NELA 2014: Library Corps of Adventure

Library Corps of Adventure! Looking at Libraries Across the Lewis & Clark Trail, Mary Wilkins Jordan (Monday, 2pm)

This presentation had very little to do with my day-to-day work at my library, but it’s good to go to at least one of those sessions during a conference. Mary Wilkins Jordan is a popular professor at the Simmons School of Library and Information Science (SLIS, formerly GSLIS), and she didn’t disappoint in this session. As we wandered virtually along the Lewis and Clark trail (not really just one trail, it turns out), Mary covered the following:

  • Coming up with the idea: she ended up driving more than 10,000 miles across ten states in three months
  • Obtaining funding: a Kickstarter plan failed, but the word got out to library listservs across the country, and librarians – surprise! – were happy to help
  • Researching libraries, museums, and historical sites along the trail
  • Planning, packing, preparation (including logistical hurdles like “no car”)
  • Her trusty GPS, Jane, and the danger of accidentally turning off the “stay on paved roads” option
  • The cool libraries she found along the way, including at least one with cats available for checkout (Someone on Twitter responded to this news: “Wait…living cats?!” Yes. Living cats. They had barcodes on their collars.)
  • The difference between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams and private dams*
  • A library with plexiglass-esque floors (Actual question from the audience: “Does everyone wear pants at that library?” Answer: Yes, but that may be coincidence – the floors aren’t actually see-through.)
  • The different information needs that people have in different areas, and how that information is communicated
  • Seeing ALA’s summer reading theme (Fizz Boom Read) in action in libraries from Missouri to Oregon
  • Seeing a community get into the “Geek the Library” campaign
  • Encountering new topography (“Everything in Washington is up a very steep hill. I don’t know how they do it but everything is uphill”) and dangers (“An interesting thing about the West is that it catches on fire ALL THE TIME”)
  • Observing that libraries are struggling for funding, but still doing great things in their communities
  • The importance of seeking better information, not just accepting the first information you find. (Seek better information, find cleaner bathrooms!)
  • Interesting facts about Lewis and Clark’s traveling party (“Everyone lived. Everyone but one guy. He died of appendicitis. It was no one’s fault”)
  • Photos of various historical sites along the way
  • The lack of diversity in library staff
  • The different ways libraries are working in and with their communities (“Community involvement is critical”)

*I made a terrible, obvious pun about this on Twitter, to which the US ACE responded:

USACEtweet1USACEtweet2

 

Mary’s talk was entertaining, and she said she’s planning to write a book about her experience, so stay tuned. The data analysis stage, apparently, is less fun than the travel stage, but she’s looking at the size of communities she visited, how many libraries were Carnegie buildings, how many and what kind of programs they offer, and whether or not they have a strategic plan.

“Everything is amazingly beautiful.”

One of the unique things about working in a library is the opportunity to visit other libraries to see what they do differently and what’s the same. If you have a job in a regular office, you probably don’t see a lot of other people’s offices, or at least you have to make an appointment with someone to do so. With libraries, you can just walk in and look around anytime they’re open. (As Gina Sheridan says, “What makes a public library amazing is that we welcome everyone. Everyone!”) I like to visit other local libraries when I can, and I try to visit libraries when I’m traveling as well, but I’ve never made an official project out of it (though I do enjoy stealing cool display ideas). Vermont librarian Jessamyn West, on the other hand, is working on such a project: she’s going to visit all 183 of Vermont’s libraries, and Mary’s project reminded me a little bit of hers.

Are you a library tourist? What are some of the coolest/strangest things you’ve seen in libraries?

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