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

Apr 11, 2012

I'm famous? -- part 2

Part two of the interview I mentioned in my previous post is up here: http://socialmediaweek.org/newyork/2012/04/10/the-role-of-social-media-for-libraries-part-ii/

(Needless to say, all statements made therein are my own opinions and do not represent the position of my employer. This isn't an "official" statement, just my own personal thoughts on the eBook situation.)

Apr 8, 2012

I'm famous?

How exciting! I was recently asked by someone I met through Twitter (Tweeting at her from my library's account) if I would like to be interviewed for a blog post on libraries and social media. Of course I said yes. Part one* recently went up here: http://socialmediaweek.org/newyork/2012/04/03/the-role-of-social-media-for-libraries-part-i/

While I'm trying to monitor the comments on the original blog post, I'm also happy to engage in the comments section here if anyone has questions or thoughts.

* (Part two consists of me making a fuss about the eBook situation, and I don't know when it's going to be posted. Personally, I think part one is much more interesting, although part two was more cathartic to write (and required much more editing)!)

Apr 6, 2012

PLA 2012: Overall thoughts

Overall, I had a great conference. I learned a lot, got to talk with interesting people, ate delicious food, and sparked my creativity by getting my brain out of the day-to-day routine of my job. I'm so glad that I went!

A few overall surprises/things I learned from PLA 2012:

The exhibit hall is so much more relevant when you're actually working in a library

When I went to ALA as a grad student, I enjoyed wandering the exhibit hall, but largely for the free stuff. Going to PLA as a working librarian, the exhibit hall was still a little bit about the free stuff (ARCs! Be still, my beating heart...). But I could also place the exhibitors in context of what I know about my job and my library, and what might be useful. I came back with a bunch of information about possible reference resources, as well as materials about upcoming graphic novels for my collection development. Instead of feeling at a loss in a sea of booths, I was able to selectively approach the ones that offered information or materials that were most relevant to me and my library.

Talking to strangers isn't so hard!

I am a bit shy and definitely an introvert, so I sometimes have difficulty striking up conversations with random people. At ALA Annual, I had ended up feeling a bit lonely because everyone seemed to know someone else and there weren't a lot of structured chances to meet and interact with new people. So I worried that at PLA I'd wind up eating alone and not really talking to anyone. That concern was part of why I made sure to take advantage of opportunities like the dinner on Wednesday night and lunch with New Hampshire librarians on Thursday. But even without those opportunities I think I would have done all right.

PLA, as it turns out, is a smaller and cozier conference, with a friendlier feeling, than ALA. I think that part of it has to do with the fact that any two people sitting next to each other in a session are likelier to have more things in common with each other than at ALA. There's a lot of common ground and many people are dealing with the same challenges/struggles/opportunities, which makes it easier to have a conversation. I ended up talking to lots of people before and after sessions, and had no trouble carrying on an interesting conversation at meals (though I did generally eat alone except for Wednesday dinner and Thursday lunch – but at that point meals became nice breaks where I could relax and didn't have to think!). I even quizzed a new library director on how to progress one's career to a directorship, totally out of the blue, and she very graciously offered her advice.

Not only did I have great conversations, but I semi-inadvertently ended up doing some professional networking as well. I even had one person tell me she really enjoyed talking to me and wanted to keep tabs on my career, which was quite flattering! I never thought that I would find it so easy to make these kinds of contacts in this way. Now I just have to figure out how this "maintaining your network over time" thing works...

Conferences take a lot out of you

I was amazed by how hard I crashed post-conference, and how quickly it happened. The train ride to the airport was about 30 minutes, and while I had felt peppy when I boarded, by the time we reached the airport I didn't want to get out of my seat. When I called my partner after getting through security and finding my gate, I found it difficult to keep my eyes open while talking to him on the phone! I napped lightly for about 30-45 minutes while waiting for the plane, revived a bit when I started talking to another librarian who was on my flight, but then went straight to bed as soon as I got home.

I had a day between coming home and getting back to work, and I thought that would be enough to rest. Boy, was I wrong. I was tired all week, and had some difficulty getting back into the swing of things because in between bouts of exhaustion I was still buzzing with thoughts from the conference.

The next time I do a major conference like this, I think I'll plan for a couple of days of vacation afterward so that I have some time to rest and fully absorb the new information to which I was exposed, before having to get back to work. I think I might also plan to spend some more time in the conference city, either before or after it ends. I felt a lot of pressure to see Philadelphia and didn't end up seeing much of the city at all, which probably contributed to my being so tired.

Lucky me!

