ALA 2010 Post Game

“Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” – Mark Twain

zomg, run! The weather was an excellent metaphor for the librarian profession’s current status quo: the presence of smothering heat (budget cuts), the pros and cons of doing anything outside temperature controlled areas (movement and change versus consolidation and static), and everyone desperately wishing for a change in the climate (draw your own conclusions on that one). The only topic to be discussed more than the weather at the conference was that of change, at least at some of the sessions I attended and the circles I was socializing in. It was mentioned in the acceptance speech during the PLA awards in that “[the library profession] is a quickly changing field.” It was at this utterance that I stifled an eyeroll so strong that I was assured to be rendered blind if I allowed it to happen. But I digress.

[I had a blurb written about the topic of change, but upon review of some of the things I wrote, I decided to bump it to another post.]

Look who is too far from the mic...For my talk for PLA/REFORMA “Social Media and Advocacy” on Saturday, I ended up completely scrapping my carefully refined presentation. Earlier in the week, the New Jersey State Budget compromise had been reached the Monday before the conference. In the days afterwards, the implications of this compromise were coming to light: some state library budget lines had been completely restored, a few partially, and others not at all. On Friday, in sitting on the train heading down to DC, I had a thought: “Do I want the people who are attending this talk to leave with a list of sites and such? Or do I want them to leave with a fire in their belly for advocacy?” I really couldn’t ignore the opportunity to reach out to even a small group of librarians at the conference and try to get them motivated to take action. [This will be the basis of another blog post. –A]

Personally, I was pleased with how the talk went; I said what I wanted to say to the people who attended. I don’t know what sort of impact it had, but it’s a start. Someone who attended the talk has a nice outline of what I said for those who want the highlights. (Thanks Amanda!)

Short version: social media is a tool, but advocacy is a mindset. The tools will not matter if the profession doesn’t have the mindset to treat attempts to remove resources as acts of war on our communities. And yes, I am serious. [Don’t worry, I’ll be writing about that real soon.]

Pete Bromberg's view from the presenters area One of the highlights of the conference for me was the RUSA President’s Program “For the Love of Reference”. I had never heard Nancy Pearl speak before, but it’s always great to hear my friend Pete Bromberg present. I had an idea of what he was going to cover since he had asked me if he could use my Library Day in a Life Round 4 entry. (Here’s a previous thought on reference posted back in April.) Pete really brought back the affirmation of why I love reference as well; it was the right little reminder about how I feel about it. The recognition was appreciated, though I certainly didn’t feel like I was the only one in the room to think what I wrote in that note.

The other highlight was Battledecks. I don’t really have words for this, only links.

The ALA Wiki entry (the actual theme was “Turn and Face the Change: Evolving and Revolving in Libraryland”.)

American Libraries Inside Scoop writeup

Jason Griffey’s winning Battledeck performance (his blog entry on it)

The Flickr group

For those curious about the slides that Janie couldn’t use for Battledecks, I have uploaded and shared them in Google. (They are in Powerpoint form. The contestants dodged a lot of bullets. And potentially NSFW for mild language.)

***

The overwhelming positive that I have taken from the conference is that I have found excellent online company in my peers. Those whom I have grown to know on Twitter, Facebook, and my blog are the people who are the thoughtful passionate individuals that I have been looking for. I would be remiss to ignore the new acquaintances I made as well; these are people I look forward to hearing more of their ideas and meditations on our shared profession. To those I shared talks, drinks, and meals with, I am thankful that those moments came together in that manner. (Now I just wish I had taken more pictures with people.)

I am delighted that, while my body is weary, my mind is energized with ideas, projects, and future blog posts. On the car trip back from DC, I was making notes on my iPad to send to myself so as to not leave anything on the table. Once we are settled into the new apartment, I have a list of things that will claw for my attention. I hope to be able to satisfy them.

This conference has given me the energy boost right at the time I needed it.

If you are playing along with the LSW Badge game, be sure to pick up those badges that you have qualified for (or make some new ones and add them to the Flickr group) and add them to your site.

ALA 2010 Badge ALA Dance Party Badge Tote bag badge Battledecks badge

(The ALA 2010, ALA Dance Party, Tote Bag, and Battledecks badge, respectively)

***

As to a question posed to me, whether I would join ALA or not, I’m still on the fence. The issue revolves around whether to not join or, if I was to join, form a coalition of like minded librarians, run together as a slate for ALA Council, and change the organization.

