Changing the World With Patrick Sweeney (Part 2 of 2)

January 17, 2020

This is the second  of a two-part interview conducted with Patrick Sweeney, Political Director for EveryLibrary, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2020). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

On the theme we were pursuing earlier: it seems pretty clear that EveryLibrary sees part of its work as the work of training/educating prospective supporters. How do you train your own trainers (e.g., board members, volunteers, other supporters involved in reaching out to prospective supporters) to serve effectively as supporter trainers?

That’s largely a personality issue. People who want to be trainers will be—and if they want to be, then we’ll take the time to teach them how. It’s really hard to teach people to be trainers if their heart isn’t in being a trainer. It’s much easier and more efficient, in my experience, to hire for personality and then teach skills. I can teach anyone to do the work, but if they don’t want to do it, or if they have a personality that doesn’t engage like that, then I can’t teach someone to change their personality.

Are you doing those trainings face to face, online, both, or in some way that I’m just not putting out there through this question?

Training to do the work of the organization or the work of advocating for libraries in general?

Was thinking specifically about the advocacy side of the process…

Sure, so we do a ton of speaking, workshops, webinars, etc. every year. We don’t do enough “onboarding” of people who want to get involved, and we’ve had complaints about that from the community. But, we are doing so much so quickly that it’s hard to onboard someone. We have about a dozen really active volunteers that do a lot of work for us and for libraries, and it’s admittedly one of our weak points that we don’t have hundreds. We’re trying to change more into the networked change model of organizational development, but that’s a big curve and we just don’t have the capacity to make that switch this second. But we’re really close to being able to do a lot of advocacy training and onboarding of board members, volunteers, etc.

We are using Facebook to identify volunteers and find the kinds of people who want to be engaged at a much deeper level. So, we have volunteer sign-up forms and everything. We also organize volunteer days and other events for volunteers to get involved, but we’ve gotten mixed results with that. Still, the only people showed up were people who had more personal relationships to us beyond just Facebook ads or posts or whatever.

Anything else you want to offer in terms of tips about Facebook?

A million things…but one of the biggest things that we use are all the deep data tools that Facebook allows to help us create really significantly data-driven ads. So, we can run ads about donating to just people who are known donors to causes that are similar to libraries, and we can target them by a bunch of consumer index models. So, people who are donors, who have kids, who like libraries, who make 50,000-100,000 a year, and are in their thirties, can get an ad that is specific to them and their beliefs and Facebook gives us a ton of data about those people. For example, I can see that these people are mostly made up of “Tenured Proprietor” and those kinds of people are made up of “households are large, upper-middle income families located in cities and surrounding areas. Activities, media and spending all reflect priorities of home and children.” This helps us craft ads about libraries and donating to libraries around those interests. Of course, we can also see what their top “likes” are on Facebook and other issues that they care about, and [then] tailor ads just for them. Connecting the value of librarianship to their already held beliefs is how we radicalize them about libraries. We aren’t changing their mind about libraries; our goal instead is to connect libraries to their already held beliefs and then, by doing that, we are raising the value of libraries to them.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the twenty-first in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Collaboration in Learning: Co-conspirators in Exploring Technology, Lifelong Learning, Libraries, and Hubris

December 6, 2019

There is no front of the room in the four-week online Tech Trends course David Lee King and I are currently facilitating for ALA eLearning (November 4 – December 8, 2019); our asynchronous virtual meeting space is designed to make everyone an equally-empowered co-conspirator in the learning process. You won’t find instructors lecturing to learners who are surreptitiously checking their email and social media accounts; all of us are there, by choice, to learn (experientially) from each other rather than focusing solely on what the “instructors” bring to the online learning space and its bulletin boards for course discussions. And although the “Roadmap for Staff Success With New Technology” course (focused on that rich, intriguing intersection of technology, lifelong learning, and libraries) obviously has technology as a focal point, technology always takes a back seat to the people who are learning together and—more importantly—to the people who will benefit from the learning opportunities all of us create as a result of having explored technology, lifelong learning, and libraries together during the four-week run of the course.

Pulling the class together has, in itself, been a wonderfully productive, engaging, and rewarding learning process for David and for me—a process we shared quite opening with our co-conspirators, aka the learners who registered for the course. When we focused on a week-long exploration of how collaboration tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated and opening new collaborative opportunities for the learners we all serve, for example, David and I were quite open with the learners in discussing the problems we encountered with one of the collaboration tools we were using as a way of working on the course together even though I am in San Francisco and David is in Topeka. The challenges themselves became part of the learning experience for us as well as for others in the course, and the results were that we all walked away with additional resources (and ideas for resolving problems in online collaborative workspaces) in our learning toolkits as we continue designing and facilitating learning opportunities for those we all serve through libraries and other learning organizations.

