ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Radical Meeting, Learning, and Collaboration

February 5, 2015

You didn’t have to be in Chicago from Friday, January 30 to Tuesday, February 3 to avoid being left behind. American Library Association (ALA) staff, members, and presenters, during the Association’s 2015 Midwinter Meeting, displayed an amazing, noteworthy commitment to bringing colleagues together regardless of geographic, economic, and temporal barriers—and, in the process, provided an example every trainer-teacher-learner can benefit from exploring.

alamw15--LogoAssociation staff began the process, in the days before the conference began, by reaching out to members with a set of tips on how to be part of the conference whether onsite or offsite; they also carried the popular ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony to offsite members through a live webcast of the event. This is clearly not an association that cares only for those paying registration fees and booking rooms in conference hotels.

Onsite individual Association members helped augment these efforts connecting offsite colleagues to the conference in a variety of ways, including the use of a Google Hangout and an extremely active Twitter feed that fostered plenty of back and forth. The Hangout, designed to serve as an episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast series for those involved in training-teaching-learning within libraries, was a successful experiment in creating a gathering that, through the discussion of “bringing offsite colleagues into the room,” engaged colleagues in the moment and produced a 30-minute archived recording demonstrating how Hangouts work (and, in their weaker moments, don’t work) to extend live conversations beyond the barriers of physical rooms and to further extend them beyond their initial synchronous interactions. And the multi-day #alamw15 flow of tweets from onsite and offsite Association members was so heavy during the ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony Monday morning (February 2) that it completely overwhelmed the feed from the social media tool (Twubs) I was using to monitor the exchanges; new tweets appeared to pop up at one-second intervals, and a notification at the top of the Twubs page confirmed, at one point, that more than 480 tweets were waiting to move from a queue into the actual Twubs feed I was observing on my mobile device—which means the feed was, at that point, a full eight minutes behind what all of us were producing. The fast, steady pulse of tweets flowing into the feed made me feel as if I were watching a heart monitor somehow attached to an Olympic athlete engaged in a sprint.

Lankes--Radical_Guide_to_New_LibrarianshipIt seemed that the ALA community’s commitment to inclusivity never faltered. When Atlas of New Librarianship author R. David Lankes began setting up for his hour-long “Radical Conversations on New Librarianship” session Monday morning, for example, he obviously was fully immersed in extending the conversation (and the size of his room) through the same efforts others had pursued. Using Adobe Connect to reach out to offsite participants and using a projector to display the chat feed so those of us inside the physical space at McCormick Place in Chicago could see what our offsite colleagues were saying, Lankes made it possible for us to at least be aware of both sides (onsite and offsite) of an ongoing, intriguing conversation about how librarianship is continuing to evolve to the benefit of all whom it serves. It was clear—as was the case with that Google Hangout Sunday afternoon—that the conversation would continue after the formal session ended: several entry portals to the conversation remain on Lankes’ blog, and the book that will come out of those conversations is sure to inspire additional exchanges long after the ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting begins fading in our memories.

ALA_LogoAnother extended no-one-left-behind conversation that was easy to join during the conference was the Association’s current efforts to update its strategic plan. We often hear, from ALA staff, that “the conversation starts here” at the Midwinter Meeting and the Annual (summer) Conference, but the current strategic planning process shows the conversations are also continuous—beginning before we arrive onsite, continuing (rather than starting) while we are face to face, and extending far beyond the few days we have together during those meetings and conferences. Three town hall meetings had been held online from November through December 2014, and archived recordings remain available for those who don’t want to be left behind; several 90-minute onsite “kitchen table conversation” sessions facilitated by Association members during the 2015 Midwinter Conference were open to anyone interested in helping shape the strategic planning process and, by extension, the near-term future of the Association itself. Conversations are scheduled to continue as the planning process proceeds, and anyone paying attention knows that this is yet another example of an association keenly aware of a foundational tenet: without membership engagement, there is no real association in any sense of that word.

Those of us involved in training-teaching-learning—and nearly everyone in libraries falls into that category at some time during day-to-day library work—are far from unfamiliar with what was on display at the Midwinter Conference. The nurturing of community that took place there (as well as before and after the event) is what we strive to nurture as we develop and maintain the valuable communities of learning that provide meaningful experiences for those we serve. It’s what connects conferences. Workshops. Webinars. Courses. And every other learning opportunity part of our overall dynamic learning landscape. And I, for one, am glad to be part of associations that do more than understand that idea—they transform the concept from idea to reality in ways that make a difference to everyone they/we touch.

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ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Bringing Offsite Colleagues Into the Room

February 1, 2015

With informal help and encouragement from our staff colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA), several of us successfully managed, this afternoon, to reduce the number of people “left behind” during the current ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting being held here in Chicago. And, in the process, we produced a learning object designed to help members of ALA and other associations achieve similarly rewarding results.

ala_leftbehind“ALALeftBehind” has been a bittersweet movement for quite a while now: those unable to be onsite for the Midwinter Meeting held early each year and the Annual Conference held early each summer contact onsite Association members via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms for news about what is happening onsite. They also, via the #ALALeftBehind hashtag, comment on how much they wish they could be part of the onsite action.

This was the year we reduced the onsite-online gap a bit more. Largely thanks to the efforts of ALA staff, those who could not attend the conference received tips about resources that could help connect them to onsite activities and colleagues. That commitment to offsite members as well as to the onsite members who could afford the time and cost of traveling to Chicago inspired at least a few of us onsite to seek ways to support that effort and find ways to further draw our offsite colleagues into the onsite rooms.

ALAMW15--LogoAs we were meeting (during the first day of the conference) in the Midwinter Meeting Networking Uncommons—a wonderful space meant to facilitate unplanned encounters and conversations at a significant level—a few of us were expressing the same sort of comments expressed by those left behind: sadness that familiar faces weren’t present for Midwinter 2015 conversations. One person who is particularly important to us is our training-teaching-learning colleague Maurice Coleman, who brings us together online through his biweekly T is for Training conversations/podcasts and has been making audio-recordings of live face-to-face T is for Training sessions at ALA Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences for the past few years. Without Maurice onsite, we realized we would miss our semi-annual face-to-face session—until we decided that if we couldn’t bring Maurice and “T” into the Uncommons and the rest of the conference, we would bring the Uncommons and the conference to Maurice.

We were lucky enough to be sitting with Jenny Levine, the ALA staff member who remains the driving force behind the Uncommons (and much more), as our plan began to develop; she quickly confirmed a reservation for the final 30-minute slot remaining for formal use of the Uncommons during the 2015 Midwinter Meeting. We then contacted Maurice and a few other T is for Training colleagues who were offsite to see whether they wanted to participate in a unique T is for Training session via a Google Hangout rather than the usual audio-only format we use through TalkShoe.

There was a conscious decision that we weren’t going to make the Hangout appear too well-rehearsed, and we also agreed that we would rely on our improvisational skills to address any unexpected problems that came up during the session. Having experimented with blended onsite-online conference attendance via Twitter and blended learning opportunities via Google Hangouts, I saw this as an opportunity to pull a session together with minimal planning, preparation, and rehearsal so that #alaleftbehind colleagues would see how easily similar gatherings could be arranged while also seeing what can go wrong with this sort of impromptu erasing of the Left Behind brand.

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

That’s exactly how it played out during the live session earlier this afternoon. The opening segment with guest host Kate Kosturski, T is for Training colleague Jules Shore, and me in the Networking Uncommons began right on time and featured a decent quality of audio and video. Our first (not-unexpected) glitch occurred when Maurice was unable to join the Hangout in its recorded version, so came in through a virtual back door: my tablet. Figuring that low-quality Maurice was better than no Maurice, I took the only action I could imagine taking: I held the tablet up to the webcam and hoped for the best. Watching the archived recording shows that it was a gamble that paid off: the audio and video feed captured from the tablet was even better in the recording than it was for those of us in the Uncommons—which doesn’t mean it was great (far from it), but as a spur-of-the-moment solution, it worked. Better yet, it added the sort of levity to the session that is such a valuable and valued part of all T is for Training sessions.