ALA Annual Countdown

dc_annual[1]

Like many of my fellow professionals, I will be attending the ALA annual conference this week in Washington DC. I’m excited to be attending my first annual national conference; I’ve attended my state conference a number of times over the past couple of years. After the Midwinter meeting, I’m pretty interested to see what the full deal looks like. (And I’m looking forawrd to the eventual end to all of the email and snail mail that I’ve gotten in the last two weeks. I almost threw out the envelope with my conference card in it because it was in the same mail pile.)

I will be crossing off one thing from the career bucket list: presenting at ALA. On Saturday at the Washington Convention Center (Room 203), I will be one of the speakers for the “Advocacy and Social Media” program sponsored by REFORMA and PLA. I will be giving the full account of the saga of the “People for a Library Themed Ben & Jerry’s Flavor” campaign, from the start to finish (virtual finish, because there isn’t much left to be done). For this talk, I’m going to be taking TED Commandments to heart; I hope to make it a fun experience for all those who attend.

I’ve been refining my notes for the talk, but I’m having a hard time getting myself to settle down and give a few practice talks. I’m confident in the material that I have and the style I wish to present it in, but I have yet to time it out or figure out some of the smaller details. I find that rehearsing makes me more confident and relaxed for the real deal, but getting myself to settle down and rehearse… that’s another deal. Still, I will have something to say that Saturday and it will fill up 15-20 minutes of program time (or possibly 25).

The other part of the appeal is the location itself; I’ve been meaning to visit Washington for a long time. As a history buff, it’s just one giant location loaded with items from the nation’s past. I’ve penciled in some tourist time, but it’s not a lot overall so I have to pick my sights carefully. Hopefully, I will not get consumed in the other activities (both conference and social) that I will not be able to take the time. But at least Washington is a short trip away from New Jersey, so I can always come again at a later time.

For those interested, I have constructed a “ALA newbie” list on Twitter. You can follow the tweets of people attending their first conference. I’m looking forward to checking in on the list and see how other people’s experiences are going.

I’ll see people in Washington. If you see someone who looks like this, be sure to stop me and say hello!

TEDxNJLibraries Takeaway

cropped-tedxnjlibraries[1]This past Friday, I had the privilege of attending the TEDxNJLibraries conference at the Princeton Public Library. The theme for the conference was “Culture and Community”, a pair of topics that was deftly addressed by the speakers chosen. As the afternoon progressed, I heard passionate speeches about people, places, and circumstances that moved the speakers. As the world shifts and the lines of connection grow thicker, in the days afterward, I found myself asking, “What does culture mean? What does community mean?” The amount of isolation that exists in the world is dimming as the means of communication grows faster, cheaper, and more prevalent. This is not to say that culture and community are disappearing, but the walls between different forms of them are becoming translucent and permeable.

One of the talks that stuck with me was by Francis Schott, one of the Restaurant Guys. He was talking about the value of places where people can meet, interact, and enjoy each other’s company in the time of the meteoric rise of online communities and social media. In our rush to connect the world, we are touch with some of the things that go with socialization: empathy, emotional cues, and some social norms of civility in interaction. As someone who has followed different stories about New Jersey libraries in the news, I cannot help but wonder as to some of the commenters on some of the news pieces. It is hard to imagine that anyone would actually speak the things that are written if there was a actual human being physically present at the other end of the conversation. In thinking on it further, some of the comments left on library and librarian blogs that I frequent really have me shaking my head. For a more specific example, the people on both sides of any given issue on The Annoyed Librarian blog over at Library Journal really concern me as these commentators are (I can only presume) professional peers. Regardless of how you might feel for the AL, if someone were to say to you some of the comments that are left on that blog, you’d think they were a deeply disturbed or a sociopath.

Even without anonymity, there seems to be some breakdown of social norms. My monitoring of the “Save NJ Libraries” Facebook page has given me a few examples of people actively engaged in attempting to incite people within the group via derogatory comments and inflammatory statements. The practice, colloquially referred to as ‘trolling’, has induced me to keep a close eye on what appears on the page and remove uncivil or inappropriate postings. Even with their real name and picture, it will not deter people from associating themselves with the most ignorant and/or hurtful pronouncements. Likewise, I have seen similar uncivil behavior on Twitter. On one occasion directed towards me, I was told that I was an asshole and blocked by the offended user simply for questioning the basis of their opinion as to a particular stance on a library issue. (I’m not the only one to have a run-in with this individual, as some of my Twitter friends have been told how awful they are for holding differing opinions and subsequently blocked by this individual. It’s a nice validation to know that your experience is not alone and that this person is the issue.) I think this is the rough equivalent of having a near stranger walk up to your seat at a conference, scream obscenities at you, and then ban you from their library in perpetuity for asking them why you put the fiction on the left side of the library rather than the right. And this is supposed to be a professional colleague, one for whom you are looking to rely on for larger national library issues and other important matters.

