metaphors they resort to. Just tell it like it is. This is on the same page of the program booklet as "Using Technology to Market to Young Adults." That's a clear, informative title, and it doesn't even have an exclamation point, even though it was a YALSA program.

"To Change Your Library, Change Your Mind!" And while you're at it, change your building, staff, and administration. You could probably use a clean sweep anyway.

"Learning for Library Staff: Make it Blended, Not on the Rocks!" Oh please. Unless you're the Annoyed Librarian, skip the drink metaphors. I take my learning straight up, like my martinis.

"Disasters! Libraries! Technologies!" Three exclamation points! That must have been thrilling! I bet they had to dry out the seats at the Marriott after that presentation because the audience was probably wetting itself with excitement.

"Research: It's Not as Nerdy as You Think." Well, yes it is, actually, but we nerdy librarians like it anyway. I'm not sure who the audience is for this one. All the hip librarians? Obviously not a mass market.

"Diversity Counts! The Diversity Statistics, Data, and Resources You Need Right Now." I guess "Diversity is the Latest Trendy Meaningless Buzzword!" was already taken.

"The Insiders Guide to Capitol Hill (CLOSED)." Something about that "CLOSED" strikes me as funny. "This is just for insiders. You know you're an outsider because we won't let you in, but we're telling you about the program so you can feel bad about being an outsider."

"Addressing the Information Needs of Female-to-Male Transsexuals." A very straightforward title, but I'm not sure information is the most pressing need of these people. And what about the male-to-female transsexuals - don't they have information needs as well? Why were they left off the list! Sheer bigotry, if you ask me. So much for "diversity."

Well, there it ends. I went through the "Conference-at-a-Glance" so you didn't need to. All of these sound so good, I don't think I could pick just one for stupidest, though I think it might be a close race between "Disasters!" and "Librarian Overboard!" Perhaps next year ALA can have an open forum debating which program title is the stupidest, and the Council can pass a resolution.


Karin Dalziel said...

One I hated was "Wiking the Blog and Walking the Dog: Social Software, Virtual Reality, and Authority Everywhere" - I never did have any idea of what this title meant.

AL said...

Darn it, I missed that one!

Anonymous said...

Wow, the names of these programs are just howlingly funny. I can imagine the earnest librarians, ample rear ends filling rows of conference room chairs, eagerly taking notes while taking intermittent bites from whatever high fat snacks were provided. Then, I see them asking a slew of irrelevant questions to the even more irrelebant presenters, "when presented with an ethical dilemma, say, how to keep the local pedophile(s) from viewing inappropriate images on a public computer, do you follow a set of printeed rules? Or are some situations a kind of fly by the seat of your pants kind of situation."

Levity aside, how many ways can you tart up programs about obvious, simple subjects the average eleventh grader could understand?

How did things get to this point? How can this level of absurdity surround so much nothingness?

AL, I'm glad you had ample time to sample the local bars, I hope you managed to get to them, the bars, before attending anything at the conference.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that these titles may be one reason why our profession is not taken seriously by outsiders (or many insiders for that matter).

Anonymous said...

having never been to an ALA Annual Mtg, tell me: was there anything (outside the nosh-n-slosh scope) worth going for?

~a budding librarian

Anonymous said...

As a professional librarian with an interest in transgender issues, I’d like to comment on the fact that you included “Addressing the Information Needs of Female-to-Male Transsexuals” in your list of absurd program titles at ALA.

Transgender individuals are a frequently ignored group, especially those undergoing transitions from female-to-male. The needs of male-to-female individuals are much more known by information professionals than the needs of female-to-males. As the number of “out” female-to-male transsexuals grows and they begin expecting more information from their public librarians, we, as a profession, need to know how to best serve them.

This is not a flippant topic. I urge you to think about who you might inadvertently hurt by publicly criticizing their needs. When I read this blog entry, which was sent to me through an RSS feed of “female-to-male” internet sources, I felt embarrassed that a fellow librarian would write what you wrote. I always think of librarians as professional, compassionate, and knowledgeable people. Your insensitive writing makes me think I might be wrong. If nothing else, please do not use terms like “these people” when referring to female-to-male transsexuals. It is demeaning, rude, and ignorant.

As a side note, I was unable to attend this program due to a committee meeting. I would have liked to hear what the presenter had to offer. It seems like you could have benefited from attending, too.

Yachira said...

What you have is a profession (and especially its national organization) of largely upper middle-aged women who came of age in the 60s, and who so desperately, desperately want to to capture their youth again. It's really quite sad to see in person with your co-workers, and just outright professionaly dangerous in terms of ALA politics.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:56 must have attended the session titled: Captain Straw Man! Join the Ship of Fools and Learn to Navigate Using Indignant Outrage, Shame, and Emotions by Proxy.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't the information needs of female-to-male transsexuals be addressed in an article? A paragraph or two to explain the need, a list of books or websites that best address the issue, and I'd be on my way. It's not that the issue isn't important, it's just that one doesn't need to attend a program to learn about it. At least, I don't.

Dances With Books said...

>>"To Change Your Library, Change Your Mind!" And while you're at it, change your building, staff, and administration. You could probably use a clean sweep anyway.<<

Sounds like what needs to happen at my workplace.

Overall, how the heck do they come up with such dumb program names? I have to agree with one of the anonymous commenters: with such titles, no wonder no one takes us or our profession seriously.

Anonymous said...

@anon 6:56 -- as a librarian, I'm also embarrassed. Now what's this about transsexuals?

Kat said...

Did you consider that "Teens Read!" might be in the past tense?

AL said...

"As the number of “out” female-to-male transsexuals grows and they begin expecting more information from their public librarians, we, as a profession, need to know how to best serve them.

This is not a flippant topic."

Yes, it is a flippant topic. Are you seriously suggesting that transsexuals need to be "served" in some special informational way? Are we talking transsexuals who don't speak English, for example? By being transsexuals are they somehow unable to communicate with other human beings? Are librarians supposed to go up to them and say in loud voices, "Hello, Mr./Ms. Transsexual Person, let me information specialize on you because you obviously have nothing in common with the normal morons who come up to my desk."

"Did you consider that "Teens Read!" might be in the past tense?"

No, I didn't. Very funny.

Tom said...


Rather than leaving a comment here, I posted my response to my LiveJournal:


AL said...

I find it amusing that you take this blog so seriously, and that you haven't realized that the main purpose of the AL is present the snarkiest, mockingest, and most extreme commentary on libraries and librarianship in bibliotek blogland. But by all means keep expending effort on earnest and thoughtful responses to the AL. I realize you just can't help yourself.