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

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!

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