ALA Midwinter 2012 – Lessons

I had a really excellent conference! I got to meet several of my library superheroes, plus quite a few people I have no doubt will become my library superheroes as time goes on. I participated in the first session of this year’s Emerging Leaders program (which was excellent! Group G totally rocks!), planned an unofficial (not in the Scheduler) event (which I couldn’t attend—more on that in my next post), helped moderate an official (in the Scheduler) event, went to several “un” events, participated in meetings, went to sessions, skipped sessions for lovely meals with delightful people, partied with the ALA Think Tank, spotted famous librarians, gave and received a million ideas, and generally succeeded at Doing Conference Right(TM). (There are several ways to Do Conference Right, by the way; mine was hardly the only one.)

In the process, I learned some things about myself and about conference attendance, as I always do. (Actually, one of the things I learned, from a library superhero, was to write a “Lessons” post, either in my blog, or in a notebook, or whatever, so I can go back and refer to it later. Look at me, putting lessons into practice!) I thought I’d share, in case any of them will help others—and because I am sure they will help me, later.

Lessons:

  • Write up your lessons learned as soon after conference as possible. ;)
  • When running a session, be sure to build time in for assessment, especially if the program is really free-form. (I want to know how to do Library Camp better in the future! Erica and I both definitely want to stay involved, if Jenny’s all right with it, but we want to make it better each time. I wish we’d asked people what they thought would work well, in the future.)
  • Take a day to explore the city (I already knew this), before conference (I didn’t know that). I was so tired that I didn’t have the energy to go to the zoo today; I’m just sitting in a coffee shop, blogging and doing work for various committees and organizations. It’s basically a work day, done remotely. Which is still pleasant enough, but not as exciting, as restful, or as good for stories, later, as proper vacation activities would be.
  • Bring at least one change of clothes in carry-on. This is another thing I used to know, but I had stopped doing it. I hate having a large carry-on bag, because there are already too many of those on the plane. I hate taking up the space in my small carry-on with clothes, though. Or, rather, I prefer having a blanket for sleeping on red-eyes to taking that space up with clothes. :) Lesson emphatically learned.
  • I don’t remember whose tip this is, but I loved it: Never turn down an invitation! Seriously, the best things I did were spur of the moment, like brunch in the arts district, or were planned during conference, like the CodeYear meetup.
  • Find everything you want to go to, and put it on a Google Map. (I can post directions, if anybody wants to do this but finds it daunting. I promise it’s easy!) Put the address of that Google Map into your phone, and print a copy for backup. You will be so glad you did!
  • Ask for things you want. At Library Camp, while talking about the session on introverts, we managed to convince an extrovert to run a session on the etiquette of cocktail parties/networking events. (I’m embarrassed to admit this is something I totally do not understand. I don’t know when it’s polite to step into a conversation, or how to politely leave a conversation, or any of that, in a free-form social situation. I find social events with people I don’t know very intimidating and often draining. I think I spend too much time with the people I do know, hampering their ability to build their own networks. [This is more "I like you and want to hang out" than "I am afraid of new people," but it's still part of that etiquette thing.]) If I hadn’t put that out there and said “I wish someone would teach this,” the session would not be in the works now.
  • Relatedly: I’m probably an introvert. I have never really identified that way, and I’m not pure-I on the Meyers-Briggs (I have had E, I, and X, in the past), but I have enough tendencies in that direction, based on people’s descriptions of the introvert session (which I didn’t attend, not thinking I was one) that I should probably acknowledge at least the possibility.
  • Say hello to that famous librarian at that party (or in the very long lunch line), even though they’re famous. They probably won’t mind. (My apologies, if you happen to run into one who does!) And then you’ll get to say something like “I shook hands with Arlene Taylor!” … Which I totally did. And a few other famous librarians, as well. (It was a very good conference.)
  • Don’t post your detailed schedule on your blog before conference. It makes you feel guilty for the things you skip. It also makes you feel like being cagey about exactly which things you did attend, if you blog later.
  • A Navy Captain is much higher-ranked than a Captain from another area of the military. Also, the Marines are a subset of the Navy. Also, “mustering,” for students, is done digitally. (I learned this from Andrea at the Think Tank party. :))

Finally, I have one that is too long to put in the bulleted list, but is still worth saying:

I appreciate and enjoy the Think Tank’s approach to things, and I am proud to identify with them (us). (The approach, as related to me by JP and Patrick, then paraphrased heavily by me due to lack of sleep: “Don’t wait for an organization to do it, and don’t ask permission. Just do it yourself, or find a group of like-minded folks to help you. Don’t waste a bunch of time thinking about whether it’s OK, or whom it might tick off; just go be awesome, and make it happen!”) I love their (our) energy and the amazing conversations that happen, both in person and on the Facebook page. I am, however, unconvinced that changing organizations from the inside is impossible, or not worth my effort. (This may turn out, years from now, to be a major lie I admit to having told myself, but, for now, it’s something I need to believe.) I think it’s a lot of work, but I’m prepared to do that; I know these people are, too, because of how much they’ve accomplished, outside of the ALA structure. I wish the full power of the Think Tank could be harnessed to do the necessary internal work, too, though—650+ super-engaged and energetic librarians could be a powerful force for change! Still, looking back at my career so far, an awful lot of what I’ve done has been done in a very Think Tanky way: I wanted new members to have a welcoming home in AkLA—something the organization also wanted but hadn’t really conquered yet—so I made and ran a New Members Roundtable (not sure if that’ll solve the problem, yet, but I remain hopeful); I wanted my library to do social media (and, secretly, I wanted an outlet for some of my skills and energy, where I could have more freedom than I do with our website), so I made and ran a Social Media Team; I wanted to strengthen the library community in Anchorage and spend time with some of the librarians who felt left out by our local library chapter (secret sub-goal: “and convince them to join and help me change the chapter to feel more inclusive” … which is an ongoing secret goal), so I created and continue to organize Interlibrary Lush – Anchorage.

But I guess this is where I’m going: this whole internal [to an organization] vs. external dichotomy, for getting things done, was really the whole thrust of my Emerging Leaders application: I know how to create groups and implement side projects to get things done, at every level, but I want to learn how to get things done within the existing structure, too! (I didn’t mention ILL in the application. ;)) I believe you can #MakeItHappen and also be someone the existing organization trusts/listens to. And I secretly believe that the Think Tank at large isn’t so cynical as to really disagree, that a large number of those 650+ people will step up and help make ALA into the best organization it can be.

… which may turn out to be naive. We’ll see.

Anyway, like I said, it was a great conference. I’m simultaneously exhausted and energized, which I think is a win. I look forward to Annual!

About Coral Sheldon-Hess

Python dev, librarian, engineer, feminist, maker, bird nerd
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5 Responses to ALA Midwinter 2012 – Lessons

  1. Liz says:

    Um. I would avoid ever telling a Marine that they’re a subset of the Navy. Because while it’s true on the civilian side (aka their leadership is through Dept of the Navy) – it is a separate branch of the armed forces with a strong sense of competition with the other branches – especially Navy. (I used to run to Marine Corps cadences – good for keeping pace. I’m not sure there’s a single one that isn’t about either killing something or making fun of the Navy.)

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