ALA Annual Conference 2012: Writing (and Promoting) the Book You Want to Read

June 24, 2012

Novelist Ann Patchett was the first—but certainly not the only—writer I encountered who suggested that we sometimes have to be the one who writes the book we want to read. And that was one of many things Lori Reed and I thought about before finishing Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Nonprofit Trainers for ALA Editions last year.

We were certainly ecstatic when Chris Rhodes, Jill Davis, and everyone else at ALA Editions supported us with a book-signing at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in New Orleans last year, and I remain grateful for the opportunity I had to meet more readers and potential readers through a follow-up signing here in Anaheim yesterday at the 2012 ALA Annual Conference—for it reminded me of another truism about writing and publishing: the date of publication is really just the beginning of a very long process in the current marketplace; connecting with readers through promotion is the long-term commitment we make to a book when we decide to write it.

The initial effort in New Orleans last year received a much-appreciated and unanticipated boost when we rerouted a wandering group of people dressed in Star Wars costumes into the onsite ALA bookstore and immediately turned a somewhat sedate event into a complete grand slam in terms of drawing attention to what we were doing. Darth Vader and others patiently stood with us, holding and pretending to read—at least I think they were pretending to read—copies of the book. Writing about the evening, I jokingly suggested that we would only be able to top that feat by attracting Harry Potter to our next event.

And while neither Harry nor the owl showed up yesterday, I did have a playfully fun moment the night before the signing yesterday by meeting another onsite representation of one of my childhood heroes: Spiderman. Turns out he’s actually a very nice guy. Pleasant. Patient. And willing to give half a writing team a nice boost by allowing himself to be photographed by reading a copy of the book. Which, of course, I immediately tweeted out to make my fellow ALA Conference attendees aware of the  book-signing.

I can’t really fault Spiderman for not being able to attend the event himself; he was probably across the street, in Disneyland, rescuing Mickey or Minnie from renegade pirates or librarians out on the town. But I’m grateful that he did help connect me with some very supportive readers. And I continue to hope that at some point Harry Potter and the owl will be available to join me for some promotion of the book. And the overall value of workplace learning (staff training) and leadership in our lives.

N.B.: ALA Conference attendees interested in staff and public training programs  are invited to join library training colleagues today (Sunday, June 24, 2012, 1:30 – 3:30 pm) in Anaheim Marriot Grand Salon G-K for the ALA Learning Round Table’s annual Training Showcase. It’s a great opportunity to learn what other workplace learning and performance professionals are doing and how you might apply their best practices in your own workplaces.


ALA 2011 Midwinter Meeting: Trainers, Starfish, and Levels of Engagement in an Onsite-Online World

January 7, 2011

It wasn’t all that long ago that many of us involved in workplace learning and performance saw our face-to-face and online communities as nonintersecting elements of our lives. Face-to-face contact was perceived to somehow be more rewarding, offering deeper, richer relationships than those we had online.

Having dinner last night with a small group of ALA Learning Round Table colleagues who are here in San Diego to attend the 2011 American Library Association (ALA) midwinter meeting reminded me once again how far we’ve come. What became a tradition of gathering a few of us involved in learning opportunities for or within libraries for an evening of dinner and conversation spiced abundantly with an exchange of ideas and resources has, over the past few years, evolved into an opportunity to create and sustain a third place not defined by a physical geographical location—and it really continues to grow through the online contacts we maintain throughout the year.

What in Ray Oldenburg’s concept of The Great Good Place was a world comprised of our home as our first place, work as our second place, and a third place comprised of the treasured community site where we, our friends, and colleagues come and go has, in the age of Web 2.0 and online communities facilitated through social networking tools, come full circle. We now have a third place which can begin either face to face or online, be nurtured through frequent and productive online exchanges—meetings, online chats, regularly scheduled conversations on themes of interest to all participants—and also include those face-to-face encounters in physical settings which change from month to month and year to year depending on where members of the community find themselves crossing paths.

More importantly, the result of this sort of fluid and flexible community which moves back and forth between physical and virtual encounters produces the sort of development and exchange of ideas that Frans Johansson so effectively describes in his The Medici Effect—a tribute to what happens when people of differing backgrounds meet, exchange ideas, and, through their intersection, develop and disseminate new ideas.

