Wednesday, March 21, 2012

PLA 2012 Friday March 16

Astonishing to think that I put so much in my brain in two and a half days. PLA had a terrific Boopsie app for the conference this year, which helped tremendously. I could review the conference schedule, set up my own conference plan, find speakers and exhibitors by name, see hotels and restaurant info, follow various social feeds, and more. I didn't even scroll all the way down the app until Friday morning. I'll make better use of this next time. This was helpful personally because I did not clearly understand what Boopsie could do - I just enjoyed saying Boopsie out loud.

I know there were some individual library blogger meetups (YALSA had one), but I didn't see a general talk table - or as the annoying new nomenclature has it, ConverStations. I'd love to meet some of the bloggers I follow.

Friday began the best possible way, with a Belgian sugar waffle at Bonte. That should hold me until second breakfast. The next stop was the redoubtable Joan and George Show (Frye Williams and Needham). I've seen Joan and George once in person and once via webinar, and they're always lively and bring something new. This morning, however, I felt a bit put upon. Just for a moment. Yes, digital downloads are all that, but we're still checking out 100,000 physical items a month versus 1,000 digital items. If it were as EASY to check out digital items, then we might have a horse race.

G and J were talking about sustainability Friday morning.
  • Be able to scale up (success) AND scale down (shifting interests or population). Can a service grow without needing more finite resources (space, money, hours)?
  • Look for services that support a growing clientele - don't spend your energy on the last four people who want VHS tapes.
  • Shared skills are more sustainable than unique/solo ones. Staff must be willing to do "everything" - however you define that.
  • We still have SO MUCH: building, collection, volunteers, engaged staff, community.
  • Focus on the results - get data - even if you don't like potential outcomes, acknowledge them!
  • We don't necessarily need more/better marketing, we need more users telling other users about us. Let people comment on our website, publish the paper comments. (some of us don't need better marketing, but I posit that a lot of libraries need to look at their PR materials and then slap themselve.s)
  • Sustainability means relationships outside the library - with organizations and people that matter. (I added "that matter", because I sometimes feel we're so busy protecting the downtrodden that we forget to schmooze the Mayor.)
  • Expand self-directed service beyond the self-check. Don't keep your "best" service away from the patron. 
Yeah, Joan and George are still pretty remarkable.

I had a pile o' spinach lasagna and roasted vegetables at the market for lunch. Followed up with an Irish Coffee ice cream waffle cone. 

My 2:00 session was Choosing to Lead: Budget Decisions and their Impact, featuring the directors (some very new in their position) of Seattle, Sacramento and Charlotte Mecklenburg. They've all been hit with big cuts, going from stellar examples of what to do well to laying off a third of their staff in some cases. Seattle Public chose furloughs instead of layoffs. The moderator was Peter Pearson, President of the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, a very active fundraiser and advocacy group.

This was a sobering and thoughtful panel, with a very attentive audience. All of the speakers emphasized honesty and relentless transparency; being as available to staff as possible, acknowledging the emotional fallout for those losing their jobs and those "left behind." Other thoughts:
  • Rivkah Sass (2006 Librarian of the year) spoke of ceasing to be "a good girl" when it came to asking for what the library needed, and also in talking to the public. Let them know, in a politic way, what they stood to lose, and who they could call to speak their mind. 
  • This was echoed ringingly by Mr. Pearson, who spoke of the role a Friends or other 501C3 group could have in lobbying leaders for library needs.
  • Be data driven. Have concrete results to show others. CMeck is partnering with schools to demonstrate that summer reading programs improve returning students reading test scores.
  • Know what you value internally - the staff? The collection? The building(s)? For some libraries, patrons could manage with fewer books, but insisted on all locations being open.
  • Fundraising - be realistic and know your community. Donors like to give to the collection, they don't want to pay for operating costs. They like to support children's activities, and aren't interested in adult reading clubs.
  • Break down silos and solo acts - we can't afford them.
  • Give everyone advocacy training. Keep them educated and on point.
Their last word was to the library schools. "Create classes in HR - librarians WILL be managing staff."

After this workshop I ran back to the exhibits, to try to see a last few vendors before I had to get on the train to the airport. I visited Library Insight (Evanced-like calendar product), Sage (sleek new statistics dbase from CQ Press), Livemocha (language learning product similar to HelpNow) and about 60 seconds at Freegal/Freading. I stopped to say hi and thank you to John at Televend, who provides our fax service.

I would have stopped to yell at Overdrive, but there was a line to beat them up, sort of like this:

OK, I'm kidding. Sort of. 

My official PLA 2012 experience ended in a perfect storm of timing, delight and gratitude, when Karen and I encountered Duncan Smith on the exhibit floor, heading back to the EBSCO booth. To say that I adore Duncan would be understating the case. There may have been some squee-ing involved. Just thinking about him makes me all goopy. Not only is he the kindest person in the world, he is a leader and a mentor to dozens of people who love fiction and reading and believe in the power of Story. Plus he has the best smile on the planet. 

After the hugging and grinning, Duncan showed us the exciting new product coming from NoveList in June - LibraryAware. Get on the update list now, people, this looks mahhvelous. It's a turnkey product for marketing and communications, creating everything from bookmarks to RSS feeds. Plus it talks to Evanced and Baker and Taylor, so you can easily import book and DVD jackets. It's a planning (internal communication) as well as a production tool.

And then - and then! - Joyce Saricks walked over and my Great Circle of Library Life was complete. Joyce has been "retired" for several years, but is as active and present as she ever was, continuing to inspire and educate library staff all over the country (and probably the world too). I could hardly tear myself away from the two of them.

Well, that was my PLA conference. See you in 2014 in Indianapolis! 



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