The experiment gained momentum about12 minutes into the session with Jill Hurst-Wahl, another key part of the T is for Training community, was able to join the Hangout from her home. After a moment or two of trouble-shooting, she was completely integrated into the exchange and the conversation resumed where it had stopped when Maurice first came in via the tablet.

Our moment of success came just after the halfway point, when Maurice was able to switch from the tablet feed to the version visible in the archived recording. And, for the remainder of the program, we once again showed how a conference room can quickly expand from being a small onsite space to a space that extend across entire states.

It could have been better; we should have been able to include other participants via the chat function in Google Hangouts. But as an example of how low-cost, high-impact technology can help us redefine our meeting and our learning spaces and how it can further reduce the size of our Left Behind groups, it offers an effective case study. And it will continue reducing that Left Behind group person by person as more people view the recording and use it to create their own no-longer-left-behind experiences.


NMC and ALA: Black Swans, Conversations, and Collaboration

January 29, 2015

We’ve known, for a long time, that having key players in the room is an essential part of fostering achievements in training-teaching-learning and many other endeavors. What wasn’t as obvious until recently is that drawing those essential colleagues into the room is becoming increasingly simple by redefining what the room actually is.

ALAMW15--LogoAttending the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project retreat—“The Black Swan Ball”—in Austin, Texas a couple of weeks ago provided a fabulous reminder of how our concepts of meeting spaces are changing. Arriving in Chicago yesterday for the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Midwinter Meeting is supplying another dynamic example of this development. And other ongoing personal experiments in creating a virtual presence within onsite meetings convince me that we’re seeing a major shift in how our changing concepts of meeting spaces, learning spaces, participation, and collaboration are working to our advantage.

While drawing an offsite colleague into onsite meetings as a co-presenter via Google Hangouts over the past couple of years, I have asked onsite meeting participants to describe how big our meeting spaces are. It quickly becomes obvious to everyone that our videoconferencing capabilities have improved to the point where those offsite participants feel as if they are physically present with us—and we with them—so the room is no longer defined by the immediate four walls that surround us—it extends over the hundreds (or thousands) of miles that would separate us if our technology didn’t create a visceral, virtual presence for all involved.

Our NMC colleagues at the Black Swan Ball—an event inspired by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and designed to help us develop the skills needed to adapt when what seemed improbably quickly becomes commonplace—were exemplary in creating a meeting space that transcended physical walls. Even though we were all in the same conference center room for much of the discussion, we were also using virtual spaces created online by NMC staff so we could create, in the moment, learning objects that would carry the discussion out of the room so the explorations would not end when the conference did. And, by the simple act of tweeting observations while those discussions were underway, we found the discussions spreading far beyond the conference center premises even while invited participants were still onsite.

Our ALA colleagues are taking this expansion-of-the-room concept further than what I have seen most organizations attempt. Acknowledging that there is frequently a conference backchannel conversation nurtured by those who consider themselves “left behind” by their inability to be onsite (united via the hashtag #ALALeftBehind), conference representatives have already encouraged the “left behind” crowd to expand the size of the room and join the conversation via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and pages on the Association’s website:

“You can get a flavor of the event and insights by following American Libraries coverage at http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/alamw15 and the show daily, Cognotes, at http://alamw15.ala.org/cognotes.

“You can also

“And looking ahead–for information about the 2015 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition June 25-30, and to find resources to help you make your case for attending, visit http://alaannual.org.”

NMC_Black_Swan_LogoThis is a magnificent example of how a commitment to inclusivity and a bit of advance planning can create opportunities for extended conversations; greater levels of engagement among members of an association, a community of learning, a community of practice, or any other collaborative body; and an awareness of how existing tools and resources can create possibilities where barriers once existed. If each of us at the Midwinter Meeting (or any other onsite convocation) contributes to the effort to draw our offsite colleagues into the onsite conversations, and our offsite colleagues reciprocate by contributing via the channels available to them, we will have taken another positive, productive step toward expanding the size of our room and fostering the levels of collaboration that produce results beyond anything we previously imagined.


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