When we turned to a weeklong exploration of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and developments are increasingly offering us resources that might be incorporated into engaging, transformative learning opportunities, we started with a focus on how AI is affecting our target audience: people at work. We dove into examples of what our colleagues were—and are—saying about how AI is “transforming the nature of work, learning, and learning to work.” We looked at specific examples of how AI is working its way into libraries and learning. And one of our course co-conspirators, inspired by what she was learning, mentioned (on the course bulletin board) how “excited” she was by the possibility of incorporating Google Translate into the library’s efforts to better serve members of its bilingual community.  

And when we moved into an exploration of XR (Extended Reality, which includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality) for the final week of the course—in progress as David and I write two interconnected sets of reflections regarding the impact of learning with learners interested in technology, libraries, and lifelong learning (you’ll find David’s part of the conversation on his blog—we again very much focused on the human side of the topic, with an eye toward encouraging our co-conspirators to outline steps they will take to incorporate their learning experiences into the learning opportunities they design and facilitate for their colleagues and other learners.

One lesson (re-)learned from our experiences with the course and the learners: it takes a combination of hubris and courage to invite colleagues to a cutting-edge exploration of rapidly-evolving technology. But that’s a challenge we were quite willing to take and discuss with our co-conspirators because the changes—and our ability to address them—were and are an integral part of any exploration of new tech. There were at least a few times when the design and development of the course was almost derailed by new developments—as was the case when we were preparing a Week 4 section on Google Daydream, only to discover that Google was formally withdrawing the product from the market just as we were writing about Daydream as a tech tool worth exploring. We did the only thing we knew how to do: we turned the situation into a case study of how quickly tech changes and how preparing for the unexpected—the Black Swans in our lives—is part of the process of learning how to explore, work with, and, when necessary, walk away from technology that seems capable of helping us meet unmet needs in our lifelong learning landscapes.

Another lesson well worth remembering is that creating and facilitating highly-interactive online learning experiences benefits tremendously from the inclusion of multiple voices made possible through links to a variety of resources (e.g., blog posts from colleagues, short videos from others more fully immersed in some of the technology under discussion than we are, and even links to PowerPoint decks that provide perspectives different than what any of us might bring to the discussions and explorations). A first-rate piece of video journalism gave all of us the backstory to Google’s withdrawal of Daydream. Free online access (via Amazon) to a chapter of Kenneth Varnum’s Beyond Reality: Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality in the Library, which includes essays from several librarians who are already effectively incorporating XR into their workplaces, brought another useful perspective to what we are doing together. And we even included California State Librarian Greg Lucas virtually in the course via a brief, engaging video featuring his comments on XR in California libraries.

The bottom line for us and those we serve is that designing and facilitating an online course about cutting-edge technology offers opportunities to foster learning while engaged in learning. And the ultimate winners are those of us engaged in the course, as well as those we will better serve through the opportunities we provide as a result of the time we spend together in our virtual and face-to-faced learning spaces.

N.B.: This is one of two sets of reflections on “Roadmap for Staff Success With New Technology”; David’s set is available on his blog. Paul and David are available to work with anyone interested in onsite and/or online highly-interactive explorations of how to research and incorporate tech trends into training-teaching-learning. For more information, contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com or David at davidleeking@gmail.com.


EntreEd Forum 2018: EveryLibrary, Entrepreneurship, and Makerspaces (Part 2 of 3)

September 30, 2018

I have never before tried to turn a conference session space into a makerspace, nor have I ever been part of conference that, essentially, turned into a makerspace. But that’s what magically and seamlessly happened here just outside of Pittsburgh this weekend during the 2018 EntreEd Forum, organized through EntreEd (the National Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education)—an organization dedicated to “providing advocacy, leadership, networking, technical assistance, and resources nationally for [entrepreneurship] students and teachers.”