I feel very lucky to have been able to go to PLA. It seemed less common for a young/new librarian (vs. a management higher-up) to be sent by their library, and it was an incredibly valuable experience for me. Not only did I learn a lot, but I had wonderful opportunities to network within my field that would have been much harder to find outside of the conference. I came back with new ideas, information, and connections to benefit my library and my ability to do my current job, but also with ideas, information, and connections that will continue to help me throughout my career. It was a privilege to be sent to the conference, and I'm grateful to my employer for offering me that opportunity.

Not only did I learn a lot and talk with some really interesting people, I came away from PLA really feeling validated as a professional. There I was, a fairly young librarian with just a couple of years experience in the field, mingling with people who were mostly older, at much higher levels of their organizations, and in possession of much more professional experience than I have – and yet I was included in conversations, and treated as a valid contributor with useful things to say and share. In retrospect, I suppose I should have expected nothing less. But one of the more difficult elements of transitioning to the work world for me has been realizing that I can and should hold my own with people who are not necessarily of my age cohort or equivalent experience level. (In my own day-to-day work, for instance, it took a while to really click that even though I might be the youngest person and newest hire working on a Saturday, as the reference librarian I am nevertheless the person in charge and therefore need to make certain decisions myself.) It was so nice to be really treated as an equal at this conference, and I think that the experience will help me with my professional confidence in future. (It also speaks quite highly to the generosity, open-mindedness, and interest in sharing of my fellow professionals – bravo, public librarians!)

Apr 4, 2012

PLA 2012: Saturday, March 17

Waking up on Saturday morning, it was hard to believe that later that day I'd be on a plane back home – it seemed like I'd barely been at the conference for any time at all! I slipped over to the Reading Terminal Market for some croissants (okay, but not great) and a latte (good, but a bit expensive!) before the morning session.

I only attended one session on Saturday: Get Involved: Powered by Your Library -- Successful Engagement of High Impact Volunteers. "Get Involved: Powered by Your Library" is a state-wide initiative in California with the goals of helping libraries to recruit and make use of "high-impact volunteers" (volunteers who have high-level professional skills and are looking for chances to use them for a good cause) and helping talented volunteers to find placements that are a good match for them. The session was very interesting, and left me with some new ideas and ways of thinking about our volunteer program, which I coordinate. I also thought that elements of the "Get Involved" program would translate very well to many of the smaller libraries in my state, which often only have a few staff and need volunteers to do many "extra" things. For instance, one of the smaller libraries represented on the panel, serving a community approximately my library's size, had something like eight volunteers basically doing all of their marketing. That gives me pause in some ways (no one wants to bolster the argument that libraries could just be run by volunteers), but for a small library with few resources it's also an amazing way to get community members heavily involved and able to advocate for the library, while also enabling it to accomplish things it never could otherwise. What a thought provoking session! – and a great way to end the conference.

Afterward, I went back to the hotel to grab my things and check out, then shipped all of my freebies and other goodies back home (shoutout to the Philadelphia Convention Center FedEx for making that experience quick, easy, and pleasant!*). I stopped at the Reading Terminal Market one last time to get a souvenir for my partner (chocolates from the Amish-run candy store, as he's a chocolate freak) and to sample the fantastic ice cream again (I settled for a shake, for portability). Then it was goodbye to Philadelphia – a train to the airport, and after a nap and some delays, a flight back home. Even then my conference wasn't quite over until after I landed – I ended up being on the same flight as a library director who also happens to be the head of our state organization, and we talked for a good portion of the wait in the airport and the flight home!


* As a complete aside, the manager working that day told me that we had basically cleaned out not only every box in the city, but for some miles around – he'd had to order extras from pretty far out of Philadelphia to meet demand. The power of librarians when given access to cheap/free books...

Apr 2, 2012

PLA 2012: Friday, March 16

On Friday morning, I attended the ConverStation How to Safely Manage Discruptive Patrons, led by a staff trainer from the Oklahoma City library system and an educator from the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI). This session provided a useful overview of CPI's scale of workplace violence and practical tips on recognizing the state of mind of disruptive patrons (and colleagues!) and handling the situation appropriately. It was another solid, useful session with plenty of good advice. I was glad to hear the presenters making important but often unappreciated points such as that all staff need to be given the knowledge and skills to deal with a disruptive person and that an environment in which discourtesy and disrespect are permitted is the first step to an environment in which aggression and violence (physical or emotional) are possible. I left the session feeling more confident that I could handle disruptive patrons and more assured that it is important to deal with even small disruptions promptly to keep them from escalating (this latter is something that I often struggle with).

Then – I'll admit it – I skipped out on the second Friday-morning session. I'm a knitter, and there was no way I was going to spend three days in a different city and not check out the yarn stores! Before I struck out, I browsed the Reading Terminal Market. I'd heard it was worth looking around (it is! It's kind of like a bigger, more food-oriented Faneuil Hall, for those who know Boston), and I had only had tiramisu for breakfast so I thought I should get something to eat. I found a creperie and had a sweet crepe with caramel and powdered sugar. It was very good, though I tend to like my crepes a little less cooked; this one was not overdone but was pretty brown.