Even with that said, I think the state of the library blogosphere is pretty civil overall; it is these aforementioned cases that are the exception to the rule. And I’d rather not think that the TEDx conference left me on a sour note for the state of discourse in the librarian social sphere and the greater societal realm. There were great talks about what microfinance is doing here in the United States and in countries around the world. I got to hear about taking jazz to school kids around the country and taking rock music to the Middle East are bringing new perspectives to the next generation. To me, the power of the communication and transportation technologies lies in allowing people to share and celebrate in the other cultures and communities in the world. Even with the advent of the television bringing images of far away lands into people’s living rooms, the instruments and tools of media and mobility today take it a step further in allowing for more immersive travel experiences. You could watch it on television, or you can hop a plane and be there within a day: those are radical experience choices that are becoming more accessible every day.  

As a fleeting thought, I wondered if the library experience is our remaining attraction. In the same way that Starbucks does coffee and Five Guys does burgers and fries, people will pay more for a premium quality product and experience. Translate this over to a tax line or levy and you get roughly the same equivalent. Our competition is not the bookstores, the internet, Google, or coffee shops; rather, our competition is ourselves. It is up to libraries to provide an experience that is reflective of the communities served; I think people want something that reminds them that this is their library in their hometown. While the majority of our materials and resources are national and international in origin, it is the local staff and materials that make the local library experience unique.

Depending on the Budget

While the chosen theme of the 2010 New Jersey Library Association Conference was “Everyday Advocacy: Libraries are Essential to Your Community”, the actual more accurate tagline should have been “…depending on the budget”. This phrase because the punctuation and sentence modifier for most of the conversations I had with people over the course of the two days. And when you are staffing a two full day conference feature, you get to have that conversation many times.

The overall conference felt more like a three day hospice, where all the attendees had the same financial relative who was on its deathbed. When statements about future endeavors was not being modified by the aforementioned phrase, the budget and its effects were the principle inquiry between old friends catching up and new acquaintances learning about each other. “So what does the budget mean for your library?” might as well been written on our nametags, a riff on other types of icebreakers used to encourage people to talk to each other.

At times, the answer was mild; most of the time, the answer was depressing. Layoffs, service cuts, hour cuts, financial difficulties with municipalities, and other tales of woe dominated the types of answers. For those not playing along with the home game, this would be in opposition to the Governor’s recent remarks about the state budget library funding cuts saying that it would not result in library closings or service cuts:

It’s not like because of this, public libraries are going to be closing. Municipalities are required to dedicate a stream of funding to libraries in their towns. And we do not believe you’ll be seeing any libraries close or any significant diminution of services for people to be able to utilize.

(This is where the semantic debate would begin. The state budget didn’t cause libraries to close, the municipalities that have funding lines did. Because when you close a $10 billion budget gap, it couldn’t possibly make municipalities scramble for other ways to close their own gaps caused by the removal of state assistance across the board that won’t result in layoffs, diminished hours or services, or even closings in institutions like libraries that have dedicated funding. [Cedar Grove, Edison, Neptune, Fair Lawn, Rutherford, Jefferson Township, to name a few.] Or, in other words, the stick of dynamite that was tossed into the avalanche zone didn’t kill the skiers, the giant wave of snow, ice, trees, and bad timing did. I would ask where people in other departments who are getting laid off will go for internet access, unemployment assistance, and job hunting help, but I digress.)

As much as I paint a picture of gloom and doom for the conference, I think the fairer assessment would be restrained hopefulness. While the budget boogeyman would feature in conversations, there were people looking and planning ahead to the future. It was fun to talk to people who were enthusiastically thinking about adding gaming programs, video game collections, and using or lending gadgets at their library. In relating my own personal anecdotes and others, you could see people making the deeper connection about how these programs can create stronger patron bases by bringing in new library users as well as creating more opportunities to educate them as to what else the library does. Even with the budget caveat, people were still looking to expand library offerings. That was a good reminder that library life is still going on in lots of places.

For myself, the mood went somber only when I was sitting in larger groups in the ballroom. I wondered how many people would be here next year at different times. But it was at one of these larger gatherings that one of the more interesting things of the conference happened, in my reckoning. It was right at the beginning of the NJLA award dinner, a myriad of awards recognizing both librarian and non-librarian accomplishments from the past year. When the MC was introduced, someone shouted “Long live the Highland Regional Library Cooperative!” and a group of people cheered. (Library cooperatives would be completely eliminated under the Governor’s budget proposal. They work to negotiate group contracts, find grants for innovative pilot programs, and provide continuing education and training to the libraries they serve.)

