An interview with: Katina StrauchInterview by: Arnaud Pellé
Over the years, booking a trip to South Carolina to attend the Charleston Conference has become a prerequisite for anyone, librarians, publishers and vendors, willing to discuss issues surrounding book and serials acquisition and widen their professional horizons. At the Conference's helm is Katina Strauch, now assistant dean for technical services and collection development at the College of Charleston, who founded the event in 1980.
Ask all those who have been to the Charleston Conference, and they will tell you that this is no ordinary gathering. Just like Katina is no ordinary woman. Her passion, enthusiasm, and inquisitive nature have permeated through every aspect of the Conference, making the event stand out and helping it to acquire a huge crowd of loyal attendees and first timers alike.
Against the Grain, the title of the journal that Katina launched in 1989 as a complement to the Conference, aptly summarizes the spirit: an informal attitude far from conventions and commercial pressures to better understand the reality that librarians, publishers, and vendors have to face.
AP: What are you passionate about as a librarian?
KS: I am passionate about a lot of things, all dealing with libraries. Libraries no longer have a "lock" like they once did on information delivery. There are many competitors out there. Libraries are rethinking their roles in society and this is necessary so that we can continue to be an integral part of the end users' experience. Libraries are focusing on "being the middle man or woman" in information delivery which we have always been (interlibrary loan, circulation, reference, acquisitions), but in our rush to play a key role, many of us are neglecting our other primary role which is to preserve information and cultural memory for posterity. There is so much information being produced that this seems like an impossible task, but libraries and consortia and end user colleagues must develop unified strategies.
I am passionate about print books. E-books are wonderful in many situations, but in the electronic environment, content can be changed, deleted or repurposed. The print book is forever.
AP: What have been the key developments for you this year in the profession?
KS: The rise of e-book publishing and marketing; the reassessment of the big deal; the cutting of library budgets including materials and staffing budgets; e-textbook developments; course management software integration; the rise of discovery systems, new integrated system library development; and open source initiatives
AP: We all know that the current times are difficult ones and that they are also full of possibilities: what do you think publishers should do to collaborate more with libraries and tackle the main issues librarians have to face?
KS: This is a hard question to answer. I think that publishers and aggregators are definitely reaching out to their constituencies more and more frequently. There are advisory boards, editorial boards, focus groups, newsletters, etc. While these are great and very educational, one only has so much time to digest them. Perhaps a Wikipedia model of delivering such content by all publishers might be a possibility? One central portal, so to speak, where each publisher or aggregator or vendor, etc., could post whatever they want their customer market to know about?
AP: To echo this year's Conference theme: "Something's Gotta Give!", what do you think has "gotta give"?
KS: That's why we are having this Conference, to get new ideas from each other and to hear about new approaches! I think a lot of things have gotta give. The publisher-dominated models of content packages need to be replaced by "custom packages" that can be configured by the library and its end users rather than entirely by the publisher or aggregator. Skills for staff in libraries have to expand so that new approaches can be embraced. Libraries have to learn more about their end users' habits, needs, research, study, etc. And this is the point of the Charleston Conference. To hear others' ideas, to learn about new approaches and initiatives so that we can grow together and make the library the pivotal place in the end users' environment.
AP: After more than 30 years, the Charleston Conference is still growing and more popular than ever. What are the keys to its success?
KS: Flexibility and listening to suggestions from attendees. Informality. Hospitality. Personal attention to details and people's specific needs. The Conference never meets an idea or concept we don't want to follow up on. After all, ideas are only amplified and improved by others who are also interested. The Charleston Conference is independent of any bureaucratic entity. Bureaucracies generally impede and delay rather than accomplish. When we started the Conference, we had two objectives – no exhibits and no concurrent sessions. We wanted a non-commercial venue where librarians, publishers, vendors, consultants, and others could freely communicate about issues of importance to them all.
We have had to expand to concurrent sessions, but who could have guessed in 1980 when the Conference started that our industry would be so diverse and multifaceted? In order to cover all the topics and issues out there in just two-and-a-half days, we have to have concurrent sessions. Our exhibits (the Vendor Showcase), however, are prior to the main Charleston Conference. We are firmly committed to having no exhibits during the main Charleston Conference itself. Of course, we will continue to adapt as our brave new virtual, interconnected world expands!
AP: For anyone who hasn't yet attended the Conference, what can they expect, and how would you convince them to come?
KS: People say that they want to come to the Charleston Conference because it consistently "hits the mark" in terms of practical ideas, top-notch speakers, and timely topics. The Charleston Conference is unique. We have been the birthplace of many new ideas and initiatives. We are a mix of people with all manner of responsibilities. Chief executive officers mix with library technical assistants on the equal ground of issues and ideas. The Charleston Conference has never done any marketing. Word of mouth has been our public relations. Our success or downfall is what colleagues say about us to others.
AP: Do you take the same pleasure in the Conference each year?
KS: I really enjoy it. I do. I enjoy meeting people and hearing new ideas. It's such a dynamic period. You don't know what's going to happen next. It's sort of exciting. I like it a lot. We continue to get pressured to get more commercial, but I'm trying to get away from that.
AP: You've clearly established an identity to the event. Are you proud of your achievement?
KS: Yes, very. Whoever would have guessed? So many people have helped develop the Conference. It's not just me. It's the whole group of people who want to see the Conference develop and have wonderful ideas. I'm very proud of this conference and the people who help with it. We have at least eight volunteers, and probably 20 other people who are paid in some way or another. So a lot of people make it happen. When I started the Conference there were just two of us, but now it's exploded.
The author would like to express his gratitude to Katina for talking to Emerald. Visit the Charleston Conference website: www.katina.info/conference
Katina Strauch was interviewed in October 2011.