NELA 2017: Virtual attendance via Twitter

At every library conference, there are a few good souls who tweet key ideas, soundbites, stats, pictures of slides, and other tidbits from the sessions they attend. I didn’t go to the New England Library Association annual conference this year, but I did follow it on Twitter.

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A few key themes emerged:

Media: A “silver spot” (not so much as to be a lining) of the 2016 election is the resulting heightened awareness of fake news and the importance of media literacy. A related point is that news organizations, pressured by the 24-hour news cycle and the lure of clickbait (clicks = revenue), may opt to cover “Twitter fights” instead of paying journalists for real field reporting.

Allyship and “neutrality”: As my co-worker tweeted, “Taking a neutral position is taking a position”; it supports the status quo. Being an ally for historically marginalized populations may be uncomfortable – “You’re going to mess up. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.” It is not your first reaction but your second that makes you an ally. Be willing to be uncomfortable, be willing to listen with openness and compassion.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Think outside the box, move things around (mobile furniture!), try new ideas – and don’t use the “we tried it once and it didn’t work” excuse. When was the last time you tried? Changes in staff, the community, or technology may make an idea that failed last time succeed this time. This applies to workflows as well. Why do we do the things we do the way we do them? Does the original reason still apply, or would doing things a different way make more sense now (and serve patrons better)?

Library, community, and social media: Social media is more of a conversation than a lecture; use the library social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) as an engagement tool, not just a marketing device. PC Sweeney, political director of EveryLibrary, advised libraries to “build a critical mass of supporters before you need them,” raising awareness and encouraging advocacy. (EveryLibrary is “the first and only national organization dedicated exclusively to political action at a local level to create, renew, and protect public funding for libraries of all types.”) It’s also important to “speak the language of your audience,” for example, “We need to protect all Americans’ rights to access their libraries.”

Statistics: “What you measure, you pay attention to.” And you pay attention to what you measure.

Kids and reading: “Kids know what books are right for them.” They can close a book at any time if they are scared or confused.

It sounds like the author talks – Ann Hood, Adam Gidwitz, and Garth Stein – were all wonderful, as well.

Thanks to those NELA participants who tweeted from the sessions!

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NELA 2014: The Youngish Leader on Changing Direction

Stand Up and Shout: The Youngish Leader on Changing Direction, Zach Newell and Peter Struzziero (Monday, 4:30pm)

Peter and Zach presented a polished talk on some of the challenges of being a young leader in libraries. Peter is the director of the Winthrop Public Library (MA), and Zach is the Humanities Librarian at Salem State University (MA). In addition to their experience in NELLS (the New England Library Leadership Symposium), both have been involved on several committees at the local, state, and regional levels; this is one way to acquire leadership experience as library staffs shrink and the middle management level disappears. With little or no middle management, the route to the top is quicker, but people aren’t always excited to step up; they may fear they’re underqualified, or they may not want a different job than the one they have. However, Zach and Peter pointed out, younger/newer librarians can use other experiences and committee work as leadership training, and they can learn on the job by listening and observing.

Being a library director is “a different job from librarianship” – you’re removed from the “front lines,” and have to deal with things like union negotiations, staff issues, the budget, statistics, old buildings, new websites, and new programs. As Zach said, “We never stop to admire a job well done, because it’s never done.” (While it’s true that we’re always working toward our goals, I do think there’s time to appreciate progress and achievement.)

Advice:

  • Building relationships is essential; communicate with staff and with others in the town and community, even/especially when you don’t need anything from them.
  • Get involved in the community. Be a familiar friendly face. Go to Town Hall meetings.
  • Take risks to make positive change.
  • Recruit good Trustees, and build a Friends group if there isn’t one (or if they all quit on you…)
  • Get involved in your town library board (if you live in a different town than the one you work in)
  • Collect before-and-after stats to illustrate progress; “the proof is in the pudding.”
  • Consider the future of libraries, but also YOUR future.
  • Look at job postings for library director jobs, even if you don’t feel ready yet. See what skills and abilities are required. (“You may be ready now, even if you don’t feel ready. You never feel ready.”)
  • There are lots of places to acquire MBA skills without actually getting an MBA. Try edX, lynda.com, and TED talks; ask for informational interviews. There are also NELA and ALA (ALSC, YALSA, NMRT) mentoring programs.

Tweets from the session:

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Citations and references:

Are you a library leader? What’s your #1 tip? Share in the comments.

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:

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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?

NELA 2014: Peter H. Reynolds

thedotPicture book author and Massachusetts local Peter H. Reynolds spoke at the New England Roundtable of Teen and Children’s Librarians (NERTCL) luncheon on Monday at 12:30. He gave a very engaging presentation, including slides and video, and he did an original drawing that was raffled off at the end of his talk (see easel in photo below).

Though I love picture books, I hadn’t encountered The Dot before – or Ish or The North Star – but now I’m a fan. Reynolds’ books are colorful, and they celebrate art and creativity in a way that doesn’t bang the reader over the head with a moral.

