ALA Annual Conference 2011: Technology, Community, and Collaboration

July 6, 2011

Attending the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference in New Orleans last week once again inspired a deep appreciation for how technology, people, and dreams are combining to create onsite and online communities extending beyond anything imaginable even a decade ago.

As those of us involved in workplace learning and performance continue reading the reports we collected, thinking about the numerous inspiring conversations we had with colleagues, and recalling the overwhelming number of opportunities we had to see what is happening in libraries and the communities they serve today, we’re struck again by how the themes of community and collaboration are at the heart of what many are doing and exploring in contemporary libraries. And nowhere is that more clearly evident than in the pages of Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library, a first-rate report written by ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) fellow Roger Levien.

The writer quickly moves from the obligatory lofty statement we often see—“Public libraries play a distinctive and critical role…that is essential to the functioning of a democratic and market-oriented society” (p. 12)—to more from-the-heart suggestions of how libraries are partners within their communities: a “place at which most people could learn how to use innovative devices and media even before they became widely available and affordable” (p. 24)—an essential service at a time when learning never ends and many of us feel perpetually overwhelmed by all the new information and technology that comes our way. A place that “would also facilitate collaborations among individuals” (p. 24)—in other words, a real player in building and sustaining a sense of community. And a place offering “a range of specialized equipment and facilities to help authors, editors, performers, and other creators prepare new works, alone or in groups, in new or old media, for personal use or widespread distribution” (p. 26) as we already see in facilities as innovative as the Chicago Public Library’s magnificent YOUMedia collaboration with the Digital Youth Network for teens.

Levien persuasively reminds us that staff members of responsive and innovative libraries are providing resources for almost every imaginable member of our communities. They offer events “designed to educate, inform, and entertain children.” They provide a “safe, neutral, and flexible environment that many teens and their parents strongly prefer.” They have an increasingly wide array of services “to help in searching for employment, completing unemployment insurance applications, finding books and courses on new skills and new careers, and simply enabling adults to have a quiet place to read or relax. Many offer courses in the use of information technologies” (p. 17). They also create reading, meeting, and social learning centers that are better equipped than other community centers are.

There are even better times ahead, Levien suggests. Libraries are continuing to build bridges between their physical and virtual sites to meet the needs of onsite-online customers. Members of library staff are looking for ways to combine a focus on individual needs with a focus on community needs. Libraries are not only collecting but creating content to the benefit of those they serve—in essence, becoming content libraries that develop the very communities that they help sustain. And libraries are finding new ways to serve as portals to information as well as being accessible archives of information resources.

“The creation library has extended its role and become a place where media conveying information, knowledge, art, and entertainment are created using the library’s specialized equipment and facilities,” he notes (p. 20)—a reminder that those who have fallen away from using libraries can learn a lot simply by revisiting them onsite and online to see how much positive change is taking place within those community centers.

And we, as trainer-teacher-learners, have our own role to play. We have the responsibility to continue shaping what our libraries are offering; remain more than proficient in using what libraries offer us; and help our learners become more aware of, comfortable with, and effective at using library resources. Libraries are a critically important element of our local and extended communities in our onsite-online world. It’s up to us to be sure that the old and new technology they harbor doesn’t hide the opportunities they offer us—including their role in fostering business partnerships and community collaborations to support creative learning opportunities in even the most challenging of times.


ALA Annual Conference 2011: Technology, Training, and Buster Keaton

June 28, 2011

With any learning experience, the best part often occurs after the formal lesson ends. And the same can, in some ways, be said of the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference which had its final association meetings in New Orleans today.

Since I’m still in New Orleans as I write this, I can refer to what I did earlier this evening as my not-yet-home-work: reading an ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) report that was released this month and very much complements a 90-minute session organized by ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy to highlight four innovative projects a few days ago.

Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library, written by OITP Fellow Roger Levien and the subject of a separate conference session I was unable to attend, is stimulating and highly recommended reading not only for those working for or interested in libraries but also for anyone involved in training-teaching-learning. The five-page summary, taking up nearly 20 percent of the entire report, provides the sort of concise overview we might expect from an information technology group: factual and focused on technology. Where the report really comes to life is in the remainder of the document, which includes eight cases describing possible versions of the sort of libraries we might see over the next 30 to 50 years; descriptions of how libraries might continue incorporating new technologies into the services they provide for their face-to-face and online users; and the learning opportunities that libraries will continue to develop and refine as they work to further claim their place in the world of social learning centers.

It’s in the later sections of Confronting the Future that the people using libraries receive far more attention and the technology becomes the means of serving those people rather than being the sole focus of the writer’s efforts.

But what still is largely missing for those of us involved in teaching-training-learning is something that only receives a passing glance in the final pages of the report: the immense learning needs that library staff and others involved in helping others understand the tech tools that surround them are going to continue struggling to overcome.

