This was my second ALA in Anaheim. The main thing I remembered about the last conference that was held there was that I had a very hard time making it to events on time. The blocks in Anaheim are longer than they appear on a map, and hotels are very spread out. Luckily, this time, my meetings were all in the convention center or the headquarter hotels. Unfortunately, even the buildings take longer to navigate than you would expect, and I still found myself running late for things on the first day and a half. Lesson learned: you can never overestimate how long it will take you to walk in a city designed for cars! Once I had that under control, things were much more smooth sailing.
I was lucky to get to room with a colleague from work again, which is always fun and another example of how sometimes it seems like it takes traveling across the country to catch up with local colleagues. I managed to get a meal with folks from my library as well, and catch up with colleagues from another local university at several events. Very fun times in the middle of a very busy conference!
ALA is increasingly becoming more and more about meetings for me, which is actually fine by me as I care a lot about the future of the organization and the meetings I’m in tend to at least have the potential to impact that. In an effort to make some sense of the seeming randomness of my calendar, I’m summarizing by type of meeting here:
American Library Association: Council
# of official meetings: 7
# of hours in official meetings: 14
I’m now over halfway through my term on council. I really enjoy this work, and plan to run for election again. This is the body that makes policy recommendations for the organization. When there are controversial issues, Council considers them. Council is responsible for (and considers updates to) the backbone documents of our profession such as the Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights.
This time most of the resolutions were from the Social Responsibilities Round Table and focused on several issues that are particularly important to that round table of the association, including Wikileaks issues and the treatment of homeless library users.
It was at this conference, perhaps in a change of culture, or perhaps because I’m getting my feet under me in this role, when it became very clear that there is a growing demand from members to focus instead on issues that are clearly library related rather than general issues that have a less obvious connection to libraries (such as Wikileaks). I suspect this is because many libraries are dealing with very real threats in their day-to-day operations whether it’s funding, access to materials that patrons want (*cough* *cough* ebooks *cough*), or the massive cuts some school districts are seeing in their libraries. When facing such fundamental issues, the feedback we get is that some intellectual freedom issues seem like a luxury and misplaced energy by the governing body of the organization.
At the same time that I’m noticing this, council is going through a self-assessment, of which we spend an hour of working on while at the conference. It’s clear that councilors understand that the really big important library issues of the day come to council and get turned into taskforces or committees, and the minor ones don’t. Those minor ones don’t necessitate the creation of a group, so the council hashes them out, leading to the feeling that the council spends time on fringe issues.
Small insight, perhaps, but a really useful one for me, and will help me better move forward issues in Council in the future.
Library and Information Technology Association: Board of Directors
# of official meetings and programs: 9
# of hours in official meetings: 20
I’m a Director at Large for LITA, and am as far into that term as I am the Council term. However, the organization could not feel more different. The big news, for me, for my LITA experience at this conference was that I was elected as the Director-at-Large to the executive committee for LITA. The executive committee is empowered to act for the board of directors between regular meetings (their decisions and actions are subject to review by the board at its next regular meeting).
LITA is going through growing pains and is evaluating how to be more transparent in a way that makes sense across the Board (literally) so these meetings feel like there’s actually potential to see some change go through. I’m excited about contributing in a larger way to this association which was my first real home within ALA and gave me leadership opportunities when I was still just in library school.
LITA also hosts several programs that are notable at annual conferences, and I attended the Sunday afternoon sweep of sessions including Top Tech Trends (Where it was good to see another instructional technologists on stage. One of her two trends was “this will be the year librarians learn instructional design!”) and the President’s Program (The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Research, Digital Scholarship and Implications for Libraries featuring Tony Hey, Microsoft Research; Clifford Lynch, Coalition for Networked Information). Both were fascinating sessions, despite their disruption due to a fire alarm in the convention center!
# of non-business related programs: 2
# of hours in these programs: 4
I never count on getting to see sessions that are not part of another obligation that I have, but this time I got to see two! On Friday I heard William Kamkwamba, or, the boy who harnessed the wind, at the Movers and Shakers lunch. If ever there was a more cognitively dissonant ALA experience, I’m not sure what it would be. We were at a very nice restaurant, eating fancy meals, while hearing about the poverty of Kamkwamba’s village and the extraordinary efforts he went to in order to find ways to bring water and electricity to his community. If you haven’t heard his TED talk, you really should. It’s here:
I also got to hear a favorite author of mine, David Weinberger. His books tend to be interesting reads dealing with the rapidly changing information environment. His most recent was one of the books our group read here in the library, Too Big To Know.
His talk focused on his most recent book, and the subtitle of the book says it all: “rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room.”
In his talk he talked about how rapidly information moves today, about the bubbles we all live in in our online interactions, how it’s increasingly challenging to get access to other perspectives, and even a bit of postmodernism. Good times, as far as I’m concerned!
Connections, Friends, and Mentoring
But perhaps the best part of any conference is connecting with friends and mentors and finding out what’s going on in their lives, getting perspectives on your own, and finding connections between interests, projects, and passions of others in the field. This is one of the rare opportunities we have to get together with library folks from all different types of libraries, types of jobs, and ranks of position within their own organization, and that broad picture is one of the best takeaways of the conference for me.
I wrapped up my time in California with a bit of consulting for a company that is looking at their training, which was great fun. It was a totally different experience from working with librarians, but fun in entirely different ways. That meant several opportunities to get together with people from the organization, a day-long workshop, as well as a chance to get some of the work done for them that I had promised to do (as you can see here).
A red-eye back, an afternoon catch up with Leif, and a mountain of laundry later, I’m about to get started on my to do list that grew by miles while I was at ALA. Luckily, the conference was rejuvenating enough that I have the energy to tackle it!