ALA Midwinter Conference (Postscript): She Has Toys

February 3, 2014

We now have a new, unexpected corollary to American Library Association (ALA)  Strategy Guide Jenny Levine’s belief that ALA conference hallways provide an extensive network of informal learning venues: those hallways extend much farther into our blended onsite-online world than any of us could have imagined—and create amazing intersections.

ALA_Midwinter_2014--LogoWhile most ALA 2014 Midwinter meeting attendees were leaving Philadelphia Monday and Tuesday to return home last week, I remained in town an extra couple of days to relax, to explore the city and its wonderful museums, and to continue conversations and other informal learning opportunities with colleagues who were still there.

Georgia Public Library Service Director of Continuing Education and Training Jay Turner and I, for example, had an unplanned dinner, followed by an additional meal together the following day when it became apparent that the severe storm disrupting all forms of travel in Atlanta was going to force him to remain onsite in Philadelphia far longer than he anticipated. We took advantage of that opportunity to continue learning from each other about some of the tech trends in libraries and library learning endeavors we have both been exploring and, in that way, extended the conference hallways far beyond the walls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

In between those shared meals, I carved out time to visit libraries on the Temple University and University of Pennsylvania campuses—and had no idea that the ALA hallways were about to intersect with the hallways created and nurtured by colleagues in the New Media Consortium (NMC) one year earlier.

The visit to the University of Pennsylvania begins with a return to one of the most lovely libraries and library reading rooms I’ve ever seen: the Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library. The reading room is the sort of space where you ache to find something to read just so you can read it in that space—and if you love art, it’s not at all difficult to find something to meet that need. Leaving the Fisher, I decide to cross the quad for a brief visit to the Van Pelt Library. And that’s when the ALA Midwinter meeting hallways and the NMC hallways expand and collide in the most unexpected and wonderful way—transcending time and space.

Weigle--Entrance--2014-01-29Attending the NMC 2013 Summit on “The Future of Education” in Austin, Texas exactly one year ago—immediately before flying from Austin to Seattle to attend part of the 2013 ALA Midwinter meeting—I had met an NMC colleague (Anu Vedantham) who serves as director of the David B. Weigle Information Commons. Dinner with Anu and a few other NMC colleagues in January 2013 was a spectacular experience for me for many reasons: I had loved the Weigle Information Commons from a distance ever since I had come across a playfully clever introductory video prepared by Weigle students using Weigle resources; sitting with Anu and other colleagues in Austin a year ago gave me a chance to hear first-hand about how the Commons had developed since the video was produced; and the conversation unexpectedly continued a few days later in Seattle when one of our dinner partners unexpectedly showed up on the ALA Midwinter exhibits floor at the same time I was browsing the exhibits—and, furthermore, turned out to be sharing a room with a colleague with whom I was serving on an ALA committee.

And now, I’m experiencing that NMC-to-ALA process in reverse, for as I enter the Van Pelt Library, I turn to my left on the first floor of the building and see a large sign marking the entrance to Weigle—which I had completely forgotten was on the University of Pennsylvania campus. I approach a person sitting at the Commons reception desk and ask if she can “help me find a colleague who works here” (because, of course, I had also forgotten that Anu is director of the Commons). Less than a minute later, Anu is giving me a fabulous whirlwind tour of the Commons in the 15 minutes she has available before her next meeting.

Anyone interested in training-teaching-learning and the intersection of technology, learning, and libraries needs to see the Weigle Information Commons. It doesn’t matter how you see it. In person. Online. Through blog pieces like this one. Or through videos. What is important is that you become aware of what it means to contemporary training-teaching-learning endeavors.

Weigle--Talk_Away_Sign--2014-01-29The spaces are lovely, flexible (furniture can easily be rearranged to accommodate various learners’ needs), well lit, and inviting. Data diner booths, for example, include prominently-displayed cards encouraging learners to “Talk away” and reminding them that “Weigle Information Commons is for discussion and group collaboration”—key elements in many successful learning experiences.

Walking past a variety of group study rooms designed to facilitate conversations onsite as well as online (through Skype), we arrive at the original Vitale Digital Media Lab—another sign that those ALA Midwinter conference hallways are reaching beyond the spaces within the Pennsylvania Convention Center, for I see a physical manifestation of the sort of tech learning and lending library that former ALA President Barbara Ford described to me a few days ago (at the Midwinter conference) when she was discussing the roles libraries can play in helping learners explore new technology. Staff and student interns are there in the Digital Media Lab to work with their peers. And for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors in a variety of settings, there is yet another opportunity to be pursued: students who in the course of learning to help other learners explore new technology could easily be part of the talent pool from which we will draw new trainer-teacher-learners as they enter our workplaces in the next few years if we welcome them into learning organizations such as ALA and ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) to provide them with a gateway to our profession.

Dot Porter, in the "Vitale II" media lab

Dot Porter, in the “Vitale II” media lab

The tour doesn’t end there. With my usual luck, I have arrived just in time to attend a launch party marking the opening of an extension of the Digital Media Lab: “Vitale II,” a wonderful space that operates as a smart classroom/collaborative meeting room, on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt Library, to support digital research in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts. Vitale II has a moveable conference table and chairs in the center of the room; a high-resolution camera in the ceiling so that what is being demonstrated on the table can be projected onto a large screen in the room and also transmitted to offsite colleagues who want to participate in whatever is happening in the lab; and a white board listing upcoming formal and informal learning opportunities, Curator of Digital Research Services Dot Porter shows me as Anu leaves for her next appointment.