For workplace learning and performance professionals, highlighting technology that is rapidly-evolving without highlighting and exploring the need for continual, rapidly-evolving educational opportunities for staff is similar to the situation created by Buster Keaton in his short film One Week, where a house being towed across a set of railroad tracks narrowly misses destruction as a train passes on a parallel track—only to be demolished seconds later by a train which unexpectedly blasts into the picture frame from the opposite direction.

If we are not addressing the training-learning needs of our colleagues on the staff of libraries and other customer-service professionals, we are virtually guaranteeing that they will be on that second set of tracks.

“Future librarians will become digital media mentors, fluent in the languages and structures of digital documents and data and the availability of information resources on the Internet and elsewhere” (a situation that some of us are already seeing among our colleagues), Levien writes (p. 28). He returns to the subject, with one additional line in that 30-page report, to note that something will have to be done to help staff “acquire these competencies or assets through hiring, training, or cooperation with another organization.”

Or all three, I would strongly suggest.

Next: What the Report Suggests About Community and Collaboration


ALA Annual Conference 2011: Your Library on High Tech

June 26, 2011

There probably are still plenty of people who think of nothing but printed books and being shushed when they hear the word “library.” But you won’t find many of them here in New Orleans attending the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference.

A 90-minute session yesterday, organized by ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, highlighted and celebrated four innovative projects designed to meet library users’ needs with varying degrees of creativity and playfulness: North Carolina State University Library’s web redesign program, which gave the library’s online presence a cleaner and more dynamic look than it previously sported; the OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons (DRC); the Creekview High School (Canton, Georgia) Media 21 project which helps students match technology with learning opportunities; and Orange County (Florida) Library System’s Shake It! mobile app to match readers with the books they are likely to enjoy.

Technology and library users come together very effectively in Media 21’s transformation of a school library into a first-rate social learning center and Orange County’s Shake It! Project. Media 21 makes at least some of us wish we were back in high school again—admittedly a major accomplishment in itself—and Shake It! appears to be so playfully addictive that it could easily make us want to read even more books than we already do just so we can shake our mobile devices again and see what reading recommendation the app will offer next.

But we’re talking about far more than diversions here. ALA Learning Round Table colleague Buffy Hamilton, who was founding librarian of that social learning center at Creekview High, sees the project as a setting in which “students are helping us create the library of the future,” she told her ALA audience yesterday. “I was struggling with two questions: how to create flexible and fluid learning spaces, and how to embed the library in the lives and learning spaces of students.”

The result has students engaged in learning via a huge variety of social media tools including, but far from limited to, Netvibes to curate and collect information; Google Docs so students use the same tools found in the contemporary business world to collaborate and share; Skype to have live conversations with experts around the world; Prezi, Animoto, and Wordle to more effectively present their ideas; and social bookmarking tools including Diigo and Evernote.

“For these students to see that the library is a learning space…was very powerful for them,” she concluded.

The sense of fun for library users at Creekview is equally apparent in the Orange County Shake It! app, Library Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel told and showed her audience through a brief presentation that included videos documenting the playful approach to bringing books to library users. The most difficult part of developing the app, which works when the user shakes a mobile device with the app installed and causes three wheels to turn until they come to a rest displaying a book based on three elements: audience, genre, and preferred medium.

“We launched this in July 2010,” she told her audience. “There have been over 4,000 downloads of the app” and coverage of the popular innovation in the Orlando Sentinel and USA Today.

She also displayed a solid vision of where she expects the library to continue going: “We have a lot of fun things on our website [but]… we’re definitely going in the direction of mobile apps for as many things as we can think up. We think that is the next wave and that’s where we want to be.”


ALA Annual Conference 2011: Lord Vader Packs Them In

June 25, 2011

Like any authors with a newly published book, Lori Reed and I were hoping that we wouldn’t be the only ones attending our first official book signing for Workplace Learning and Leadership. We needn’t have worried.

We were greeted and supported last night by colleagues who provided material we included in the book. We had a great time talking to readers who bought the book. We even were approached by a few people who thought we were part of the ALA Bookstore staff in the convention center here in New Orleans for the American Library Association’s 2011 Annual Conference and who wanted us to help them find other writers’ works or tell them about a special edition of Curious George they had found. (I hope the bookstore staff didn’t mind that I told everyone the other books they were seeking were no longer in stock and that they probably would love ours.)

There were moments when we could simply lean back, look at the stacks of books before us, and relish the confirmation that two years of work was now out of our hands and moving into the hands of others. But those moments did not last very long. Particularly as the evening was drawing to a close.

Lori and I looked up at the same time and were shocked as well as delighted to see a small crowd slowly walking past the book store—because this wasn’t just any crowd. There was an Imperial Storm Trooper. And Darth Vader was there. And a young woman in a very tight-fitting shirt that didn’t seem to have much to do with any of the movies but certainly was attracting more than her fair share of attention.

My kids are going to kill me if I don’t get a picture of myself with Darth Vader, Lori thought as soon as she realized what was passing by.

I’m going to kill myself if I don’t find a way to get them to join this book-signing, I was thinking.

So I leapt out of my chair. Ran out of the shop. Caught up to the group. Told them that we were signing copies of our book. And asked them whether they would join us for a few minutes.

