MARS: Update from the Emerging Technologies in Reference Section (MARS)

Cathy Larson, Editor

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RUSA MARS Best Free Web sites

While the MARS Best Free Reference Web sites did not meet at annual, they did work on the following:

MARS Best Free Reference Website Committee

  • 26 sites selected (from 70 nominated)
  • all selected sites have been notified that they were selected as one of the 2013 “Best Free Reference Websites”
  • RUSA/MARS web pages have been updated for 2013
  • text has been sent off to Barry for Fall RUSQ

View the 2013 winners:

And the combined list has also been updated:

Donna Scanlon

MARS Conference Program Planning Committee

After the award presentation, the committee hosted / facilitated a program titled, “Usability, the User Experience & Interface Design: The Role of Reference.” Each presenter discussed how their institutions have implemented innovative changes to their user interface and addressed the role of usability testing, data mining, and other research methods in their decision process.

Audience members had an opportunity to submit questions to the panelists as well as time to speak with the panelists directly following the program.

The program was a success with a nearly full room, especially considering the popular concurrent sessions with which it competed. Our best guess is that the room would accommodate approximately 400-425 people and we were at least 70% filled which put attendance at approximately 280-300 attendees.

Donna Scanlon
Chair, Conference Program Planning Committee, 2012-2013

MARS Professional Development Committee

MARS Professional Development Committee (PD) held several virtual meeting between Midwinter and Annual, at we reviewed our progress at Annual.

The role of PD in training and facilitating webinar proposals is no longer relevant since RUSA now has assigned staff for the new Adobe Connect software. Nor is MARS PD active in soliciting and reviewing webinar proposals since these now go through RUSA submission and review process by the RUSA Professional Development Committee. PD will be updating our website to reflect these changes. We are still interested in collaborating with other MARS committees in planning professional development workshops or webinars. Some of the ideas proposed included:

  • Reference statistics software (this is scheduled to be a webinar for Fall 2013 and may involve MARS PD members)
  • Best practices in reference/technology areas
  • Collaboration with Hot Topics
  • Regional half-day professional development activities. Could we organize regional groups to meet in different cities/areas on a specific topic? Could be difficult to implement, but perhaps would draw in local people to learn from each other.
  • Template for how to plan a professional development event.
  • Ideas from state library associations

​Joint RSS and MARS Midwinter Workshop: While the Midwinter Workshop in Seattle was a great success; RSS STARS will not be able to share space at Midwinter in Philadelphia. To date, we have been unable to secure space or content for a joint RSS and MARS workshop. There is a working group of RSS and MARS members still interested in developing a topic and locating a space. If planning does move forward by the working group, members of the MARS Professional Development Committee can be available to facilitate a free workshop.

Van Houlson
Co-Chair, Professional Development Committee, 2012-2013

Virtual Reference Discussion Coordinating Committee

The committee hosted and facilitated a discussion forum on the topic of virtual reference (VR). In response to feedback about the Midwinter discussion forum, at which we piloted a one-hour time slot, we eliminated kick-off speakers and devoted the entire time slot to small- and large-group discussion. Planning Committee member, Beth Boatwright (nee Overhauser) presented questions to guide discussion. These questions pertained to: VR platforms, staffing, assessment, best practices, marketing, emerging technologies, and the impacts of broader trends such as MOOCs. After a brief introduction by Boatwright, the thirty-five attendees engaged in small group discussions for approximately thirty minutes. And following that, we had approximately fifteen minutes in which each table reported the two or three most interesting things discussed at their table. The event was a success, especially considering the popular concurrent sessions with which it competed as well as its location outside of the conference center.

Jessica Sender will be taking over as chair for the 2013/14 year. Please contact her ( or Sam Stormont ( if you are interested in joining our committee. Virtual participation is possible for planning the forums. We will need some members to be able to attend each conference to assist with onsite discussion facilitation.

Julie A Piacentine
Chair, Virtual Reference Discussion Coordinating Committee, 2012-2013

MARS/RSS Virtual Reference Committee

The partnership with the RSS Marketing and Public Relations Committee for the Slam the Board series (webinar: May 2013; “Slamming”: June 10; in-person discussion forum: June 2013 @ Annual) was a success. The participants were treated to both background on the Slam the Boards initiative itself and also practical ideas on marketing reference services for their own institutions.

The partnership with the RSS Evaluation of Reference and User Services (ERUS) Committee is on going. The ad hoc virtual reference survey team presented a preliminary draft at our committee’s meeting at Annual. They are planning to continue to revise it (and the draft was also shared with incoming MARS chair, Sam Stormont).

The informal drop-in Wikipedia Edit-a-thon was held in the Networking Uncommons area of the McCormick Place from 11:00 AM-2:00 PM on Sunday at Annual. Although only fourteen people stopped by, there was a lively discussion on Wikipedia’s potential uses by libraries as a tool to provide access to resources and to promote libraries’ collections. One participant shared the article (Honan-Allston Branch of Boston Public Library) she created from scratch as a library school student (including photos she took). One participant who had never edited Wikipedia articles signed up for an account and edited her first article during the Edit-a-thon. Additionally, during the Joint RSS/MARS Executive Committee Meeting, attendees were intrigued by the idea of the Edit-a-thon and discussed ways something similar could be incorporated into section activities in the future.

Also at Annual, outgoing RSS Co-Chair, Don Boozer, introduced in-coming RSS Co-Chair, Cathay Crosby, who most recently was Chair of the RSS Marketing and Public Relations for Reference Committee. Crosby and Alisa Gonzalez (MARS Co-chair) will chair the committee beginning directly after ALA Annual 2013.

Alisa Gonzalez
Co-Chair, MARS/RSS Virtual Reference Committee, 2012-2014