Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Conference Fatigue

We just wrapped up the 2013 ALA Conference here in Chicago, and I have a lingering headache that is a result of information overload and the general noise and hoopla of 25,000 excited librarians roaming cavernous McCormick Place.

This conference is never as much FUN as PLA, mostly because it is so big and broad-based that it has to be held in New York, Miami or Chicago, three cities that are generally tiring and hot at the end of June. We were lucky to have cooler weather while the rest of the country is suffering massive heatwaves, and of course, having the conference in town means you can sleep in your own bed at night.

Not to mention having your own closet to choose from.  I wore pants for two days, and was glad not to have bare legs in the cool outdoors and the AC indoors, but on Sunday I dressed up a bit and wore my new top from Ann Taylor.

It's a double layer of chiffon in the body, and a single layer in the sleeves; one of those tops in which you feel very girly. The skirt was an eBay purchase, a Halogen ponte skirt, that is really more green/turquoise than the aqua I see on my screen. It is fairly short (or at least felt that way), but since it is very stretchy, it doesn't ride up when I sit down. The shoes are my Earthies, which make me nice and tall, but have great arch support for walking around on concrete floors all day.

The conference played out for me on a few themes. The first was measurement. Libraries everywhere are looking for more sophisticated and concrete output measures as they see their users embracing digital services (hard to quantify) AND find themselves having to justify their worth to various authorities. So, I went to programs measuring summer reading club effects, surveying users, the LJ stars and how to use the data for evaluation and planning.

STEM and MAKE were two very popular words this year, as libraries celebrate the DIY culture, and often combine this kind of programming with emphasizing science and math literacy. I went to several programs filled with enthusiastic youth librarians and older folks like me trying to reframe our thoughts and history with these subjects. Most of my generation came to public libraries because we were humanities majors, not science and math people. I'm glad to say we are in our third year of a large Science Expo, and it is only going to grow and spin off into little maker groups this fall. Mark Frauenfeld was truly exciting and infectious as he spoke about the last 100 years (mentioning Hugo Gernsback to my joy!) of making and creating at an amateur level, and how the tech revolution had inspired thousands of people to get back down to their basement with new tools.

My personal third track was leadership, and becoming a more helpful and supportive administrator and manager. I've never thought I was a born leader or even a very empathetic person, but I can learn, and I've had great examples to follow. In this vein I attended programs on organizational change and community engagement and plain old leadership.

Some of my favorite quotes or thoughts were:

"Librarians teach compassion."  (Alice Walker)

"Libraries have rebranded themselves as the technology hub of their community." (Lee Rainie)

"Making is not a solitary activity; it is father/daughter, husband/wife, expert/amateur, it is collaborative." (Mark Frauenfeld)

"Every institution in this country has lost trust in this generation - church,  government, banks - except for libraries." (Lee Rainie)

And this slide, illustrating a classic "perilous" leader:

A well-known 1974 image of President Richard M. Nixon by Charles Tasnadi, who became a photographer after fleeing communist Hungary.
Photo by Charles Tasnadi, 1926-2008


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