Today was the first day of the Massachusetts Library Association Conference in Cambridge. The conference site, located near the MIT campus, was surrounded by police, who were out in force for the memorial service for fellow officer Sean Collier. (Librarians may have seen that many police in one place before, but I doubt the police had seen that many librarians.) It made for a somber beginning, and people trickled into the 9am sessions a few minutes late due to some of the roads being closed.
Despite missing the first few minutes of the session on “Teaching Technology to Patrons and Staff,” I enjoyed Ann Lattinville and Peter Struzziero’s presentation about the series of “Tech 101” classes that they offer at the Scituate Town Library, and Jessica Lamarre’s presentation on her work with the “teen tech squad” at the Pembroke Public Library. (This was the only session during which I wasn’t on Twitter, because I didn’t get the MLA wireless password until afterward. You’d think that would be in the conference packet, or on the website…) I came in just as Ann and Peter were finishing talking about the Library Edge Initiative’s Benchmark test, and how their library’s results had led them to offer more technology training for patrons at their library, including classes on how to set up an e-mail account, Facebook and Pinterest accounts, and a “tech petting zoo” to showcase e-readers, tablets, and library databases and resources like Zinio.
They talked about the importance of having a lesson plan, giving handouts at programs as well as having them available around the library, branding (“Tech 101”), different types of marketing, and using videos to provide an overview (they showed Eric Qualman’s video “Social Media 2013,” but also recommended resources from WebJunction and TechSoup). They also emphasized the importance of promoting the library as “a place of interactive learning,” not just a warehouse for books.
Jessica’s Teen Tech Squad is a different kind of technology program; her teen volunteers are trained to help other patrons with technology needs. At first this was a drop-in program, but people didn’t always show up, so she changed it to an appointment model, which worked better. She assessed the teens’ skills and areas of expertise with different software and devices, and did role-playing exercises with them to improve their teaching skills, patience, and ability to talk through problems.
The next session I attended was “Afraid to Advocate? Get Over It!” Eric Poulin from Greenfield and John Ramsay from Springfield gave the Western Massachusetts perspective, acknowledging the perception in Western Mass that their tax money comes to the eastern part of the state and doesn’t return. Point being that they know the importance of fighting for their libraries. (By this point in the conference, I had gotten the MLA wireless password and found the Twitter hashtag – or one of them – and began posting during the sessions.)
Eric and John talked about legislative breakfasts, usually held annually, and the importance of attending them, getting to know your local legislators in an informal context. Libraries can also host legislative breakfasts, and are definitely a great place for photo ops. Participation can’t be just once, though; it should be ongoing, to build a relationship: “Legislators are people too. They work for us and they are part of our community.” Librarians, of course, know that libraries are important, but not everyone knows that, and librarians can be unwilling to stand up and be loud. “Is your library important? Then fight for it! …Fighting for libraries is good citizenship.”
As public employees, librarians can’t ask or tell patrons who to vote for in local elections, or how to vote on an override, but they can provide balanced information about the issues. The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries are a good resource for those who want to get involved but are afraid of crossing a legal line. Not all advocacy is political, though; any PR is advocacy, from newsletters to photo ops to social media to special events at the library. “It’s not just gonna happen by itself.”
John spoke about three branch libraries closing in Springfield, and how public support brought them back. “Libraries are, in some ways, an equalizer,” he said, and Springfield patrons showed that their library was important to their community. Eric shared a story from Greenfield, where a new mayor made a particularly egregious comment about libraries and within two days the community mobilized and marched on city hall [could not find news article to link to]. He also joined the fight when the high school was considering cutting its librarian position. “Tell legislators how issues affect you personally,” he said. And don’t wait for a crisis to talk to legislators; they’re more likely to listen if you have a relationship already in place. “Anticipate the questions so you have the answers” when you talk to them.
Another part of advocacy is making sure the library has a positive image with the public. “Points of friction” may include late fees or other customer service issues; consider how your library staff handles these.
All that was just before lunch on Day One. More to come in the next post, where I’ll write about “Library Services and the Future of the Catalog: Lessons from Recent ILS Upgrades” and “Loaning eReaders to the Public: Legal and Strategic Challenges.” For now, you can check out the highlights on Twitter by searching for #mla13 or #masslib13.