EveryLibrary Founder/Executive Director John Chrastka, teacher/librarian/Foundry Makerspace Fellow Heather Lister, and I were here with support from EveryLibrary to facilitate a 45-minute session on the topic of “Entrepreneurship, Schools, & Library Makerspaces.” John, Heather, and I—with encouragement and plenty of enthusiasm from EntreEd Executive Director Gene Coulson and The EdVenture Group Senior Program Manager Jennifer Wotring—designed a highly-interactive session meant to help participants increase their awareness of the possibilities for incorporating makerspaces into their ongoing efforts to help learners develop entrepreneurial skills that will serve them well as they enter our quickly-evolving work environment.

There was nothing upfront to hint that the hotel conference room we were using was about to become a makerspace. And, frankly, the three of us facilitating the session did not walk into that room with the intention of creating a makerspace where we could help colleagues better understand how makerspaces and entrepreneurship can quickly and easily be interwoven. But after we provided initial reminders that makerspaces do not have to be high-cost endeavors—a theme that ran through many conversations here this weekend—and are not necessarily as much about 3D printers and other high-tech tools as they are about creating spaces where we learn by creating, we turned the conference room into a no-cost, low-tech, highly productive makerspace through three simple actions you can easily replicate:

*Declaring the room a makerspace

*Asking session participants—our co-learners, co-creators, co-conspirators in learning—to quickly rearrange their chairs so they would all see, interact with, and collaborate with each other for the remainder of the session

*Proposing the idea that what we would make together was a rudimentary plan for how each of them could apply makerspace concepts to their own schools as soon as they returned home

The transformation was immediate. Our co-creators took a few minutes sharing, with everyone else in the room, experiences they had with makerspaces; some of the questions they had about makerspaces; and ideas for how little they have needed or would need to create a makerspace to meet their learners’ needs. Among the resources Heather, John, and I added to the makerspace were slides showing how makerspaces support entrepreneurship—including images taken a day earlier of students at the EntreEd 2018 Forum Student Entrepreneurship Showcase displaying their own wares that were at least partially created through school and school-library makerspaces (with strong support from their teachers and school librarians). And with less than 10 minutes remaining in the session, we went around the temporary makerspace to give our co-conspirators in learning an opportunity to tell us what they would do as a result of having been part of the session—in essence giving them the opportunity to put the finishing touches on the rudimentary plans of action they were collaboratively creating in that makerspace.

This story could have easily ended at that moment, but the EntreEd Forum organizers had previously planned the conference activity that inadvertently made the entire conference, from my point of view, a makerspace: an afternoon of activities designed to help these teacher-maker-innovators prepare pitches designed to gain funding for projects that would allow them to more effectively foster entrepreneurship among the learners they serve—a topic to be more fully explored in the next in this three-part set of reflections on the 2018 EntreEd Forum.

John.

Looking  back on the set of experiences I have had here at the conference, I realize there is one other not-yet-acknowledged makerspace: the virtual one (phone calls and email exchanges) that allowed John, Gene, Jennifer and me to create the structure for the session, and the extension of that makerspace into the Google Drive presentation deck that Heather, John, and I created (online and asynchronously, not face to face) for use during the session—a wonderful reminder that, like so many words in our vocabulary, “makerspace” is one that continues to evolve in ways we are just beginning to explore and limited only the limits of our—and your—imaginations. (For more information about EveryLibrary’s efforts to foster entrepreneurship, please visit the organization’s “Entrepreneurs” site on Medium.)

N.B. – This is the second of three posts inspired by attendance at the2018 EntreEd Forum, near Pittsburgh. Next: Encouraging Teachers of Entrepreneurship to Work as Entrepreneurs


ALA Midwinter 2018 (Denver): Conversations, Ghosts, and Pentimenti in the Hallways

February 10, 2018

The halls of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, where the American Library Association (ALA) 2018 Midwinter Meeting is fully underway, have never felt more lively or filled with stimulating, deeply thoughtful conversations to me. Nor have they ever felt so filled by ghosts.

I have, frankly, lost track of the number of times I have been here for ALA and ATD (Association for Talent Development) conferences. And, as I walked the conference center hallways yesterday morning—only yesterday; already feels like weeks ago—for my first onsite activity during the 2018 Midwinter Meeting, I felt worlds melting into each other. Intellectually, I knew I was here to spend time with my trainer-teacher-learner-doer colleagues working in the library industry. But somehow my body was instinctively reconnecting me viscerally with friends and colleagues I met during previous visits, as if their ghosts—conference-center pentimenti or some other form of presence—remained long after they had returned home. I found myself thinking about attending sessions scheduled for other (previous) conferences as if they were still about to happen.