Which is exactly what happened again last night. The five of us who were able to extend our continuing long-distance conversations did not arrive with an agenda—that’s neither third place nor Medici Effect thinking. And we did not limit ourselves to discussing what is happening in workplace learning and development or in libraries, although those are the common threads which originally brought us all together. The conversation actually began as many third-place conversations do: with comments about issues that are on our minds, including the anger and frustration we feel that basic social issues such as finding ways to do more than feel bad when we see homeless people sleeping on the streets of the cities which are our homes are not being addressed while members of our national legislature read the American Constitution to each other.

And here’s where our onsite-online third place took an interesting Medici Effect twist: one of our colleagues mentioned that out of her personal frustration came the practice of having a bag of groceries in her car so that when she is running errands and comes across someone in need of food, she has something she can give them.  It seems to be an inadequate response to a huge problem, she suggested, but it serves as a step in the right direction of remaining engaged with members of her own community.  Another colleague present for our third-place gathering jumped in with what she called the story—dare we use the word parable here?—of the girl and the starfish: a young girl, spotting thousands of starfish being washed up on a beach, began throwing some back into the water and, when questioned why she was addressing such an insurmountably large challenge with an action that seemed so insignificant, responded that it wasn’t insignificant to the starfish that she saved.

It didn’t take us long to identify the Medici Effect moment in both stories: what was, up to that moment, an individual effort of providing small offerings of food took on greater import through the sharing of the story about the bags of groceries. If even one of us hearing the story adopts the practice of carrying and distributing groceries to those in need, then our colleague’s action has been multiplied and we are one step closer to supporting what she has inspired to the benefit of those who might otherwise not receive the gift of being acknowledged as members of our overall community.

And at a human level, there was even more: one element that makes our third-place/Medici Effect onsite-online community continue to thrive and grow is that there are no overtly closed doors—new members join as quickly as they express interest in becoming part of the overall conversation.

That happened again last night when our wonderful waitress at Mint Downtown Thai restaurant became part of the various conversations we had and, upon learning that we were among the more than 5,000 people spending the next several days in San Diego to attend the ALA midwinter meeting, immediately asked us each to tell her what our favorite books are so she would have more works to explore. Among those suggested: the novels Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett; The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruis Zafón; and The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay, along with the Notzake Shange’s poetry collection For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf. And, as is the obligation of any member of a third-place/Medici Effect community, she responded with her own favorites: Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

So, for those of us who were present—including new community member Ashli at Mint Downtown Thai—we had our cake and ate it too: we walked away with encouragement and inspiration to continue doing what we do, and we had the added benefit of being reminded of books we need to read—or reread—as our onsite-online connections continue growing.


Web 2.0 Best Practices: When Author Events Lead to Library Collections

June 2, 2009

SOPACs—Social Online Public Access Catalogs—are expanding so quickly that yesterday’s dream (or nightmare, depending on your point of view) is on the verge of becoming today’s routine.

Take, for instance, the interactions between library staff, library users, library catalogs, and libraries themselves in one small way: through a library-sponsored author event. One year ago, before John Blyberg unveiled what he dubbed a SOPAC at Ann Arbor District Library and then moved over to Darien (Connecticut) Library, the library user might have learned of the event through a flyer, a library newsletter, a listing in a local newspaper, word of mouth, or by searching an online calendar of events provided by a library. The interactivity of SOPACs like the one currently in use at Nashville Public Library is inspiring additional connections between library users, OPACs, and websites.

Visitors to the Library’s website are able to see a brief and visually attractive listing of a few featured events. If they choose the link for a specific author event, they jump to a description of the event, can click on a link to have an email reminder sent to them shortly before the event takes place, and can use additional links to find other “Books & Writers” events which include access to the Library’s collections (note added 11/30/07: library catalog link is to the left of the events column). Trying the initial “Books and Writers” link myself, I discovered that a documentary film about Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam and the writing of his final book will be held at the Library on December 11—news compelling enough to make me wish I could be in Nashville that evening.

The same Library home page can help readers make even more direct connections to the online catalog: following a link from a brief news item about novelist Ann Patchett receiving the 2007 Nashville Public Library Literary Award leads to a detailed press release which allows readers to check on the availability, through Nashville’s online catalog, of any of her works which are owned by the Library.

Nashville Public Library Public Relations staff was the driving force behind this innovation, according to Library Automation Specialist Jamen McGranahan. Library staff worked together to develop the links between the pages and Nashville’s WebPAC. The winners, of course, are the Library’s users—and any others who decide to implement their own versions of what Nashville has accomplished.

This item was originally posted on November 20,  2007 on Infoblog at http://infoblog.infopeople.org.


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