He’s also very quotable:

  • “Art is one of the last playgrounds we have left.”
  • “Story is one of the most powerful technologies we have.”
  • “Creativity needs funding.” Tell your policymakers! Turn STEM into STEAM*, and remember that creativity isn’t confined to art class – it should be encouraged in other subjects too.
  • “Vision: to be able to see something before it exists.”
  • Ask kids: “Who are you?” and “Who do you want to be?” Remember those are two different questions. Tell them, “You are not the test score. You are not the data.”

*Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics

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Peter H. Reynolds at the NERTCL luncheon at NELA, Boxborough, MA, October 20, 2014.

 

NELA 2014: Programming for Millennials

Cross-posted at the NELA conference blog.

Mixing It Up for Millennials: Library Programming for 20- and 30-Somethings  (11am)

In this panel presentation, three librarians shared their experiences creating library programs to attract that elusive 20s-30s age group. Carol Luers Eyman from the Nashua Public Library (NH) presented “A Night Out for 20-Somethings,” an after-hours event at the library where 20-somethings could meet each other and see what the city’s community groups and organizations had to offer. The event was from 6:30-8:30pm on a Friday night (after work, but “before the real parties started”). There was no alcohol, but library staff made the space look less “institutional” with tablecloths, (fake) candles, couches and chairs, a piano player, and refreshments. To promote the event, they went above and beyond the usual press release, contacting new teachers, young journalists, personal acquaintances, young library employees, older library employees’ kids, etc.; they also extracted patron e-mail addresses in the 20-29 age range and sent one e-mail notification. The “Night Out” attracted 62 attendees (not including the 39 who just wanted to get into the library, not there for the event).

“Make programming social.”

getlit_haverhillSarah Moser is in charge of programming for adults at the Haverhill Public Library (MA), and she said, “You never really know what is going to attract this group.” Art and music programs have done well; a Scrabble tournament and a community writers program flopped. The most successful regular program is the monthly book club, Get Lit. The library established a partnership with a local restaurant, the Barking Dog Ale House, where the group meets one Thursday evening each month. Holding the library program outside the library removes preconceptions about the library, and creates a looser social environment. Moser has had success in reaching out to authors on Twitter, where they are happy to re-tweet about book club events, and the group regularly attracts 10-15 people.

Kelley Rae Unger (Peabody Institute Library, MA), a former YA librarian, brought the concept of the Teen Advisory Board (TAB) to the realm of adult programming; she organized a 15-person focus group and created an Adult Programming Advisory Board, which meets 3-4 times a year; there is a mix of ages, interests, and genders. There was less enthusiasm for one-time or one-shot events, and more interest in multi-week or repeating events. Everyone on staff at Peabody runs some programming, in line with their interests (“teach what you know”), which include coffee roasting and beer brewing; volunteers from the community run programs also. They are active grant writers, and have funded many programs through grants. They have offered book clubs, programs about budget travel, a film discussion group, and cooking classes; in their Creativity Lab makerspace, they have offered silk screening, 3D printing, computer programming, Arduino, and woodworking. People register for events online, and events are promoted through a Constant Contact newsletter and the facebook page. Instruction is always free, though attendees may need to provide their own materials.

“If you own this story, you get to write the ending.” -Brene Brown

Not every program intended to attract people in their 20s and 30s will do so, but that doesn’t mean libraries should give up on this demographic. Involve community members in brainstorming, planning, and teaching; reach out and form partnerships with organizations and businesses in the community; and advertise creatively.

What cool library programs have you had? Share ideas in the comments.

NELA 2014: Consent of the Networked

Cross-posted on the NELA conference blog.

Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) Keynote: Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, Rebecca MacKinnon (Monday, 8:30am)

MacKinnon pointed to many excellent resources during her presentation (see links below), but I’ll try to summarize a few of her key points. MacKinnon observed that “technology doesn’t obey borders.” Google and Facebook are the two most popular sites in the world, not just in the U.S., and technology companies affect citizen relationships with their governments. While technology may be a liberating force (as envisioned in Apple’s 1984 Superbowl commercial), companies also can and do censor content, and governments around the world are abusing their access to data.

“There are a lot of questions that people need to know to ask and they don’t automatically know to ask.”

MacKinnon noted that our assumption is that of a trend toward democracy, but in fact, some democracies may be sliding back toward authoritarianism: “If we’re not careful, our freedom can be eroded.” We need a global movement for digital rights, the way we need a global movement to act on climate change. If change is going to happen, it must be through an alliance of civil society (citizens, activists), companies, and politicians and policymakers. Why should companies care about digital rights? “They are afraid of becoming the next Friendster.” The work of a generation, MacKinnon said, is this: legislation, accountability, transparency, and building technology that is compatible with human rights.

It sounds overwhelming, but “everybody can start where they are.” To increase your awareness, check out a few of these links:

 

 

NELA 2014

NELA2014On Monday, October 20, I’ll be at the New England Library Association (NELA) Conference. I’m looking forward to seeing several librarian friends, meeting some new people, and attending some excellent programs; I’m especially looking forward to Rebecca MacKinnon’s keynote (despite its much-too-early time slot – 8:30am?!). I’ll probably be on Twitter throughout the day (@itsokihaveabook, #NELA2014) and may do some blogging for the conference blog, http://conference.nelib.org. If you’re a New England librarian, I hope to see you there.