Repeatedly then and now—nearly a day and a half  later—I found and find myself looking for and expecting to see friends (some still alive, some now long-gone) encountered during previous ATD and ALA conferences. And it was—and is—comforting and reassuring because it reminds me that the wonderful, ongoing ALA conference slogan—“the conversation starts here…”—only captures part of the overall experience of participating in any well-organized conference.

Conversations both start and continue here, in the sort of extended moment I have explored numerous times in blog posts and conversations. And here, in our wonderfully blended onsite-online world, is far more than the physical conference center spaces. Here is the rooms, the hallways, the simple yet masterfully organized spaces including the Networking Uncommons—where you can stop in anytime the conference is underway, grab a table, recharge your laptop and mobile devices, and with planning aforethought as well as magic of the unplanned moment, see exactly the right person at the right time to talk and dream and plan in ways that produce results you (all) would not have otherwise produced. And, equally importantly, here is the online spaces we create through Twitter backchannels, Facebook, Google Hangouts, and numerous other tools we use to reach out to our #ALALeftBehind colleagues who, in a very real sense, need no longer feel left behind—if they care to join us virtually.

When I’ve been “left behind,” I’ve experimented successfully with ways to virtually join my onsite colleagues—to the point that I’ve received tweets asking me if I’m actually onsite. So when I am lucky enough to be onsite, I work with others to actively reach out to offsite colleagues. And, again, it works. While attending a wonderful 90-minute “Adult Book Buzz” talk sponsored by HarperCollins Publishers this morning, I tweeted out a few quotes and a few links so those who following the #ALALeftBehind hashtag so they would have glimpses of what was occurring onsite—and I saw the reach of those tweets extended through retweets.

The event itself was masterfully facilitated by our HarperCollins hosts (Library Marketing Director Virginia Stanley, Marketing Associate Christopher Connolly, and Marketing Assistant Lainey Mays): as they were describing a wonderfully rich list of upcoming novels and nonfiction works from their authors, they occasionally brought those offsite authors onsite by showing brief, engaging, videos from authors who had taped greetings to us and brief descriptions of their works that are about to be published. (And it worked! Christopher Moore’s brief, very funny introduction to his upcoming novel Noir sent me over to the HarperCollins booth in the conference exhibits area late in the day to pick up an advance reader’s edition of the books so I don’t have to wait until April—when it’s scheduled to hit the bookstores and our libraries—to read it.) It gets better: our “left behind” colleagues will, a few days after I post this blog piece, be able to virtually attend the session by viewing a recording of it on a new site HarperCollins is about to launch. (I’ll update this article by adding a link to the recording as soon as it is available.)

We really are in what feels to be the early stages of an entire change in the way we meet, communicate, and engage with each other. What I have joking referred to as those “ghosts” in the hallway are actually quite real; when I want to viscerally and virtually re-engage with them, I can go back to pieces I’ve written about our conversations, reread those pieces, incorporate them into later pieces (like this one), and extend the elastic moment of conversation further by adding to it with additional tweets, Facebook postings, Google Hangouts, something as simple as a newly-initiated phone call from the conference center, or a follow-up face-to-face conversation next time we’re actually in this (or another) conference center together. (I actually did attempt to draw in a colleague who is missing the annual Midwinter Meeting for the first time since we began attending them together—the spontaneous attempt to create a Google Hangout with her so I could “walk” the aisles of the exhibits area when it first opened last night was not successful—and we actually chatted by phone for a few minutes to I could teasingly describe all the things she was—not quite—seeing. But when you and I think about those failed and successful attempts, we realize that the concept of being “left behind” is only as large and insurmountable as we and our imaginations allow it to be.

So, I write this piece in honor of all the colleagues I have seen, am seeing, and will ever see when we are “together” at the ALA Midwinter Meeting or Annual (summer) Conference), the ATD International Conference & Exposition, and other professional-family gatherings. I hope it inspires you to reach out via Twitter, Facebook, phone, or any other available means when you are here and others aren’t. And I hope it inspires you to reach out in those same and other ways when you are offsite—and ready to be onsite as quickly as your virtual modes of transportation can get you here. Let’s give those “ghosts” the attention and support they need; the rewards to every member of our communities and to the communities themselves are virtually limitless.