“Of course,” they quickly replied, and the area was instantly transformed.

“You willing to hold these?” I asked as I put copies in their hands without waiting for a response.

And suddenly, people I’d never seen before were crowded around all of us, taking pictures at such breakneck speed that you would have thought a Presidential press conference was underway as we were bombarded by a barrage of flashing lights. Vader held the book; a storm trooper held the book; the woman with the distinctive shirt held the book and even posed repeatedly as if she were intently reading it. Maybe she actually was reading it. In fact, I was the only one without a book in my hands. Because I was holding a storm trooper’s gun and threatening to terminate a friend if everyone didn’t buy a copy of the book for signing. (Happy to report that the friend left safe and sound even if not everyone made a purchase.)

As quickly as it started, it came to an end.

We started to put the books away. I wandered away for a moment to check out that Curious George book. One of our colleagues at ALA Editions confirmed for me that we had managed to stage the first-ever ALA Editions book signing featuring the presence of Darth Vader.  And now we’re wondering how we’re going to top that event tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon from 1:30 – 3:30 pm in Conference Center rooms 346-347 as part of the ALA Learning Round Table’s annual Training Showcase when we once again sign books.

Anyone have Harry Potter’s cell phone number? Or at least a spare owl?

–N.B.: Thanks to the Louisiana Chapters of both Star Wars Groups—the 501 (Empire) and the Rebel Legion—who, in coordination with Dark Horse Comics, provided the photograph by Samantha Hallenus and the entourage. More pictures are available at http://public.fotki.com/shallenus/ala-troop-nocc/page3.html.


ALA Annual Conference 2011: Learning With and From Our Colleagues

June 24, 2011

For those of us whose attendance at conferences is an essential part of our teaching-training-learning, there is an unofficial game that keeps us coming back for more: the game of wondering how quickly we will first run into someone we know.

I have yet to top the time I boarded a shuttle for the ride from my home to San Francisco’s airport and, five minutes later, discovered that the next stop was at a colleague’s home. Which was almost as good as the time that another colleague was on the same flight out of San Francisco even though we were leaving a couple of days before that conference was scheduled to begin. And it began this time when another cherished colleague and I, on our way to the American Library Association’s 2011 Annual Conference here in New Orleans, spotted each other on our way to a connecting flight that had us both in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and had nearly an hour to catch up on what we had been doing since our last encounter.

The extended game of Catching Up With Colleagues continued yesterday—the day before preconference activities were even underway. After conducting an orientation session for conference volunteers, I saw Peggy Barber, one of my favorite marketing colleagues, not far from the main conference registration desk. Because neither of us had any appointments scheduled—a rare occurrence at events where so much is offered in a relatively brief period of time—she and I were able to have a two-hour lunch that carried us far beyond our usual and all-too-infrequent hello-goodbye exchanges. There’s a level of magic that accompanies each of these unexpected encounters and reminds us why we go to all the expense and inconvenience of traveling all the way across the country. It’s what Frans Johansson describes so lovingly in The Medici Effect: when those of us who do not frequently see each other face to face have those concentrated bursts of face-to-face time, the exchange of information and ideas is as intense and rewarding as any well-run day-long workshop—and often far more productive. From her side of the table, there were thoughtful and thought-provoking observations about how many of us confuse advocacy with marketing and end up ineffectively promoting issues rather than taking to the time to listen long enough to determine what our clients and customers need from us. From my side, there were plenty of stories about what all of us are doing to promote effective learning opportunities in a variety of settings.

And our options for making those wonderful connections seem to be increasing at such a rapid rate that it’s hard to keep up with all that comes our way. But not impossible.

Even though I don’t have a smartphone and therefore am not constantly Big-C Connected at all times, I’ve learned enough from colleagues to check in for conference updates via Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media tools that can serve rather than enslave us if we use them effectively—at our moment of need. I also have learned to arrive onsite before activities are underway so I can see where the essential points of contact are: shuttle stops; information booths; meeting rooms; food courts; the onsite Internet cafés that mean we can leave our laptops behind; and those onsite lounge areas where tired colleagues tend to congregate and talk when they find themselves beyond the capacity to absorb even one more word from all the first-rate presenters we came to hear.

Much of it is serendipitous, and some of us comes from planning. After leaving my lunch-time colleague yesterday, I spent some time alone to absorb a little of what had already come my way. Then joined a small group of workplace learning and performance colleagues from libraries
all over the country.
And once again, the magic was a product of the meeting: our conversations went far beyond the routines of our day-to-day work. We meandered through conversations about our more personal pursuits. Talking about the loss of colleagues, friends, and family members who have left us since the last time all of us gathered. The changes and innovations occurring on a daily basis in workplace learning and performance. Our own creative pursuits.

And as Johansson suggests, the rewards are immediate. Visceral. And moving. As I confirmed for myself this morning when I woke up at 5 am and had to move more words from mind to paper so I wouldn’t lose all that our gatherings inspired.


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