What drew my attention and made it a memorable moment for me was the complete lack of reaction to it from the rest of the room. I’m not sure if it was a matter of people not hearing it, not registering what it meant, or just not sure how to react in the quasi-formal setting, but nobody I spoke about it unless I brought it up. I’m really not sure what to make of it; I wouldn’t want to assign it more meaning without further conversations. But it was certainly something a bit different than the norm.

As this post starts around the phrase “depending on the budget”, I’d like to end with that phrase. It’s one thing to use it as a modifier for conversations about future library programs, services, and materials at the library; I think it has a better life being used to press the case for library funding. There are more people than directors, librarians, and staff that are depending on this state funding. It’s the members of the communities served that are depending on this budget line being restored. It’s the people who walk through the door every day, every week, and every month. It’s the moms and dads, children and teens, and seniors and grandparents. It’s students of all ages and walks of life. It’s those dealing with job loss and those on the job hunt. It’s information access at a critical economic time. It’s a government service that is a community linchpin.

There are more people depending on the budget than just us.

Advocate accordingly.

 

savenjlibraries-jl

May 6th Rally

SaveMyNJLibrary.org

The slow march towards ALA Annual 2010

Today, I registered for my first ALA Annual conference. It went along smoothly for the most part, save for when I went to pick a hotel. I had to scramble to get a map to figure out what was where from the slim pickings left. Even then, I ended up doing a virtual eeny-meany-miney-mo and selecting a hotel. As it turns out, according to Google Maps this hotel is right next to the building that houses Fox News. I personally really don’t have anything against Fox News, but I’ll be able to tell my fellow conference attendees if the presence of thousands of left leaning socialist ‘give away the materials for free on taxpayer dollars’ librarians has any effect on the station. Or maybe the proximity of the conservative network will mask my liberal presence in the city the same way that the cave that was strong with the Dark Side of the Force hid Yoda’s from Darth Vader and the Emperor on Dagobah. In any event, I found the registration for the ALA website to be a bit stranger.

You see, when you register, you have the option of a prefix. Normally, this is limited to a select few choices: Mr., Mrs., Ms., maybe Dr., and a none of the above blank one. Apparently, these few are simply not enough choices for the ALA.

A title for all occasions!That screenshot is a composite of the many, many prefixes you can choose. Captain? Lt Commander? Rabbi? Senator? Sister? I know I’m going to go back and swap them every month just to see the faces on my coworkers when they get the mail. What I can’t figure out is why they have some military ranks and not others. Who wouldn’t want to be a Rear Admiral in the ALA? The jokes practically write themselves! (Personally, I’m leaning towards Judge or Professor.)

lol newbsIn more serious fare, I have started a Twitter list for other ALA first attendees. If anyone wants to see what fresh eyes see (and tweet) when they attend the conference, I highly suggest you follow this list. It will be growing, I presume, as more people announce their newbie status. I asked for advice for people new to the annual conference on Twitter today. The collected wisdom of the day was:

I also highly recommend Erin Dorney’s blog post "Conference Attendance Advice”. It has her own conference tips as well as links to other posts with advice. Check out additional tips in the comments, too!

I’m looking forward to this summer. It should be a good one!

ALA Midwinter Meeting 2010 Recap

4289596648_e2ebdef4b5_b[1] 2010 ALA Midwinter Exhibit Hall panorama composite (click to see the original size)

As much as I have written about the ALA, I was still curious to see the organization up close and in action. I’ve talked with librarian friends and certainly read enough online (both positive and negative) about the organization. But there is something about going, seeing, and experiencing it for myself that requires satisfaction. So I set hotel reservations, rummaged through the social events calendar of various subgroups, and excitedly drove by way to Boston, sensing adventure in the air.

My objective was to put everything out of my head and just examine everything anew. It’s difficult to set aside the compliments and complaints I have heard for this organization, but I gave myself a simple strategy of objective questions. I’ll outline my approach (please consider answering them in the comments if I did not speak to you personally).

  1. “Are you a member of ALA?” (If no, why not? If yes, continue to 2.)
  2. “Do you serve on any committees, roundtables, and the like?” (If no, why not? If yes, continue to 3.)
  3. “What does that committee/roundtable/whatever do?”