ALA Midwinter 2018 (Denver): Rethinking, Re-viewing, and Walking Through a Magical Forest

February 9, 2018

A colleague (Puck Malamud) here in Denver for the American Library Association (ALA) 2018 Midwinter Meeting, which formally begins later today (Friday, February 9, 2018), accurately observed during our brunch yesterday that librarians and other trainer-teacher-learner-doers—what Jonathan Nalder calls “edunauts”—are completely “meta.” We love to look at the thing behind the thing: if we’re immersed in learning, we love exploring how learners learn; if we’re writers, we love exploring the writing process itself; and if we’re thinking about the myriad possible futures for libraries and other critically important learning organizations, we’re going to be talking about, re-viewing, and rethinking the very processes we use to help nurture the future(s) of our dreams.

Sitting with University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science Director R. David Lankes for dinner shortly after I arrived late Wednesday afternoon, I found the meta and rethinking flowing freely very early during a conversation about how we are rethinking the roles of libraries and library staff within the communities we serve. Responding to a question I asked him about his latest projects, he described how he and his faculty colleagues are exploring the very terminology they use to describe the sort of organization they are continuing to nurture at the university. Where we have seen “library “ schools evolve into “information” schools, Dave and his colleagues are taking it an additional step and “placing a stake in the ground” to promote the development of a “school of knowledge”—a place where the focus is not on the library or the information, but on the impact that the university’s graduates will have on the communities they serve throughout their careers through thoughtful application of the knowledge they have gained—and continue to gain as lifelong learners.

It’s a theme Dave has been developing and exploring with colleagues all over the world for the past few years—a natural extension of ideas he proposed in The Atlas of New Librarianship and other books he has written; has developed through presentations and conversations with his peers—what Jonathan would call his fellow edunauts; and will further clarify through a monograph he and University of South Carolina faculty are currently preparing for publication. And the conversation remains open to all of us through writing he has done and presentations he continues to share, including the archived recording of and slide deck (with speaker notes) for “The Opportunities and Obligations of the Knowledge School.” Although the clear and obvious target audience for that wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking “Opportunities” presentation was a group of school librarians, it would be a shame if it didn’t reach the larger audience of edunauts engaged in training-teaching-learning-doing endeavors. All of us contributing to our wonderfully dynamic onsite-online (blended learning) environment through K-12, higher education, vocational schools, museums, libraries, and workplace learning programs need to be looking for and taking concrete actions that produce positive results. That’s what Dave and his colleagues and many others are attempting to do:

The flow of meta and rethinking continued, for me, the following night in what felt like part of one continuing and ever-expanding conversation as I had dinner with Denver-based colleagues/friends/sources of inspiration Pat Wagner and Leif Smith. The conversation, toward the end of the evening, turned to a discussion about the process of rethinking how to conduct interviews for a book in progress. I mentioned to Leif that I was capturing interviewees’ comments though the use of Google Docs for the interviews themselves. (The interviewees have access to a unique document for each interview. I post questions. They respond in real time, which means I see their thoughts taking shape on the page word by word, and I can actually be formulating and entering new questions that help clarify their response while they are still in the middle of crafting their answers. The completed document, after light editing for style and typographic errors, becomes the accurate transcript from which I draw material for inclusion in the book.) This process produces richly evocative passages in each interviewee’s own voice—often conversational, but also refined in-the-moment through that typed-chat format—and obviously contains more content than I’ll ever be able to use in the book (Change the World Using Social Media). So I have been taking some of the more focused interviews and running them, in their entirety, as separate articles on my blog along with excerpts from the manuscript-in-progress as a way of obtaining early peer review that will help shape the final content.

Leif, fascinated by what was for him a new approach to interviewing, provided one of those amazing observations that just spring full-blown from him as if poetic phrasing and inspiring thought grows on the trees in his head: “A book is like the footprints of a creature that has walked through a magical forest, and if you follow those footprints, something like the spirit of the forest enters into you. That’s what happens if the book is really good.

I later joked with friends who often gather for evening coffee and dessert at the end of the day at conferences, that I never did get around to ordering dessert after that dinner with Pat and Leif. But, I added, that lovely passage really wasn’t, after all, dessert; it was a second main course, expertly prepared by one of the great thought-chefs in my life, and a reminder that our experiences at conferences along the lines of ALA’s Midwinter Meeting extend far beyond the walls of the rooms where the formal presentations and discussions are occurring.


