ALA 2015 Annual Conference: Community, Pride, and Hugs

July 2, 2015

Anyone who still sees libraries primarily as places to borrow books certainly wasn’t onsite for the opening general session of the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference here in San Francisco last Friday afternoon. It was an event that set the tone for the entire conference for many of us. It reminded us how interwoven libraries and library staff members are with the communities they serve. And it was a perfect way to celebrate the larger events unfolding around us.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoThose of us arriving onsite early in the day for a variety of preconference activities and informal conversations with friends and colleagues were primed for certain levels of excitement. We were about to see more than 22,000 members of our community from all over the United States and other parts of the world. We knew there would be plenty of festivities centered on SF Pride activities (including the Pride Parade) all weekend. And we knew that ALA staff was doing its usual first-rate job of creating a conference guaranteed to inspire onsite as well as offsite Association members by offering more than 2,400 learning opportunities over a five-day period.

We could not, however, have anticipated that we would be together here in San Francisco on the morning that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality would be announced and the afternoon that Roberta Kaplan, a key player in the efforts to achieve marriage equality, would be serving as a keynote speaker onsite. News about the ruling quickly spread around the conference site—Moscone Center—that morning, priming us for a major celebration at the opening session—and Kaplan didn’t let us down with her from-the-heart description of her personal and professional investments in promoting marriage equality.

Kaplan--Then_Comes_MarriageDrawing heavily from the opening pages of her upcoming (October 2015) book (with Lisa Dickey), Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], she recalled the far-from-encouraging moment when she abruptly and unexpectedly came out to her parents. Visiting her in New York City (in 1991) during the weekend of the annual Gay Pride Parade, they were in her apartment as her mother became increasingly, openly critical of the parade and those who supported it. After Kaplan repeatedly, unsuccessfully told her mother to stop offering those unwelcome comments, Kaplan ended up coming out to her parents by responding to her mother’s question, “What’s the matter? Are you gay or something?” with a blunt “Yes,” and then walked out of her own apartment as her mother continued literally beating her own head against one of the walls.

The overall story she briefly told us (and which remains available, in part, on the American Libraries website), of how she went from being a closeted lesbian to being the litigator who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, unfolds nicely and in much more detail in Then Comes Marriage, as many of us who received advance uncorrected proofs of the book at the ALA Annual Conference are learning now that we have time to read it. And the ample causes for celebration that afternoon—and now—included Kaplan’s comment that the entire struggle for marriage equality has left us with something significant to celebrate: our ability to grow and change just as—she noted—her mother has grown and changed in coming to accept Kaplan as a lesbian and, again, a cherished daughter.

It would have been difficult to predict that there could have been anything to rival the power and inspiration of Kaplan’s presentation on that particular day, in this particular city. Our ALA staff colleagues, however, managed to find it by concluding the opening general session with the first-ever People First Award, sponsored by Tech Logic and given to the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and ALA 2014-2015 President Courtney Young were onsite to deliver the award to Melanie Townsend-Diggs (whose extraordinary commitment to the library and her community earned the award) and to Carla Hayden, Chief Executive Officer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Receiving the People First Award (photo from @PrattLibrary Twitter feed)

Receiving the People First Award (photo from @PrattLibrary Twitter feed)

Tech Logic’s press release captures the thought behind the award: Staff demonstrated “exemplary leadership during several days of riots, which were concentrated at the intersection of North and Pennsylvania Avenues. On April 27, violence ensued after the funeral of Freddie Gray, an African American man who died in police custody earlier that month. As tensions increased and buildings surrounding the library burned, Enoch Pratt Library remained open, providing a safe haven for patrons inside.

“‘I did not feel threatened, but wanted people to know this was serious,’ recalls Branch Manager Melanie Townsend-Diggs, who ultimately made the decision to stay open. ‘It’s in my instinctive nature to keep people safe and calm,’ she says. ‘It’s my responsibility to make sure that everybody stayed safe. I try not to be too proud, but I am definitely grateful.’”

