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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