ALA Midwinter Meeting 2017: The Stuff You Don’t Plan For

January 22, 2017

Anyone familiar with the richly rewarding experience of attending an association’s conference knows that the most precious gems often are those we don’t anticipate.

alamw17_logoWe fall into a business deal we didn’t even know existed. We see someone we didn’t even know was there and, as a result, rekindle a relationship. We learn about an innovation that directly and positively affects the work we do. We discover and quickly act upon opportunities to better serve the onsite and online communities we absolutely adore.

everylibrary_logoAnd that, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, is what has been happening for some of us here in Atlanta since the American Library Association (ALA) 2017 Midwinter Conference formally opened yesterday. I know, from the numerous intensively action-oriented conversations I had throughout the day yesterday and today and well into the evening hours, that there were abundant enticing opportunities—expected and unexpected—to pursue. Several colleagues and I, as a result of chance encounters, continued the conversations (inspired by our EveryLibrary co-conspirators) designed to help us identify and take positive, concrete, results-generating action in response to opportunities to build productive, meaningful collaborations between libraries/library staff members and other stakeholders in our extended, multi-faceted, tapestry-like onsite-online communities. These were and are not pipe-dream “wouldn’t it be nice” discussions; each of them ended with commitments to taking small-scale individual as well as collaborative steps that, when combined with similar steps within our extended communities, will lead to community collaborations with potentially far-reaching impacts. (The 2017 EveryLibrary Agenda, on the organization’s “Leaving Our Silos — Coalition Work in 2017” page, is a seminal online document that offers an opportunity to become engaged and is a wonderful call to action for those within the library world as well as to those who currently are not; friends and colleagues can expect to be hearing plenty from me about what this offers us and those we serve.)

signorelli200x300[1]But it gets even more personal. A wonderfully serendipitous encounter in the ALA Store resulted in another sale of the book Lori Reed and I co-wrote a few years ago (Workplace Learning & Leadership) and an impromptu, tongue-in-cheek book-signing for the buyer of that book. Which then unexpectedly led to a conversation about potential involvement in another results-oriented training-teaching-learning project scheduled to happen during the second half of this year. And, as if this were all being choreographed for the muse of publication, I then found myself involved in a conversation about writing a new book—a conversation that ended with a tentative agreement to pursue the project as soon as we can take care of all the elements that are part of codifying a formal contract leading to publication of a book.

The day continued at this frenetic, almost dream-like level well into the evening. More discussions. More confirmed opportunities for positive engagement with members of my ALA professional family. More reminders that, even in the most troubled of times, we never are really alone. And a reminder that the aforementioned precious gems often arrive when they are most needed.

For, in the midst of all this positive engagement, I was also fully engaged in that most horrible, inevitable rites of passage: the impending loss of a loved one.

The news that my lovely, vibrant, dynamic, inspirational mother—my lifelong parent, mentor, friend, confidante, and fellow chocoholic—is in the final days or even hours of life on the other side of the country was not unexpected. (A sign of how much I rely on her: after initially receiving the news that she might be in her last 72 hours of her life, I quickly ran through the short list of people I could call for comfort, immediately thought of her, and then found myself laughing as the words “Oh, wait, she already knows about this” ran through my mind.) She has been suffering from congestive heart failure for several months now, and the options for providing her with comfort and any acceptable quality of life have been dwindling rapidly during the past two weeks. Receiving “the call” from home shortly after I arrived in Atlanta was a nightmare emerging into a darkening day: she was back in a hospital emergency room, where my father and others were onsite to be with her during what a Franciscan friar I know once referred to as “the most sacred of times.” The subsequent calls involving arrangements for hospice care quickly followed. And then the news this morning, just before all the conversations and activities I’ve described in this post took place, that the hospice plan had been abandoned because treatment that might have offered her another 72 hours of comfort were failing. We were quickly reaching the point where we were counting hours rather than days.

When you have two parents who have led wonderfully blessed lives for 80 or 90 years, you’re always aware that each day could be the last. You go out of your way, as I have for more than a decade, to thank them every time—every damned time—you talk to them and let them know in very specific terms how grateful you are for all that they have given you. And yet “the call” is always as shocking as you know it’s going to be. Always overwhelming. And yet somehow manageable because you viscerally understand that, at that horrible and devastating moment, you are right where you were meant to be. Like here, in Atlanta, among some of the best friends, colleagues, and confidantes I have. Caring. Understanding. Sympathetic. And capable of shining sparkling-gem light where only darkness would otherwise seem to reign.