In listening to the answers, I was also taking into account word choice and tone. While my polling size and choice was not very scientific, I found the answers that I heard to be most enlightening. With a few exceptions, most answered that they felt rewarded by their involvement with the organization. However, this group diverged between feeling effective and frustrated. Cheery explanations were tempered by acerbic rants, each providing clues to the bigger picture for me.  With an organization as large as the ALA, these many glimpses from the top on down gave me much to think about as I assessed the organization on the way home.

If I was to liken the organization to something, I would say it is a Rubix Cube. Some of solved how it works, its meaning, and purpose; others struggle with the apparent complexity and mechanics; and a minority simply don’t get it and/or won’t try to get it. (And, for the more cynical out there, some are arguing about appropriate colors on the cube. Or as one person put it when I mentioned this idea to them, “I’ve solved it and I don’t care for the answer.”) What I would say is true and apparent is that, despite how people feel about the organization itself, I did not meet one person who was not passionate about their career in librarianship. This speaks well for the true potential of the organization should it ever overcome its inefficiencies. From what I understand, talk of reformation has been going on for awhile and that it is a matter of action and resolve to see it through.

Even with this new knowledge in hand, I am still reserving judgment on the organization. Part of this is that I still disagree with the politicization of resolutions, but the other part cannot help but feel compelled by those who strive hard for the profession within the association. From my experience in organizations run by member volunteers, it is no light undertaking to produce results. Where others might make light of their efforts, they have my respect. There are additional discussions ahead, I feel, so I await more input and information.

Beyond my own inquiries into ALA, I really had a great time meeting and socializing with many of the people who I have been communicating with through Twitter, Facebook, and blog comments. It is extremely flattering to tell someone how much you love their blog and they reciprocate in kind. I even had a couple of people tell me my name and/or my posts came up in various meetings, though I’m not sure whether the context is favorable or not. It is heartening, for certain, to have the personal conversations reinforce your choices of inclusion in readers, followers, and Facebook friends. I left with a renewed sense of community and a strengthened feeling of professional bonding.

Photo by Peter Bromberg/Flickr My only actual obligation of the Midwinter Meeting was to co-present “Set Sail for Fail” with Karen in the Networking Uncommons area. For those who missed it, you can watch it the entire thing either through Buffy Hamilton’s raw footage or Jenny Levine’s Ustream clip. I was not certain how many (or if anyone) would attend, but I was pleased to see at least a dozen people interested. As time went on, this number easily doubled. It was a good natured lively discussion about what hasn’t worked out for people and the lessons in evaluation that could be applied in the future. It also provided Karen and myself with some feedback about the type of topics that could arise as we plan out a FAIL conference for the future. I’d like to thank everyone who attended, tweeted it, and shared their stories.

(You can also read about it on the American Libraries Inside Scoop blog or listen to Karen and I talk about it in the video interview linked below.)

(I’m not exactly sure what is going on with my face in this frozen moment, but I assure you it is not permanent.)

As I drove back to New Jersey, my reflections upon this experience have induced me to give the annual conference a try. For those with suggestions as it pertains to the annual conference, please do not hesitate to add your comments. This was a good time and I’m eager to see what waits for me in Washington.

set sail for fail!

setsailforfail

Have a good story of a program, event, or service that didn’t work out the way you thought it would? We want to hear from YOU!

SET SAIL FOR FAIL” is a Networking Uncommons event on Sunday January 17th at 2pm. This moderated discussion/commiseration will be lead by Karen Klapperstuck (Virtual Branch Manager, Monroe Township Library, NJ) and Andy Woodworth (Librarian, Burlington County Library System, NJ).

What we are looking for are additional volunteers to shares their stories of programs, events, and services that ended up in the FAIL bin. Without additional people, this will probably end up with Karen and Andy talking about how an impromptu discussion group about failing… failed. (In case of an epic fail [NSFW link], they will be talking about it just to each other.)

For those interested in sharing their tales, please arrive at least 15 minutes early so you can sign up on our speakers list. (Here is what we look like via our Twitter accounts: Karen, Andy.) Every story of fail should include:

  • the name of the program, service, or event
  • the purpose of the program (e.g. to attract new patrons, etc.)
  • what happened to make it result in failure
  • and what you think made it fail

One lucky(?) speaker whose tale is chosen the most epic of fails by our judges (Karen and Andy) will be given a $25 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble. 

Attendance does not require participation. (But you know you want to.)

Come for the morbid curiosity, come to lend moral support, come to try to figure out why one of your programs failed in the past, but if anything, come because there is much fun to be had talking about failure!