There’s plenty more to say about the conference and the people who contributed to its success, and I was still thinking about that opening general session a few days later after repeatedly running into and talking with a wonderful colleague with whom I usually have all too little time to sit and chat. As our third extended conversation in one day was drawing to a close, I told him how much I had enjoyed the exchanges we had had, and he immediately responded by suggesting “a 20-second hug”—a concept new to me and that quite literally is nothing more than an embrace that, in lasting for at least 20 seconds, seems to magically slow us down, deliver a sense of comfort and trust, and reminds us that some things—like enjoying the company of those we love—just cannot be rushed.

ala_leftbehindAs we reluctantly disengaged from the initial 20-second hug—and then, for good measure, immediately fell into another—I couldn’t help but think about how the interweaving of community, pride, and hugs combined to create a sort of tapestry of what ALA 2015 meant to me and to so many colleagues with whom I have spoken during the past several days. It was also yet another reminder that libraries always have been and always will be about far more than books and other elements of the collections. ALA members and guests came together, worked to be sure we included those who would otherwise have been left behind, and left that conference with an even stronger sense of community and pride than any of us could have imagined having—which is, of course, one of the greatest gifts an association can give its members as those members contribute to the making of the gift itself.

N.B. – This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco.

Advertisements

ALA 2015 Annual Conference: When Being Left Behind Is Not an Option

June 25, 2015

Kudos, once again, to our colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA). Where many professional associations that offer onsite conferences focus their attention almost exclusively on the paying members who are physically attending, ALA’s commitment to use social media tools to include those who would otherwise be left behind is again on display this week.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoThe efforts Association staff makes are well worth citing and quoting as an example to other associations or organizations—particularly any that are seeing membership numbers plummet for lack of engagement. ALA Marketing Director Mary Mackay reached out to all Association members a few days ago via email and a LinkedIn posting (which you can read here if you’re on LinkedIn and have joined the ALA LinkedIn group) to explicitly offer a variety of free opportunities to engage virtually with the 19,000 onsite attendees expected to be at the ALA 2015 Annual Conference, which formally opens here in San Francisco tomorrow. Here is part of what Mary offered:

“You can get insights into library transformation, future thinking, the hot book and author news, and more from hundreds of programs, conversations, events, and the 900+ exhibitors by following American Libraries coverage at http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/tag/alaac15/ and the show daily, Cognotes, at http://alaac15.ala.org/cognotes/.”

Mary notes other ways to keep up:

This is clearly an association that is interested in long-term relationships with all its members even if not all of them can support the Association through payment of conference registration fees; expenditures for food, travel, and lodgings; time spent preparing for and participating in conference activities including countless hours of work on committees; and other volunteer efforts that contribute to the strength of the Association and its work.

It’s tremendously encouraging to see the various levels at which conference attendees and Association staff members work to support their offsite as well as their onsite colleagues. Dozens of onsite participants set aside at least two or three hours to volunteer as Ambassadors in the Annual Conference program I manage for ALA Membership Development. Available side-by-side with ALA staff members in the ALA Lounge onsite as well as in a variety of conference areas as “Roaming Ambassadors,” they work enthusiastically to answer logistical questions (e.g., where events are taking place, where conference shuttle buses arrive and depart, where coat check and first aid stations are) as well as deeper questions about the Association’s numerous divisions, round tables, sections, and other opportunities for involvement in sustaining the Association and preparing it for its future. A few also contribute resources available to first-time as well as experienced conference attendees.

Live #alaac15 Twitter feed on display

Live #alaac15 Twitter feed on display

But it’s not just the organized efforts that make this work. Hundreds of onsite participants will reach each other and their offsite colleagues through tweets ranging from whimsical observations to solid 140-character reports summarizing content from many of the more than 2,400 sessions that will be offered while the conference is underway—in essence drawing offsite colleagues into the room and encouraging offsite colleagues to participate through responses as well as questions that occasionally are passed on to presenters so the size of the room extends well beyond what we see here in Moscone Center. And there are always signs of new innovations: large electronic boards displaying the latest tweets from the conference Twitter feed were, for the first time, spread throughout the conference halls today as if to remind us that part of the conference is happening in rooms housing individual sessions, part of the conference is happening though interactions via Twitter among onsite participants, and part of the conference is happening via the interactions between onsite and offsite colleagues.