So I’ve had a day of precious gems that included wonderful stories from friends. Plenty of cross-country conversations that had me right there with my family even though we remain physically nearly 2,500 miles apart. Time spent working with wonderfully sympathetic and responsive United Airlines representatives arranging for an earlier-than-expected return to California. Positive paid and volunteer opportunities that I will be pursuing for months, if not years. Just as my mother and father always encouraged me to do. And as I prepare to try to catch a bit of sleep, I relish the bittersweet words a member of my ALA family shared during a conversation earlier today: It’s always the stuff you don’t plan for that has the greatest impact—for better or for worse.

[Deepest gratitude to my former writing coach/mentor Margo Perin, who always insisted that the best writing was that which was most difficult, honest, and drawn directly from the heart. This piece would not exist if she had not led me, nearly 20 years ago, through the process of working through a dark night.]

Addendum: In loving memory of Josephine V. Signorelli, August 5, 1925 – January 22, 2017. She lived and passed with grace.


ALA Midwinter Meeting 2017: The Transformative, Action-Oriented Conversations Continue Here

January 19, 2017

“The conversation starts here…” is a long-standing tagline for American Library Association conferences such as the one beginning this week here in Atlanta. But I would suggest the reality is much deeper: The conversations continue playfully, creatively, thoughtfully, and productively from conference to conference and are valuable as much for their inspiration as for the positive transformations they produce.

alamw17_logoSome begin (or resume) when we unexpectedly meet up in shuttles on the way to airports across the country. Others happen as we run into cherished colleagues in check-in lines at our hotels. Many take place in the wonderful Networking Uncommons meeting area that ALA staff so diligently and generously maintains from conference to conference, while others seem to leap to life on their own from conference hallway to conference hallway, restaurant to restaurant, coffee shop to coffee shop, and online through a variety of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn—this really is a first-rate example of early 21st-century blended conference (seamless interactions between colleagues onsite and online) practices and explorations. (ALA staff members Mary Mackay and many others reach out consistently to all Association members to remind those who are “left behind” that they can participate through online platforms, and many of us onsite maintain an online presence to draw our offsite colleagues into the action. It’s just the way trainer-teacher-learner-doers are made—and library staff members are among the best learning facilitators I know.

My ALA 2017 Midwinter Meeting onsite conversations began less than an hour after I reached Atlanta—three hours later than expected because of a much-delayed cross-country flight—last night. Two cherished colleagues were kind enough to wait until nearly 10 pm so we could have dinner together, catch up a bit, and dive into a topic that I’m sure will be pursued assiduously over the next several days: what each of us individually and collectively can do over the next four years to be sure that libraries and library staff members across the country remain positive players in the communities we serve by facilitating conversations; providing safe meeting places for all members of our communities regardless of their political views, backgrounds, and myriad other elements that could potentially divide them/us rather than provide common ground to explore solutions to the challenges we face; and respond to anyone who needs what libraries and library staff members provide.

everylibrary_logoThe library directors, staff members, and consultants I know did not wait long after the 2016 presidential election concluded to initiate this very conversation; our colleagues in the EveryLibrary political action committee had, within 24 hours, created a private forum on Facebook that attracted over 200 library directors, staff members, and consultants to pursue the topic. One-on-one and group conversations developed face to face and online across the country to explore what the transfer of power would mean to those served by libraries across the United States.

Some of the initial rudimentary ideas explored in that forum (e.g., collecting and disseminating library-users’ stories about the emotionally rich and deeply moving ways in which libraries and library staff members positively impact their lives; promoting the availability of multi-faceted resources, from a variety of points of view, that are available to anyone who wants to draw upon them; promoting libraries onsite and online as relatively safe places for people willing to share ideas and listen to those that might be the most comfortable of ideas for them to explore; and providing adaptable examples for trainer-teacher-learner-doers in industries outside of our own) were literally on the table last night.

ATD_LogoThat deeply-rewarding and inspirational exchange of ideas continued for me throughout the day today as I met with colleagues I had planned to meet. They extended into chance encounters that I could not have possibly anticipated—but that are a staple of the meet-ups and explorations familiar to those of us who have been shaping ALA conferences (and so many others, including those organized by ATD and NMC) for many years simply through the combined actions of showing up, listening, and asking “so what are we gonna do about that?”

And they will, no doubt, gain momentum and produce positive results far beyond the physical and virtual walls of #alamw17. Because that’s the sort of life libraries, librarians, and others involved in lifelong learning foster. With your collaboration.

 


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