"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Mar 31, 2012

PLA 2012: Thursday, March 15

My first session of the day was Engaging Customers in an Online Environment, led by four California librarians. This was a pretty solid session. It covered a lot of basics, but the speakers also offered some ideas and tips that were new and interesting to me, like taking advantage of memes or the need to have a clear goal and measurement metrics for your social media use (should be obvious, I know, but I hadn't been thinking about this this way). The presenters clearly knew their stuff and offered a well-organized, insightful, and engaging presentation.

During the break I had a meeting with the person in charge of Maryland's One Book program. She had helped to run a forum/get-together for librarians in charge of community read events on Wednesday, but I had arrived too late to attend that event. However, she generously agreed to meet with me to summarize what had been discussed. It was a great conversation and I really enjoyed meeting her in person (we'd communicated by e-mail a bit in the past).

Then it was off to a "ConverStation,"* Reaching for the Future: You've Got to Take the Risk to Get the Reward. This was the only unmitigated disappointment of the conference. The description made it sound as though this session was going to be a high-level discussion of the future of libraries, incorporating some talk about the need for creativity and how we can work as a field to innovate in the face of the sweeping societal changes and the challenges we are encountering. What actually happened was quite different. First, the presenters spent ten minutes plugging an entirely different conference that they were putting together and wanted us all to attend. They then briefly summarized six characteristics of creativity and presented the idea of having "experience zones", or small surprises scattered around the library for patrons to encounter - such as a puzzle or a cross-stitch for people to work on, or a place where patrons can write what they love about the library on a post-it and then stick it to a wall. When they announced that we were going to break into groups and brainstorm our own little ideas like this, I left. I was stuck standing in the back anyway, and the session was clearly not going to be what I thought it was.

Unfortunately, the other session of interest to me was full (one of my only major criticisms of the conference as a whole was that room planning was really not well done - I and many other people were locked out of over-full sessions more than once). So I checked my e-mail at the Internet cafe while there wasn't a line, then went up to the exhibit hall for a while.

For lunch, I met up with a bunch of other New Hampshire librarians. I had expressed an interest in dim sum, which it is nearly impossible to get in my area, so we went to a place called Dim Sum Garden right near the conference center. It wasn't "real" dim sum but it was amazing anyway - lots of dumplings, most of a kind I'd never tried before. And after all of us were very full, it only came out to $8/person! I am definitely adding that restaurant to my "must-revisit" list for Philadelphia. Conversation was, once again, enjoyable and stimulating. It was nice to get to know some of the people I encounter on mailing lists and at New Hampshire Library Association conferences a bit better.

Full of amazing Chinese(?) food, I returned to the conference center for Isn't It All Just Improv Anyway? Building Successful Relationships in the Workplace and Community. I admit: I went to this session because 1) I took improv in college and loved it, and 2) I couldn't pass up the chance to meet a real live Second City performer. The session was fantastic. The presenters introduced the five elements of improv (trust, communication, acceptance, building, and spontaneity) and then led us through a variety of improv games that can be played in the workplace to improve relationships, address problems, and facilitate communication. It was fun and thought-provoking - and though I'm not in a management position right now (and I doubt that improv at staff meetings would really fly at my current library), it's definitely something I will keep in mind as a management option later in my career.

Then it was time for something a little more serious. For my last Thursday session, I chose to attend Building Your Base (& Your Budget). Led by the coordinator for library growth and sustainability in the Mid-Hudson (NY) Library System, this session discussed the strategies for increasing community engagement and support developed by the Mid-Hudson Library System as part of their "Building Your Base" project. My library is lucky enough to enjoy strong community support, and we already implement some of the ideas from this session (e.g. provide great service first, since that will naturally make people want to support the library). However, it also provided good insight on how to identify non-supporters of the library and find the best way to reach out to them and hopefully change their minds, as well as some solid practical advice on how to improve marketing and outreach efforts without using lots of additional resources.

Afterward, I took an hour-long walk around downtown Philadelphia. (The architecture is lovely, but I was sad to see many homeless people around the city. They seemed to be more prevalent than in other cities I've visited. I hope that the city is taking some steps to address the issue.) For dinner I ate at Maggiano's, just a minute or two from the convention center and across the street from the Reading Terminal Market. It was a fabulous, typically huge Italian meal, and my waitress slyly pointed out that they offer desserts in individual sizes for $2.50 that can be wrapped up and taken back to one's hotel room. After that, I couldn't resist the tiramisu! It stayed in a bucket of ice overnight and I had it for breakfast in bed the next morning. It was amazing.


* I think that these sessions were meant to be smaller, discussion-driven events, though none of the ConverStations I attended were small (although they were in smaller rooms, they were inevitably full to overflowing) and some were run mostly like lectures.

Mar 29, 2012

PLA 2012: Wednesday, March 14

I arrived in the midafternoon, checked into my hotel, registered, read through the conference program and chose my sessions, then started in on the exhibit hall until dinnertime.

One thing I'd been really worried about before coming was that I would barely talk to people the whole conference. My only previous conference experience was ALA Annual, which was huge and overwhelming; everyone there seemed to know someone else already, so I never really ended up being able to connect with that many people. As a result, I was thrilled to see in a pre-conference e-mail that staff from the Free Library of Philadelphia were going to be hosting dinners at area restaurants for interested conference attendees. I signed up to eat at a Vietnamese place on Wednesday evening, and I'm so glad I did. There were about ten of us, and the conversation was lively and interesting. It was a great start to my conference, and helped me to feel comfortable and welcomed as a young librarian and novice conference attendee.

PLA 2012: Or, I Think I Burned Out My Brain

I was fortunate enough to be sent to PLA 2012 in Philadelphia last week the week before last (it took me a while to write up this whole thing!). It was awesome. And exhausting! An incredibly stimulating experience, both in the sessions and in all of the people I met.

I will try to post my detailed notes for the individual sessions I attended, but to start with I wanted to write about my experience in general. Originally this was going to be in a single post, but then the Word document I was drafting it in ran to eight pages... so I'm going to make one post per conference day, plus a wrapup/overall thoughts post, over the next week or so.