To say that I’m inspired and overwhelmed by all I’m trying to absorb during this 30-minute visit doesn’t even begin to capture all that Weigle, its labs, and its staff and students suggest in terms of where we are going in training-teaching-learning. I want to be working and learning in one of those spaces. Now. But knowing that my time in Weigle and the two Vitales is limited, I play one of my favorite games with a staff member: I ask her to blurt out whatever words come to mind as she thinks about what Weigle offers so I can see the Commons through the eyes of someone very familiar with it. She confirms what I expect: Collaboration. Learning. Technology. Playfulness. Whimsy. And then she captures what she loves about what Anu fosters throughout the extended Commons: “She has toys”—and she makes them available.

It’s clear that our opportunities to learn from each other in this sort of creative, playfully collaborative setting are steadily increasing. And it remains in our hands to reach across the onsite and online hallways we all traverse to see where these opportunities will take us—and those we serve—in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead of us.


ALA Midwinter 2014: Life at the Speed of Light

January 24, 2014

Attending the American Library Association (ALA) 2014 Midwinter Meeting here in Philadelphia is helping me viscerally understand the concept of dog years—that belief that a year in a dog’s life is much more compressed than a year of a human’s life.

ALA_Midwinter_2014--LogoArriving a couple of days early so I would have a chance to acclimate to time and climate changes (and make no mistake about it: leaving San Francisco’s unseasonably warm weather for nine-degree Fahrenheit temperatures and snow-covered sidewalks and plazas here is a major change), I spent a little time during that first evening learning to walk on snow and ice without looking as if I were a runner-up contestant on a show combining America’s least-coordinated people with a perverse parody of the Ice Capades (sans ice skates).

Having remastered the art of walking by mid-day Thursday, I immersed myself in one of the relatively new local gems: the Barnes Foundation, with its exquisite collection of Impressionist works, African masks and more contemporary paintings and watercolors. Entering the gallery spaces with little more than a passing awareness of the controversies surrounding the move of the collections from their original site to this newly-created space near the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Rodin Museum, I found curiosity about the controversies being quickly replaced by a sense of awe and wonder by the scope of the collections (more Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Prendergast, Glackens, Demuth, and Pascin paintings than I’ve ever seen in any other permanent collection). And more importantly, I felt a deep sense of appreciation for the learning opportunities that ALA inspires me to pursue each time I travel to a major city to attend and participate in an ALA Midwinter Meeting or Annual Conference.

ALA_2013--Top_TweetsMidwinter-mania really began to set in late Thursday afternoon and evening when I continued a long-standing practice of having dinner with colleagues engaged in training-teaching-learning in libraries and started also monitoring the #alamw14 Twitter hashtag to see how others were faring. Dinner and the conversation with the colleagues reminded me again of why I so deeply value the connections made through ALA and other professional organizations and through the use of Twitter backchannels. The shared meals combined with the use of those backchannels makes it possible to no longer be limited to being in any one place at any given moment—they provide us with countless sets of virtual eyes to gain a far more complete view of what conference interactions produce. And they also set us up for the very fruitful encounters none of us could possibly arrange but which seem to come our way if we’re attentive, flexible in how we approach our conference schedules, and sometimes just plain lucky.

Those unexpected encounters sometimes begin very early in an Annual Conference or Midwinter Meeting cycle: I’ve run into colleagues while waiting to pick up luggage in airports, while checking into hotels, and even once unexpectedly met a conference-bound colleague when the conference-scheduling muses arranged to have both of us ride the same shuttle to reach the San Francisco Airport for our departing flight to a conference. And today was no different: two hours before the first official conference event—the opening of the Exhibits Hall—I was looking for a way to relax after a very stimulating and inspiring daylong committee meeting which involved strategic planning for the group of which I am a member. Knowing that the Networking Uncommons offers a place to decompress, I was beginning to settle into a table when a cherished colleague—ALA Learning Round Table board member Maurice Coleman—spotted me from across the room, walked over to the table, and invited me to join him and some of his LITA (Library and Information Technology Association) colleagues for what turned into an unexpected exploration of how Google Glass works because one of the LITA members had obtained a Google Glass two days earlier, followed by yet another dinner with colleagues deeply immersed in and passionate about the libraries, library users, and library association they serve.

So yes, I feel as if I have lived weeks instead of days between Wednesday and Friday of this week. And yes, I’m already completely exhausted yet equally exhilarated by what attendance at ALA Midwinter 2014 has provided even though most of the formal programming and meeting opportunities are yet to come. Can’t wait to see how many dog years Saturday brings when I rejoin the world Saturday morning.


ALA Midwinter 2014: Prelude (Dream Baby Dream)

January 23, 2014

With the release of Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes album earlier this month, many of us are hearing his version of “Dream Baby Dream” (originally recorded and released by Suicide in 1980) for the first time, and hearing how he transformed that simple song is as intriguing as comparing the Holly Cole trio’s version of “Tennessee Waltz” to the original Cowboy Copas version (1948) or comparing Neil Young’s version of “Four Strong Winds” to Ian Tyson’s original.    

ALA_Midwinter_2014--LogoThere are at least two lessons here for all the trainer-teacher-learners arriving in Philadelphia for the American Library Association (ALA) 2014 Midwinter meeting from Friday, January 24 – Tuesday, January 28: like well-composed songs, the work we do can be approached in myriad ways, and like the advice in that song on High Hopes suggests, we need to dream—and dream big.

Dreaming (and then acting upon those dreams) is, of course, at the heart of any conference of the caliber of the ALA Midwinter Meeting. This, unlike its larger, more presentation-oriented counterpart held each summer by ALA, is where Association staff and members gather to do the actual business of ALA within the context of the numerous division, round table, and other committee meetings that draw participants from across the country together for several few days, and I couldn’t be happier than to be among them.

This, for me, is a chance to participate (as a volunteer serving on the ALA Publishing Committee) in that committee’s work through a daylong planning and review session; we will, among other things, be dreaming and acting upon ideas to assure that ALA publications continue meeting Association members’ needs. I also hope to catch up with colleagues in the ALA Learning Round Table, where volunteers dream about and actively promote continuing education and staff development among their colleagues in libraries across the United States. With any luck, I’ll also be able to attend at least part of the American Libraries Advisory Committee meeting so I can learn more about what colleagues have been doing to make American Libraries online and in print a dynamic source of information and a means for promoting discussions and actions on issues affecting those fabulous learning organizations that we serve on a daily basis.

Each of those groups is composed of ALA staff along with ALA members who are interested enough in Association business to travel, at their own expense, to help shape and further the business of an organization they/we support through our collaborative efforts. And the fact that these business/committee meetings draw us together each January is just the beginning: the formally scheduled meetings are just part of the learning opportunities we create for each other. Some of us arrive early so we can attend informal dinners to keep each other up to date on the trends and challenges we are seeing in the industry we serve. At least a couple of us will be serving as guest bloggers on the American Libraries blog. Some of us fill otherwise unscheduled time by attending panel discussions on topics including tech developments in libraries, digital learning initiatives, how massive open online courses (MOOCs) might benefit libraries and library users, and how partnerships and collaborations benefit libraries and members of the communities they serve. And some of us look forward to those unplanned encounters that bring us together with some of the best, most dynamic colleagues we have so we can exchange ideas; become inspired, once again, by what those colleagues are accomplishing; and return home to even more effectively tackle the challenges we willingly face. Because we care. And because we dream, baby, dream.


Conferences, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind

October 28, 2013

An oft-repeated and rather poignant joke among some of my colleagues is becoming a thing of the past: those who wish they could but are unable to attend conferences—specifically those sponsored by the American Library Association—have long tried to keep up with onsite participants’ reports via Twitter, using the conference hashtag as well as #ALALeftBehind as points of connect. But more than a few of us are realizing that we can do more than sit by the virtual sidelines and watch everyone else have fun onsite, as I confirmed through a spur-of-the-moment experiment people attending the annual ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Chapter Leaders Conference in Crystal City, Virginia a few days ago while I stayed home.

ASTD_ALC_2013--Logo

I’ve been on the other side of this left-behind fence many times, as I’ve noted through articles about participating onsite in backchannel conversations; ASTD colleague David Kelly has also written eloquently about Twitter, backchannels, and conferences. Several of us attending the annual ASTD International Conference & Exposition over the past couple of years have, as part of our Chapter Leader Day activities, reached out from the conference via short, live sessions to connect onsite colleagues with left-behind colleagues; we were attempting not only to reach out to and connect with those who stayed home, but to demonstrate how easy it could be for ASTD chapter leaders (or anyone else) to bring their local meetings to a larger audience through active Twitter feeds as well as via free tools including Google Hangouts and Skype. But I hadn’t been part of the #leftbehind gang until changing circumstances this year unexpectedly caused me, for the first time since 2008, to miss a couple of those onsite annual events that mean so much to me in terms of keeping up with my communities of learning and the ASTD colleagues who make up one very important part of my personal learning network (PLN).

The idea of trying to actively participate in the 2013 ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference via Twitter began taking shape when I saw a tweet from an onsite colleague expressing regret that I couldn’t be there for our annual joint presentation on nonprofit basics for chapter leaders. I jokingly responded, via Twitter, that I actually was there and that he had probably simply missed me up to that moment.

xplrpln_logoTransforming an offhand joke into the experiment quickly took shape as I thought about how I’ve been inspired to find new ways to reach out to members of my communities of learning and personal learning networks through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Less than 48 hours earlier, in fact, another ASTD colleague who is not in that massive open online course (MOOC) had stumbled into an #xplrpln session via Twitter, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to toy with the idea of doing the same thing via Twitter, but with a bit more planning and more deliberate actions designed to foster two-way participation.