In my quest for yarn, I ended up going to Rosie's Yarn Cellar, which is down near Rittenhouse Square. (There's also a store called Loop within walking distance of the convention center, but I only had time for one place; Rosie's was slightly closer and sounded as though it had a cozier vibe whereas Loop sounded as though it was more "modern" and sharp-edged in feel.) It was about a 25-minute walk past some truly gorgeous 18th and 19th century architecture. The store was quite cozy, a small two-room affair tucked below street level. It was chock full of yarn without feeling cramped, and the staff person was very friendly. I ended up purchasing not yarn, but buttons for a sweater I'm working on. Easier to carry back to New Hampshire, anyway!

I had just enough time to run a couple of necessary errands and grab a (reasonably good) chicken salad sandwich from the deli in the Market before the Unconference began. I had heard about Unconferences a while ago and found the concept fascinating, so I was excited to finally have the chance to participate in one. Unconferences originated with a person who realized that some of the most exciting and invigorating experiences he was having at conferences weren't in the sessions; they were, instead, the conversations he had with other attendees, because those conversations were addressing the most pressing issues for the people involved. An Unconference is basically a conference without a pre-planned agenda. Participants propose "session" topics at the start of the conference, select which topics they want to discuss, and go from there.

The PLA Unconference began with the moderator introducing the concept and explaining the ground rules (including the "rule of two feet": if you are neither contributing to nor learning from a discussion, you should use your two feet to move to a discussion where you can contribute and/or learn). Then people proposed topics by writing their ideas on large post-it notes and sticking them up on the wall. Each person had thirty seconds to explain what they wanted to do in their proposed session, then we all voted on which topics we preferred. After that things ran like a (small) conference: there were different tables in the room, and each table was designated as the site for a particular "session". We had two sets of sessions, with a break in the middle.

The first Unconference session I attended was on the future of public libraries. I didn't take a lot of notes, but it was a good conversation about our current frustrations and hopes. The only thing I ended up writing down was a particularly good point made by one person: that we are defined by our services, not our bricks and mortar. I think that's an excellent thing to keep in mind as we move forward. (It would be interesting to try to envision what a public library without any physical location might look like...) For the second session I attended a discussion on multigenerational programming and programming for boys, and had a great time swapping ideas with five or six other librarians.

After the Unconference, I meant to get some ice cream (there was a place in the Reading Terminal Market that I had heard was supposed to be fabulous) but instead ended up chatting in the hallway for the whole time, first with someone else who had been at the Unconference and then with someone I'd met at dinner on Wednesday evening. By the time I had stopped talking it was only ten minutes to the next session. I'd hoped to go to The Elusive Library Non-User – but it was already totally full by the time I got there (!), with a man standing outside the door turning people away. So instead I went to Public Libraries and Academic Libraries: A Town-Gown Collaboration that Works. This was another ConverStation, and this one was actually run like a discussion. I got to share some of how we try to work with Dartmouth and reach out to its students, and listened to a lot of good advice on how to reach out to various elements of the campus community. Most of what I took away from the session was how to work with professors, particularly ways to encourage development of longer partnerships.

Friday night was the All-Conference Reception. I'd been having success networking so far, so although I am shy and usually don't do too well at these kinds of large gatherings I thought I'd go for half an hour or so and see how things went. First, however, I needed the ice cream fix I'd been waiting for all afternoon! And it was worth the wait. I had mocha chip, which is my favorite flavor, and it was incredibly good – I'd say #2 or #3 on my list of all-time favorite ice cream shops (behind my hometown farmstand, of course). Then it was off to the reception.

I'd expected a big room full of people talking to each other, with flowers on tables and hors d'oeuvres being passed around. Instead, it kind of felt bizarrely like prom, but with everyone in work clothes. There was a live band singing a cover of Katy Perry's "Firework" as I approached the ballroom, and there was buffet-style food, including entrees, once I got inside. (I tried the pasta, wasn't a huge fan, and decided to get dinner later.) Within a couple of songs the band was trying to get people out on the dance floor, and a few of us went. It was a lot of fun, and some people were really cutting loose (including some guy in a suit, which was hilarious). I went to sit down for a bit as the band took a short break and ended up chatting with someone else for a while. (She was a new library director, and I asked her for some career advice, which she quite graciously gave.) While I was there, the person I met at the Unconference came over with a friend. I ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the evening, periodically getting up to dance. I had a blast; it's been a long time since I had a chance to dance at an event like this! I think we surprised the band – they seemed to have been expecting a fairly sedate group, but by the middle of the evening the floor was packed and people were really getting into it. It was so much fun. Next time, I am definitely planning to stay for the whole conference reception if it's going to be like that!