NELA 2013, Part 1

I’m back from the New England Library Association annual conference in Portland, and it was great. I was on Twitter (@itsokihaveabook) Sunday afternoon and all day Monday, madly tweeting and re-tweeting with fellow conference-goers; the conference continues today, and you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #nelaconf13.

The NELA Conference blog is also a great resource. I just wrote a post there about the Table Talk I attended Sunday afternoon, Engaging the Community in Long-Range Planning. I highly recommend Brian Herzog’s (a.k.a. Swiss Army Librarian) post about The Art of the E-Book Deal, which was earlier Sunday afternoon; Jo Budler, the Kansas State Librarian, was energetic, inspiring, fierce, and funny, and Brian summarizes her presentation well. There are also links to notes and slides.

Working backward…the keynote event with Rich Harwood of The Harwood Institute kicked off the conference on Sunday at 1pm. His message – “Libraries are needed more now than any other time….Healthy communities need healthy libraries” – was received well, though overall his presentation was less electrifying (and less specific) than I’d hoped.

Harwood said, “We need a greater concern for the common good,” and that libraries should focus on shared aspirations, work, and narrative with the community. Especially in times of pressure, libraries should “turn outward into our communities, not inward toward ourselves and our organizations.” Libraries are trusted, and can leverage that trust to help the community. “Community is a common enterprise with shared challenges,” Harwood said, but we shouldn’t focus on the problems; instead, we should ask, “What are your aspirations for our community?”

The fact that we aren’t supposed to focus on the problems doesn’t mean there aren’t any, just that we shouldn’t get bogged down in them. No one individual or organization can solve all of the issues in a community, but the library should be an important partner, working together with other organizations and individuals to set achievable goals (and celebrate victories). “Narratives play a critical role,” Harwood said. Libraries can help move away from an ingrained negative narrative and create a shared positive narrative instead – after all, storytelling is a big part of what we do well.

I don’t think anyone’s arguing with Harwood’s message; most of us agree about the “what,” it’s the “how” that can be puzzling at times. The keynote speech was a good reminder to keep trying, and that it’s okay to start small.

I’ll be writing more about NELA soon. Meanwhile, remember to head over to the official conference blog to read about some of the other sessions. And if you want fairly priced e-books in libraries, consider “liking” the facebook page “The Big 6 – eBooks in Libraries.”

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