It didn’t take long for the experiment to produce wonderful—although somewhat limited—results. Using a Twitter management tool (I defaulted to HootSuite.com, but Twubs.com and Tweetchat.com are among the tools that could have worked just as easily) at the end of the first day of the conference, I skimmed the feed late that evening, retweeted a few of the more interesting items just as I would have done if I had actually been onsite, and added comments, knowing that this had the potential not only to inspire interactions with onsite attendees but also draw in a few of my own followers on Twitter if they either retweeted or responded to those late-night posts.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoBy the next morning, a couple of onsite colleagues had responded. And a little later, during the second day of that two-day conference, a couple of onsite conference attendees actually retweeted the notes I had retweeted. I continued to participate throughout the day as time allowed. The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang. The positive aspects of this are obvious: with a bit more planning and organization, onsite and offsite participants could be interacting at far more significant levels than the limited amount of interaction this experiment nurtured. And the obvious weakness of this plan is that the small number of onsite participants tweeting summaries of sessions made it difficult to participate in more than a few of those sessions at this level. But it was an interesting start—one that offers a lot of promise for any of us who want to nurture our communities of learning and personal learning networks in every way possible. And I certainly felt far less left behind and far more connected as a trainer-teacher-learner than would otherwise have been the case.

N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Post-Conference Tips for Future Conference Attendees (Thinking Outside the Schedule)

July 5, 2013

Let’s be wonderfully perverse! While other colleagues continue writing thoughtful post-conference reflections about the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference that concluded in Chicago a few days ago, let’s draw upon what some of us saw and did in Chicago to provide tips for anyone planning to attend any conference with colleagues anytime soon.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)Conference presenters, for example, can benefit from the myriad online reminders of how to most effectively reach and serve their audiences. Those interested in drawing their various and varied onsite and online communities of learning into seamless and tremendously rewarding interactions can participate in the Twitter backchannel at any level that appeals to them. First-time attendees will find numerous resources, including those posted online by attendees willing to share suggestions. And those arriving a day or two before the conference formally begins can indulge in a period of reflection and preparation that also provides the foundations for gaining more than even the best-planned conference can provide.

One pre-conference ritual that has been particularly rewarding for me over the past several years is an informal dinner I arrange with a handful of cherished colleagues the evening before a conference begins. As I have noted so many times over the past few years, those invitation-only dinners—without a formal agenda, and with all participants splitting the cost of the meal—provide an unparalleled opportunity to hear what our best colleagues are doing, planning to do, and recovering from doing. It is, in essence, a chance to attend a master class with the brightest and most collaborative colleagues we can attract.

Siera_logoThe 10 trainer-teacher-learners who gathered in a Thai restaurant in Chicago on the Thursday evening before the ALA Conference began were far from reticent about describing the ways they are approaching the use of social media in libraries—creatively, openly, and with a great deal of encouragement for the learners they serve, as David Lee King noted—or the learner-centric webinars they are designing and delivering, as is the case with Pat Wagner (through Siera) and Andrew Sanderbeck (through the People Connect Institute). Louise Whitaker, from the Pioneer Library System (Oklahoma), enticed me with stories about the innovations in leadership training and other training-teaching-learning initiatives she continues to spearhead to support employees in her workplace—and then continued those stories over coffee a few days later when we were able to meet again outside of the formal sessions provided by the conference organizers. And everyone else had stories to tell or resources to share, so everyone at the table ate abundantly—and we’re not just talking about the wonderful food, here.People_Connect_Institute_logo

This idea of thinking outside the formal conference schedule to enhance—and actually create—learning experiences takes us to the heart of making sure each of us gains as much as we possibly can from attending conferences. It’s the combination of judiciously planning a schedule that includes attendance at formal sessions both within and outside our own areas of expertise; making arrangements in advance to meet with those cherished colleagues we absolutely do not want to miss; and relying on the numerous unplanned encounters we will have with colleagues onsite as well as those facilitated by what I’ve come to refer to as “drive-by greetings”—introductions, from colleagues including Maurice Coleman (T is for Training) and Peter Bromberg (Princeton Public Library), to those people they just happen to be standing  next to when we unexpectedly encounter them, and who just happen to have done work we have admired from afar for years.

One of those unexpected encounters, for me, led on the spot to an unplanned one-on-one hour-long lunch with a writer whose work I’ve very much admired—the sort of opportunity to exchange ideas that most of us would kill to have when we’re sitting in a packed room with little chance to interact at a meaningful level with a first-rate presenter. Another put me face-to-face with a colleague I’d only previously interacted with online. Numerous other outside-the-formal-curriculum meals and coffee breaks helped keep me up to date on the vibrant and ever-expanding world of advocacy and partnerships that benefit all of us and those we serve.

It’s also worth noting that a bit of planning beyond what conference attendance normally facilitates can provide additional rewarding opportunities. Contacting Chicago-based colleagues from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) before arriving onsite for the ALA Annual Conference meant that one particularly memorable evening included a dinner with non-library colleagues who are as immersed as anyone else I know in the world of workplace learning and performance (staff training). Our exchanges offered them a glimpse into the world of staff training in libraries and also helped bring me up to date on the ever-evolving language used within the ASTD community to refer to the training-teaching-learning that is at the heart of all we do.

The clear lesson for any conference attendee is that planning helps; looking for opportunities to draw upon all the resources available to us is an essential element of creating a successful conference experience; and “un-planning”—the act of setting a schedule aside when unanticipated opportunities via drive-by greetings present themselves—benefits all of us, and creates the learning experiences we find nowhere else.


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Presentation Pain and Pleasure (Tips for Presenters)

July 3, 2013

Those of us immersed in training-teaching-learning are always on the prowl for ways to improve our presentation skills, so attending gatherings like the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference here in Chicago for the past several days has given us the equivalent of a presenter’s master class.

There were quite literally moments when we found ourselves exclaiming “I wish I had done that.” There were also those painful moments when we watched someone else falling into a presentation trap we wish we had avoided.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)One of the most exquisite learning moments for me came as I was sitting with ALA Learning Round Table colleagues at one of their conference board meetings. The conversation centered around the question of whether the group should incur the cost of having a microphone for a presenter at a small event at an upcoming conference. I halfway—but only halfway—jokingly suggested that anyone who needed a microphone for that event in that small venue probably wasn’t the right presenter for the session.

ALA_Learning_Round-Table_LogoAnd that’s when a lovely colleague, with absolutely no rancor in her voice, said that although she knows many presenters believe they don’t need microphones to be heard, those presenters are inadvertently excluding members of their audience who are hearing-impaired—as she is. It was a humbling yet wonderfully instructive moment for any of us who let our egos get in the way of our goal of making it easy for every learner to participate in the learning opportunities we have agreed to provide—particularly those of us doltish enough to have never been aware of how effectively some of our longtime colleagues deal with challenges we never noticed they faced. Her comment was instructive—and inspirational. I immediately moved into full trainer-teacher-learner mode, documented that presentation tip, and tweeted it out to the conference backchannel as well as to colleagues across the country in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) in the hope that a few more learners will benefit from our colleague’s suggestion.

Not so easy to share in the moment were the examples of poor preparation or presentation techniques that plagued colleagues at some of the sessions I attended—just as these same problems, somewhat surprisingly, plague some ASTD conference presenters even though we work in a profession where first-rate communication skills are essential. To have pointed those problems out via Twitter at the time they were happening would have tantamount to publicly humiliating the presenters—and I’m sorry to say that there actually were people on the conference backchannel who engaged in exactly that sort of cruel and unnecessary behavior. But I think it’s fair game, long after the presentations have ended and there is no obvious need to identify individuals under discussion, to offer yet another brief presenter’s tip sheet for anyone who wants to avoid the sort of presentation mistakes all of us have made—and wished we hadn’t.

We all learn the hard way that we need to plan, practice, revise, plan, practice, revise, and plan some more in the weeks and days leading up to our presentation. This will keep us from finding that parts of slides or entire slides have somehow disappeared from our PowerPoint slide decks when we’re in front of our audience.

It’s also very important to be in the space where we are presenting at least 30 minutes before we begin our presentation so we can be sure, by viewing the slides on the screen in that space, that any tech gremlins that have crept into our slides can be adjusted. That prevents us from finding that columns of text have shifted (which raises the question of why we’re even bombarding our learners with columns of text) and become an indecipherable jumble of words.

Being in the room before others arrive also allows for a final sound check of the microphone—and remember, we do want a microphone even if we think we won’t need one. Checking links to onsite resources we plan to use will prevent us from wasting five or ten minutes struggling to bring up a video or other online resource when we actually should be engaging with our audience during our formal presentation time. And being present as others arrive also offers the invaluable opportunity to begin connecting with the learners before the formal presentation begins and to be sure that their expectations for the session are what we are planning to deliver.

Avoiding references to how we have had to condense hour-long/day-long presentations into the much shorter period of time we have during the session we are currently delivering accomplishes nothing other than making us sound ungrateful and adding a bit of stress to learners who feel as if they are going to have to be extra attentive if they want to absorb this condensed version of what we wanted to offer. We knew, when we accepted the gift of being able to share information and resources with colleagues, how much time we had. It’s just plain polite to publicly thank those who brought us into that learning space and to effectively use the time we have rather than wasting any of it apologizing or grousing about the lack of time to do our subject—and our audience—justice.

Using slides that interact with and support our oral presentation rather than including the history of the world on a single slide keeps our presentations engaging rather than turning them into frustrating, overwhelming experiences during which audience members are forced to unsuccessfully try reading all that text while also trying to take in what we are saying. And we certainly don’t want to read content on the slides to our learners; we can safely assume they already know how to read, so if we want them to absorb content, we can join them in looking at the slide and giving ourselves enough time to read a line or two (e.g., an appropriate quote from someone who said it better than we ever will be able to say it), and we can use those slides to provide engaging images designed to help learners absorb key points.

Answering questions immediately rather than trying to postpone responses demonstrates that we care about our audience’s learning needs. There’s no reason why we can’t provide a one-line response—if we have one—and then return to our planned presentation after assuring learners that a longer explanation is on its way later in the presentation if that’s the case. We can also provide that one-line response and encourage interested audience members to join us after the session or contact us later via email to further explore the topic. Asking audience members to hold all questions until we are finished speaking implies that our content is more important than their questions are—not particularly the message we want to send to people who were nice enough to choose to spend their extremely limited and valuable time with us.

If we see our presentation/learning-facilitation opportunities as a collaboration with those who have agreed to spend time with us, we’re well on the way to providing the sort of transformative experiences that are at the heart of successful training-teaching-learning. And, not so surprisingly, we may even have the rewarding experiences of being asked to present again or to hear, years later, from those who learned from us, applied what we offered, and sought us out to thank us for offering them something of value.


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Backchannels Revisited

July 3, 2013

Attending conferences like the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference (held over the past several days here in Chicago) always provides a reminder, both positive and negative, of how far we have come in coping with life in an onsite-online world—and how far we still have to go in effectively using social media tools.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)The opportunity to see and learn from colleagues is clearly a huge attraction for many of us; doing business (on the committees on which we serve, with the vendors upon whom we rely, and, for those of us working as consultants, with current and prospective clients) as well as having those spur-of-the-moment unplanned conversations that invariably happen even when there are more than 25,000 people onsite are absolutely inspirational. And combining our onsite presence with online activity through the Twitter backchannel, Facebook postings, and other online activities via laptops and mobile devices means that we have hundreds of onsite-online colleagues helping us find meetings, learning opportunities, after-hours gatherings, and other shared conference experiences we might otherwise have missed.

There is even an attempt to actively include those who are unable to physically attend the conference: the usual #ALALeftBehind hashtag not only kept us in contact with those who were interested but unable to attend—it often offered tongue-in-cheek opportunities to participate through virtual #alaleftbehind conference ribbons and even a very clever opportunity to be virtually photographed with a popular conference attendee.

As has been the case with other conferences I’ve attended, the ALA 2013 Annual Conference began with a bit of confusion about how best to reach colleagues arriving in Chicago. During the days leading up to the conference, many of us had inaccurately assumed that the official conference hashtag was #ala13—the conference URL started with “ala13”; there were numerous references online to that hashtag; it was the shortest possible combination many of us could imagine as a way of keeping up with each other (and when you only have 140 characters to convey a message, every typed character has to count); and the Twitter feed for #ala13 was very active. It wasn’t until many of us were onsite, however, that colleagues were nice enough to post tweets calling our attention to the official hashtag (#ala2013, with its extra two characters). The result, throughout the conference, was that any of us hoping to reach the largest possible number of colleagues ended up using both hashtags in our posts—a situation similar to what often happens with colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) who face the #astd13/#astd2013 challenge when attending and/or following conference exchanges via Twitter.

ALA_2013--Top_TweetsThere were many times when both feeds were moving so quickly that it was impossible to either follow them in the moment or to follow them later by skimming earlier posts, for taking the time to try to review tweets invariably meant falling behind in the ever-developing stream of comments. American Libraries Senior Editor Beverly Goldberg (@americanlibraries) offered a playfully subjective bit of assistance by compiling lists of Top 10/Top 20 tweets while the conference was fully underway on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  Reviewing her picks gives a wonderful overview of content—everything ranging from snippets from notable presentations to comments about the length of the lines at the onsite Starbucks outlets.

Bev, much to my surprise, included one of my paraphrases of a keynote speaker’s comment in her Friday list, then nailed me the following day in a very funny way by rerunning the same tweet on the next list and noting that I had suggested that standards must have been lowered if my tweets were making any sort of Top 10 list. (That’s OK, Bev, I know where you tweet!)

What doesn’t show up in those Top 10 lists is the reminder that some of our colleagues apparently need reminders that what happens in Twitter doesn’t necessarily stay in Twitter. There were the usual snarky comments from those who felt they needed to play den mother to the rest of us through cajoling notes about not wearing conference badges while walking city streets (I can’t imagine anyone reading one of those comments and thinking, “Oh, yes, that’s very helpful; thank you for making me a more responsible representative of my profession.”); standing to the right side of escalators so others could race up the left-hand side (why bother? the lines were going to be long at Starbucks no matter what time you arrived); and even writing critical comments to presenters while those presenters were in the middle of their presentations and clearly not paying any attention to the backchannel. All that those tweeters accomplished was to make the rest of us a little hesitant to have anything to do with them since those notes, at very least, indicated a level of incivility that present and future employers can’t help but notice.

There are certainly thousands of attendees who had great conference experiences without ever stepping into the Twittersphere and interacting at that level; there are also many of us who found our overall experience enhanced by combining our onsite and online presences. And now, as I’ve written after intensively engaging in other conferences, it’s nearly time to think about engaging in a digital media fast to decompress from several days of nonstop connectivity. But not quite yet: there are a still a few more tweets to read and a few more articles to complete.


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Impressionism, Matchsticks, Fireworks, Learning, and Inspiration

June 30, 2013

We can’t be at the 2013 American Library Association Annual Conference (which formally began here in Chicago late Friday afternoon) without thinking Impressionistically.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1) Impressionism—both the art movement and our ability to take in hundreds of disparate shard-like visual impressions from which our minds work to create meaningful patterns—continually entices, seduces, and helps make sense of the wonderfully chaotic experience of having all of our senses continually bombarded in ways that change how we see, think about, and interact with our world after attending a conference as dynamic as ALA13.

If we start with a visit to the Chicago Art Institute, we find ourselves drawn into one of the finest publically-displayed collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting in the United States. And if we have arrived this week just as the traveling “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” exhibition opened at the Art Institute, we are going to wish we had scheduled weeks rather than days in the city.

McCormick_Place1And when we carry this Impressionism-influenced thinking into the McCormick Place buildings drawing more than 25,000 conference attendees together through an abundance of planned activities and countless serendipitous encounters that are so much at the heart of what makes this particular community of learning so vibrant, we find ourselves unexpectedly making literary as well as artistic connections. Which should not be surprising; it’s a natural reaction to swimming through an environment where publishers are providing hundreds of advance copies of books to be published in the weeks and months to come, authors are discussing and signing copies of those works, and our best colleagues are offering inspiring sessions and panel discussions on myriad topics that nurture our minds and hearts and souls.

The first (admittedly obscure) literary reference for me today came as I was sitting in a coffee house on Michigan Avenue this evening for a period of reflective solitude. The temperature outside had dropped quite a bit from the hot humid weather we were all experiencing a day or two ago. A strong wind was playing the trees as if they were finely tuned instruments or dancers responsive to a choreographer’s dreams of poetry in motion. A light rain was about to once again dampen the traffic-laden streets. But that didn’t stop the staff and me from running outside to look up as a beautiful stream of Chinese lanterns floated over the trees and nearby skyscrapers. And just as the flickering candlelight within the lanterns began to fade and the spent ghostly paper remnants drifted down like spirits in search of a resting place, thunderous explosions drew our attention to the colorful fireworks that were quickly rising from Navy Pier.

Fiammiferi, I thought, involuntarily recalling an Italian word I hadn’t seen or heard in years. Matchsticks! But it wasn’t just the physical object that was overwhelming me with a torrent of pleasantly nostalgic memories. It was the pleasant emotions recreated by the recollection that I had first encountered the word fiammiferi as the title of a collection of impressionistic short stories—each one creating the literary equivalent of the dynamically explosive moment that occurs when a match is first struck, bursts into flame, and produces a pleasantly sulphurous smell that itself induces a sensory—and sensual—flood of  memories.

ALA13--Starbucks1So, in the space of a single heartbeat, my mind was connecting the sight of those Chinese lanterns with the sights and sounds of the fireworks with the memories of those wonderfully phosphorescent stories in a language I very much adore with the memories of other fireworks seen while attending other ALA Annual meetings with all the explosively phosphorescent moments I had shared with library conference colleagues today. Like the incredibly long line I faced for morning coffee at the conference center. Or the wonderfully playful moment in a restaurant when a group of us volunteered our services to a family at a nearby table (one of their children was crying inconsolably, so we offered to put our professional skills to work by offering a synchronized shush—which actually surprised the child so much that the crying immediately stopped, and the other family members burst into laughter at the thought that a group of librarians had created temporary silence out of chaos for them). Or the wonderful learning moments provided by ALA Learning Round Table colleagues participating in a panel discussion on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of providing training-teaching-learning for library staff and library users. Or the wonderfully unrestrained conversation with a colleague who plays in the same training-teaching-learning field of consulting that is so much a part of my own day-to-day existence.

AA13--Starbucks2Fiammiferi. Impressions. Fireworks. Learning. Inspiration. And memories. All very much in the moment. Unplanned. Ephemeral. Phosphorescent. And cherished as gems to be preserved because we help shape and nurture them through our participation in conferences, and give them extended lives by sharing them with others through the writing and presentations that weave impressionistic moments into something with a larger longer life than any individual participant expects to have.


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Keeping Up

June 28, 2013

“How do you keep up?” is one of those perennial questions we repeatedly hear and/or ask at gatherings like the 2013 American Library Association Annual Conference (which formally began here in Chicago late Friday afternoon with keynote presentations and the opening of the Exhibit Hall)—and the only reasonable answer is “Who’s keeping up?”

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)We ask it of colleagues or new acquaintances who seem to have read far more than we are reading or ever will have time to read, or have taken one more course or workshop than we have taken, or not only already know every session they are going to attend during a conference, but also already know exactly where those sessions are being held—because they’ve explored every nook and cranny of convention center buildings that appear to be larger than the towns in which we grew up (and, by the way, they also seem to have memorized the map of conference hotels—several of which host offsite events).

Keeping up in the context of a conference that has attracted at least 25,000 attendees can be approached in many ways. One is to assume that we’re going to run into people who know much more than we do and are willing to share that information with us. Another is to hold a printed copy of the official program and begin skimming it to sift through offerings that could keep any one of us busy for years. A fine alternative is to search the online version of the program or download a copy of the free conference app.

To put this in perspective, let’s note that The 132nd Annual Conference & Exhibition Program & Exhibit Directory has more than 300 pages of content, including two full pages of Association acronyms (pp. 68-69, attendees!), a five-page section of “conversation starters & ignite sessions” (pp. 82-86), 71 pages of program descriptions (Friday – Tuesday, pp. 91-161), 10 pages of author events (is there anyone who is still seriously suggesting that we no longer read?), and a section of exhibitor listings that could probably cover all the walls in a typical conference attendee’s hotel room if the pages were meticulously detached from the Directory and affixed to the walls from ceiling to floor—and then extended across the ceiling for good measure.

A friend once offered an aural version of the ALA Annual Conference experience by standing on a chair, dropping a copy of the brick-like Directory onto a table, and producing an explosive noise similar to what we hear in one of those wonderful summer thunderstorms that provide brief periods of relief from the local heat and humidity. Keeping up with all that information and all those opportunities? About as likely as building a snowman on the shores of Lake Michigan before the conference ends next week.

Freakonomics_coverAnd yet we try to keep up. Because we’re fascinated. Because we can’t turn down a challenge. And because we know it’s far more fun to be sitting in that large auditorium when the opening presentations and keynote address remind us that the conference is now underway. And we don’t want to be the one who hours later is scanning the conference Twitter feed (#ala2013, with many also using the shorter #ala13) and regretting not being at the live presentation when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel makes an unannounced appearance as part of the welcome committee. Nor do we want to try figuring out after the fact why Freakonomics and Think Like a Freak co-author Steven Levitt has most of us in hysterics through a keynote address that somehow weaves together the disparate revelations that the best ideas are those that become obvious only after the first person proposes them; the badge of honor in economics is being able to mess things up and then explain why you weren’t responsible; the author’s father was once dubbed “the king of farts” in GQ; and his most successful research project showed that Chicago prostitutes are more likely to have sex with police officers than to be arrested by them.

We also don’t want to be left out when that magnificent Exhibit Hall opens and major mainstream publishers began handing out free prepublication copies of books that won’t be available to the general public for weeks or months yet. Nor do we want to lose the wonderful memories and stimulating thoughts that come out of attending gatherings that are this well-organized. So we skim our paper and online copies of the Directory. We push ourselves to visit one more publisher’s booth or carve out time for one more conversation with a vendor whose products and services we adore or find intriguing. We stop in crowded aisles and corridors and coffee-shop lines to ask colleagues we don’t see nearly often enough what they are attending, doing, reading, writing, and thinking. And then we stay up long past our normal bedtime to write about it so we can safely preserve a few of those experiences, share them with others, and prepare to do it all over again tomorrow in another futile yet appealing attempt to keep up.


The Well-Connected Community: Attending Conferences with Genetically-Enabled Foursquare

January 30, 2013

Foursquare—that lovely social media tool that helps make us aware, through geotagging capabilities, of how physically close we are to those we might not otherwise encounter—seems as if it would be a uniquely valuable tool for those of us attending conferences and trying to catch up to colleagues from across the country or around the world.

ALA_Midwinter_2013The idea that our mobile devices could take the initiative in providing us with information we hadn’t yet thought to actively solicit—e.g., finding out, through notifications, who among our friends and colleagues is nearby—is something that David Weinberger and Nova Spivack referred to as being a part of Web 3.0 in January 2009 during a presentation at an American Library Association presentation in Denver. In positing a Web 3.0 world in which our devices would alert us before we asked for the information, the two presenters clearly evoked a wide range of reactions during that session. Some people were clearly fascinated and excited by the prospect, while some of us appeared ready to crawl under the nearest rock and whimper about the loss of privacy and anonymity. Most fascinating to me, at the time, was the discovery a few days later that the sort of service Weinberger and Spivack were predicting as an innovation on its way was already in use; a quick online search today confirmed that Foursquare itself was created within months of Weinberger and Spivack’s presentation. Furthermore, one of its predecessors (Dodgeball) preceded the prediction by nearly nine years—once again proving how hard it is to be a futurist in a world where the future seems to have unfolded before we even have a chance to predict it.

nmc.logo.cmykFoursquare came back to mind during my recent participation in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Summit on “The Future of Education” in Austin, Texas and the American Library Association (ALA) 2013 Midwinter meeting in Seattle over a seven-day period. Although there was no need for anything like Foursquare at the NMC conference—all 100 participants were staying in the same wonderful resort outside of Austin and spending our days in one beautifully accommodating meeting room—one could argue that the ALA conference, with thousands of participants bouncing back and forth between meeting rooms in the convention center in Seattle and also staying in a wide range of hotels throughout downtown Seattle, was prime Foursquare turf.

And yet I never once thought about signing up for or using Foursquare to expedite connections. From the moment I stepped onsite into Seattle’s enormous Washington State Convention Center, I began running into exactly the colleagues I hoped to see. Within my first hour there on a Friday afternoon, I had settled into a conversation in a lounge area with a colleague from Nashville. We were joined, intermittently, by colleagues from California, Chicago, and many other places. Walking the large exhibits area early that evening, I had opportunities to talk with colleagues from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dublin (Ohio), Chicago, Orlando, and many other places. In fact, a colleague I initially met earlier in the week at the NMC summit in Austin was there in Seattle, and it turned out she was sharing a room with a colleague with whom I serve on an ALA committee. (I’m left wondering whether Foursquare could have alerted me to that particular connection.) I capped off the evening with my one planned encounter: dinner with a colleague who recently left Georgia to accept a wonderful new position in Cleveland.

I suspect it’s not necessary to drag this out with an hour-by-hour description of all the similar encounters I had throughout the day on Saturday, but it’s worth noting that when I found myself unexpectedly with a completely unscheduled 90-minute block of time Sunday morning, I ran into a cherished colleague—Peggy Barber—who never manages to leave me less than completely energized by her descriptions of the projects she currently is completing. We decided to take advantage of that opportunity to go to a nearby independent coffee shop—the Caffe Ladro outlet at 801 Pine Street—that had been recommended by Seattle residents so we would have some uninterrupted time for conversation. And you surely know what came next: we ended up sitting next to a couple of other conference attendees who were close associates of a colleague from Florida.

That’s when I had another moment of revelation: neither Peggy nor I are drawn to Foursquare because we somehow have a genetically-enabled version of the product deeply embedded in our DNA.

I’m not saying I’ll never try Foursquare. But for now, it seems redundant in a world where the simple act of showing up puts me in contact with those I most cherish and who, in turn, make me glad that our incredibly connected onsite-online world somehow manages to place us in exactly the right location at exactly the right time to sustain our various communities of learning and communities of practice.


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