There seems to be something for everyone, and those of us lucky enough to live here in the city that is hosting the conference are the luckiest of all in that we have already been reaping the benefits of having much-cherished additional time with friends and colleagues who arrived a few days early. Our conversations are magnificent opportunities to share information and to catch up with friends and colleagues we see all too rarely. Our conversations are also the individual moments that, like the bricks in an enormous and attractive structure, serve as the raw materials shaping the vitality of the entire Association itself.

I’m looking forward to contributing—via tweets, blog postings, and other online offerings—to the continuing strength and growth of this professional family, and hope onsite and offsite colleagues will do the same so no one will be left behind.

N.B. – This is the first in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco.


ALA Annual Conference 2014: Ernie DiMattia and Learning Moments That Change Our Lives  

June 28, 2014

Conference attendance, whether onsite or online, can be transformative. The planned and unplanned encounters with colleagues, the vendors with whom we work, the authors we adore (or are going to adore after encountering them and the work they produce), touch and change us in ways that sometimes are immediately evident and at other times require the passage of time to geminate and bear fruit.

ALA2014--LogoWe seek, come across, and learn from people whose work we have avidly followed in print or online, and sometimes are stunned to find that they just as avidly following and learning from ours. We have unexpected, intensively personal conversations in spaces like the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference Networking Uncommons and, in the process, deepen relationships with people we might otherwise not have come to know. We learn how much more challenging and rewarding the conference-as-learning-experience can be when we learn how to blend our onsite and online participation via the conference backchannel.

Relishing the collaborations that produce significant results through our volunteer service on committees or through participation in efforts like ALA Membership Development’s Ambassador program is just another part of mining conference opportunities for all they are worth; they help us understand how welcoming and supportive the ALA community can be—and is.

And even though the size and scope of the ALA Annual Conference has us sharing space with more than 20,000 colleagues, it’s amazingly easy to find the individual members of our community we want to find—and equally stunning to realize how much the absence of even one cherished colleague can affect us.

I had known that Ernie DiMattia, the chair of the ALA Publishing Committee, would not be with us here in Las Vegas this morning for our semiannual onsite meeting. All of us on the committee had been notified earlier this week that he was dealing with “ongoing health issues.” But I had had no idea, before arriving at the meeting, that he had been in the final stages of a long-time battle with cancer and that he had passed away last night.

Ernie_DiMattiaThere was a moment of silence as we all, in our own individual ways, struggled to absorb the news that this gentle, literate, vibrant light in the ALA community had been extinguished. And while I can’t speak to what others were thinking, I found myself reliving the moment, a couple of years ago, when Ernie approached me during an orientation session we were both attending, asked me how I was doing, was insightful enough to ask a thought-provoking question that significantly changed my perceptions about what all of us were learning to do in that session, and, as a result, sent me down a very productive year-long path as chair of an ALA advisory committee that completely changed the way it did its work.

Ernie’s simple question at the moment I was about to become a committee chair: “Who will you be serving as a committee chair?” And the obvious answer—ALA 2012-2013 President Maureen Sullivan while working with (rather than for) ALA staff—inspired a series of interconnected partnerships that was rewarding for all of us and the larger ALA community we served.

When my year-long term came to an end and I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the Publishing Committee with Ernie as chair, I continued to learn from the inclusive, collaborative approach he took to our work. I appreciated the fact that he went out of his way to stop and chat whenever our paths crossed in those wonderfully expansive conference hallways. I admired the way he fostered productive partnerships with our ALA staff colleagues to help craft a forward-looking strategic plan that will continue to make ALA Publishing an essential part of the ALA community’s operations.

I wish I could say that I knew Ernie better. I wish I could say we had numerous lovely and inspiring conversations, but they were far too few. And as I walked those Ernie-less halls today, I knew they would never again feel quite so vital as they were through Ernie’s presence. But I also sensed that they would remain important, comforting, and essential to all I do as long as I continue acting upon and sharing all I learned from Ernie’s unofficial and very informal mentoring.


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

June 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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


%d bloggers like this: