Chris Duderstadt: Building Community One Bench at a Time

October 2, 2017

While we often talk about taking positive actions step by step to improve our communities, Inner Sunset Park Neighbors Board Vice President Chris Duderstadt has persistently been making San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District and other areas better bench by bench. His Public Bench Project is now responsible for having created and added 100 colorful, attractive, welcoming places to sit, so a group of Inner Sunset neighbors gathered with Chris a week ago to celebrate the contributions he and other collaborating members of our community have made to enriching our public spaces.

Public-Bench_Project[2].pngHe built and installed his first public bench 40 years ago, and his own Inner Sunset home continues to feature one of the earliest benches. Interest in his work gained increasing amounts of attention over a very long period of time, he recalled during our conversation last week. The effort began growing rapidly approximately five years ago, when he formally created The Public Bench Project. Supporters have brought increasingly large amounts of loving attention to the project. Articles in local publications have helped to spread the word about the project and the presence of those lovely, hand-crafted benches. Those involved in offering space for additional benches are often involved in adorning them with the playfully colorful patterns that make them so attractive (the bench at the foot of the Hidden Garden Steps was painted by artist/art instructor Angie Crabtree and her students from the Woodside International School here in our neighborhood), and Chris himself has painted wonderful designs on a substantial number of those benches.

Many of us—residents and visitors alike—have enjoyed numerous conversations fostered by the availability of those lovely little meeting places where we interact with people we might not otherwise have met. And like the two neighborhood large-scale ceramic-tiled steps projects that serve as meeting places for people from all over the world, the benches are spectacular variations on Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the Third Place—those places where people know they can meet, talk, plan, and dream together.

Public_Bench_Project[1].pngIt certainly hasn’t been an easy process for Chris and others who continue to make this project thrive. There are always those who express concern that the introduction of a new bench (or a new ceramic-tiled staircase) will somehow attract “unwanted” people to the place a bench or other attraction is placed—and, of course, the homeless are generally the first to be mentioned as examples of those who are unwanted. But the success of the benches, the Moraga Steps, and the Hidden Garden Steps serve as a strong response—as so many of us remind those who are concerned—that being homeless is not a crime; it’s the uncivil behavior of some people (not all of whom are homeless, by the way) that is a concern, and that’s something we can and do address firmly when that particular problem arises. What some of us have found is that by sharing spaces with a variety of people—including the homeless members of our community—we have an opportunity to get to know them better so all of us can work together to make the neighborhood a better place.

With all the celebration that took place at that 100th-bench celebration came a bit of sadness for those of us who know and admire Chris and what he does. He explained an imminent hiatus in the project in a recent email:

“Let me thank you for your support of the Public Bench Project. We have made our neighborhoods more walkable and just plain friendlier. Over the past 40 years I have been able to place 100 benches in publicly accessible locations.

“It’s with great sadness that the Public Bench Project will be going on the disabled list for a while. I’m having major back surgery and, if successful, it will be at least 6 months before I can make benches again.

“From the outer Richmond and Sunset, to Dog Patch, to the Bay View, and even across the bay in San Pablo, you have allowed me to place benches. I believe we have all made the world just a little bit better.

“I trust you all have been able to experience the joy of doing this. While recovering, I hope to be able to figure out Facebook and create a venue to share our experiences.

“Thank you again. It’s been a good run.”

And it’s a good run that many of us look forward to continuing as soon as Chris is ready to get back on the bench and create more community meeting places for all of us.

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How We Work: Asking the Right Questions—And Then Doggedly Pursuing the Answers

September 29, 2017

Don Bennett, a friend whose work and play has included making music and architectural models for a very long time, once suggested that we make the mistake of thinking that work and play are two different things.

“Man,” he suggested with an impish gleam in his eyes, “is never happier than when he is picking berries.”

Don Bennett

And although I don’t combine the work and play of picking berries nearly as often as I should, I was thinking of Don again this week when a colleague interested in expanding his writing and training efforts asked a series of questions about what leads some of us to the successes we have. The implicit short form of my answer was to share Don’s advice to make work and play as seamless as possible. The longer version took the two of us down a path of thinking about simple, yet essential, moments and actions that move us closer, ever closer, to the world of our dreams.

When I think about what has given me the moderate successes I’ve had using my writing and teaching-training-learning skills, I think about the unwavering long-term commitments I’ve made to and the decades of effort I’ve put into developing those skills—something Malcolm Gladwell captured so well in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. Writing, for me, is something requiring a very serious, meticulous, dogged approach—yet it also involves a great deal of playfulness.

I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. I wrote daily news stories for the campus newspaper at UCLA, which was tremendously valuable experience in terms of learning how to write quickly, effectively, and engagingly (not that I always do that). Writing seems to be one of those passions embedded in my DNA: it gives me pleasure, drives me to continue working, and connects into virtually every other endeavor I pursue.

The same is true for me in my teaching-training-learning endeavors, the instructional-design work I do, the work I do as a social media strategist, and the consulting work that is fully integrated into nearly every moment of my days of work and play.

I also, as I told the colleague who was asking questions, benefit tremendously from ongoing, first-rate mentoring from very supportive colleagues. Without the support of those fabulous, generous, altruistic mentors—some who are peers, some who are much younger than I am, and some who have many more years of experience than I’ve managed to acquire—I wouldn’t have the breadth and scope of knowledge that I attempt to bring to work and play. With all of this goes a lifelong commitment to learning, accompanied by a rich, ever-expanding community of friends and colleagues who are there to support and encourage me on a daily basis.

This carries us quite a way down the road of responding to my colleague’s questions, and leads to the all-important question of how to identify topics that would be well-received by my (ever-changing) target audience. My own approach involves lots of reading (my friend/colleague/mentor Jill Hurst-Wahl consistently teases me about my inability to carry on a conversation without dropping titles of the numerous books I seem to always be devouring; I can hear her saying “See? See? What did I tell you?” as she gleefully points to my mention of Outliers earlier in this piece). Lots of listening. And, most importantly, close attention to the reactions my work produces (positive as well as negative). A simple process I follow involves identifying ideas that seem worth spreading (very TED of me, right? my influences are showing again), then researching them, discussing them face to face and online with colleagues, and writing about them. If an idea proves productive, I continue working on—and with—it; if it doesn’t, I put it on a back burner to see if something might come of it later in a different context or with a different approach.

A commitment to continue learning is obviously a key element of the approach I take. Every informal and formal learning experience has proved useful to me at some level. Earning a B.A. in Political Science nourished my passionate interest in politics, social movements, community, collaboration, history, and positive social change. My M.A. in Arts Administration (a degree for nonprofit arts organization administrators) gave me transferable business skills that continue to serve me to this day. My MLIS (Master of Library & Information Science) degree more closely connected me to what was and is happening in Library Land—one of the primary countries in which I travel. And the numerous workshops, webinars, online courses (including connectivist MOOCs), and conferences I attend reinvigorate me while also reminding me what it feels like (in the best and worst of learning situations) to be in the learner’s seat; this helps keep me from subjecting others to what has troubled me about how we approach training-teaching-learning-doing.

A final, essential element that seems to produce wonderful results is to be flexible, responsive, and attentive—to listen and then react. Many years ago, when I was looking for opportunities to write more book reviews than I was producing at that time, I unexpectedly met the editor of a monthly book review publication. We were at a conference and were chatting about the possibility of my submitting reviews to him. Without thinking, I blurted out the question, “What unfilled niche can I fill for you?” That led to a number of very interesting book review opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise sought, and taught me the importance of asking that question of any potential or current client. Very simple. Very effective. Very playful. And it produces enough work to leave me with time to go pick some berries if that’s where heart leads me.

N.B.—Thanks, Jeff Marson. for inspiring this piece through your wonderful questions.


Telling Secrets (Josephine V. Signorelli, 8/5/1925 – 1/22/2017)

January 27, 2017

The following post is the final draft of the eulogy I delivered at my mother’s funeral service on Friday, January 27, 2017. The draft—as all drafts do—differs a bit from the spoken version delivered to the more than 100 friends, colleagues, and family members who gathered to commemorate all she meant to us during her long and richly rewarding life.

Let me share a secret with you. Josie was really concerned about how this was going to go. She and my father [who is still alive as of this writing] had attended so many funerals over the past several years, lost so many friends, that she had convinced herself that no one would be left to attend hers. She kept telling me she was worried that we wouldn’t even have enough people available to serve as pall bearers. Thanks for proving her wrong.

josephine-2012-08-05Our mother, wife, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, parishioner, business colleague, confidante, and overall playground director had a thing for planning. She and Dad had this whole thing organized years ago, and occasionally revisited the arrangements to be sure that it would go smoothly and wouldn’t be burdensome for any of us. It’s the same way she led every day—every single day—of her life. She had a plan. Get up. Take her pills. Make sure Dad took his bills. Prepare breakfast. Eat Breakfast. Do the dishes. Take a walk. (During Lent, all of this would be preceded by daily attendance at Mass.) Clean the house. (God forbid she should leave home without having cleaned at least three closets, done five loads of wash, shouted “scat cat” at the neighborhood felines who were lounging in her backyard, baked 20 dozen cookies, and started a library. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit on those last items, but that amazing, upbeat Energizer Bunny of a woman could send the rest of us to bed to recuperate from extreme exhaustion for weeks after we listened to her describe what she had done before noon on any given day of the week.)

Her afternoons often included reading time—for herself as well as for the other kids in the neighborhood! Recitation of her daily chaplet. Making sure Dad was comfortably situated to take his nap. Talking with friends by phone. (She and my sister Carol apparently taxed the limits of the local phone company with their marathon conversations.) Getting dinner ready. And after dinner, she was back to reading, watching television, and, if necessary, starting another library. (Ever wonder why there are more libraries in American than there are McDonalds restaurants? Now you know.)

I jokingly focus on the library part of my mother’s life because I know the earliest memories my sisters and I have are of sitting with Mom as she read to us from library books. Making sure we understood where the Main Library in Stockton was and what day and time the local bookmobile visited our neighborhood. (I checked this with my sisters: we may have been the only kids in Stockton who were familiar with the term “Library Summer Reading Program” before we knew who Captain Kangaroo and Captain Delta were on our local TV stations.) She worked diligently and ceaselessly and lovingly to instill in us an appreciation for and commitment to lifelong reading and learning. And she carried that commitment over into the work she did here at St. Bernadette’s, where she introduced at least a couple of generations of the parish’s youngest learners to the mysteries of their shared faith.

st-_bernadettes_churchHer church and her faith were the foundations of her sense of community. You couldn’t be at St. Bernadette’s without seeing Josie Signorelli engaged in doing the weekly readings from the front of the church. Or working with her colleagues in the Ladies’ Guild to organize social events—this was a woman who was a social maven decades before social media came along—or serving on the parish council, or helping to count the proceeds from the weekly collection plates, or or or…we could spend the rest of the day today (and part of this evening) recalling all she did with and for The Church and not even begin to scratch the surface. But an important point to remember here is that her Church was her family, just as in many ways her family was her church. She honored them. She worked tirelessly for them. She loved them. She embraced them. She cooked for them—oh, God, you cannot think or talk about Josie without thinking about all she cooked. And she never wanted or expected anything in return.

josephine-at-st_bernadettes1So, Church as family, and family as Church: let’s hone in on what family meant to Josephine Signorelli and how her attitudes and actions touched so many of us. I believe her parents, her nieces and nephews, her cousins, and other members of her extended family were with her in spirit every day of her life—long after many of them had preceded her in death. In fact, I know many of them were and are—we just need to look around the church this morning and see two of her beloved nieces, Peggy and Donna, who flew in from New York to be with us when they knew Josie was about to leave us. We look up at the altar and see Father John Peter and Monsignor Moore—yes, Monsignor Moore, who was the pastor at St. Bernadette’s for 30 all-too-brief years and surprised members of our family two days ago by driving up here from Monterey to sit with us for a lovely afternoon conversation filled with comforting reminiscences and appreciations for all she did for all of us. We look around this church and see my father, my siblings—including those who, by marrying into this family, were embraced as sons and daughters, not as sons-in-law or as daughter-in-law. We see the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren, her church family, members of the business community who were like family to her.

My wife, Licia, made an interesting observation as a few of us were talking this morning: we often focus on my Mother, and all too rarely explicitly acknowledge the complementary halves of what our mother and father bring to themselves and to the world overall. As Licia noted: Josie was the sun. Paul Frank was and is the moon, fully reflecting and contributing to the brilliance that the sun brings to our world. And I would add this: all of us in this room—and many who are with us in spirit today—are the billions of stars, the constellations that shimmer in a dark night of the soul that will lead us to much brighter days together.

We are family. We stand alone and we stand together in numerous ways. If Josie leaves any long-lasting legacy—and let me assure you, she leaves a legacy larger than the state of Texas—it is the extended family, now spread out all over the country, that will convey bits and pieces of her to countless people who will never physically meet her, but will know somehow they have been touched.

She was unique. She was an inspiration. She was humble. She was persistent. And in the end, when she told us she was ready to go, she left as quietly and peacefully as she could. But she was wrong about at least one thing. She may have returned to the God in whom she so fervently believes. But she is far from gone as long as any of us continues to build upon all she did and cherished and loved.

January 27, 2017


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.

 


NMC 2016: Transformative Ideas, Exploding Minds, and Hyper-normals

June 15, 2016

The first full day of the NMC (New Media Consortium) 2016 Summer Conference here in Rochester, New York is far from over, but we’re already seeing signs that it’s a wonderfully transformative gathering of educator/trainer/ed-tech innovators from all over the world.

NMC_2016_Summer_Conference_LogoOur minds are exploding with ideas coming from formal sessions, informal hallway and over-meal conversations, and online interactions with colleagues who are here even though they’re actually participating via Twitter and other online platforms rather than traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to join the party. Our vocabulary and our approach to teaching-training-learning-doing is growing as a result of the exchanges—one person in the “Rethinking Digital Literacy” session I facilitated earlier this afternoon, for example, expanded our richly-descriptive vocabulary by observing that “I’m in a room with a bunch of ‘hyper-normals.’” And many of us are already committing to concrete actions we will take, when we return to our day-to-day learning landscapes, as a result of what we are learning/experiencing/discussing here.

As always, the learning begins at the moment we arrive in the conference city. Many of us start running into each other in hotel lobbies, coffee shops, restaurants, or local cultural centers even before the first formal onsite session begins. We also begin interacting via conference backchannels on Twitter; through our own pre-conference preparation including reading and blogging; pre-conference meals; and, sometimes, through phone calls with colleagues who cannot be here or are not yet here. It continues through the formal keynote/plenary sessions, like the engaging and inspiring “Games, Learning, and Society” presentation by Constance Steinkuehler that opened the NMC 2016 Summer Conference this morning.

Steinkuehler set a wonderful tone for the learning through numerous pithy, insightful observations, including the ideas that all game are models and simulations of something; that games are architecture for engagement—designed to be sticky; that games are vehicles for interest-based learning; and that games can make students care about what they’re learning by sparking curiosity.

NMC_Creating_Authentic_Learning_Opps

A 2015 webinar title captures the essence of the current conference

Breakout sessions on a variety of topics have offered—and will continue to offer—engaging opportunities to hear our best colleagues bringing us up to date on ed-tech trends, challenges, and developments. A lunch-time town-hall meeting gave us an opportunity to discuss and influence the future of NMC onsite as well as online through an NMCNext website. A playful “Five Minutes of Fame” session later today will expose us to a variety of cutting-edge case studies. And informal “Idea Lab” offerings tomorrow capture “the best in big thinking from the NMC community” so we can “learn about the latest edtech projects through interactives, posters, and all kinds of formats that showcase how the future of learning is happening right now,” conference organizers tell us in the official conference program booklet.

All of this is what NMC as a highly-focused, extremely collaborative, and forward-thinking community of learning does best. It provides us with a blended onsite-online platform to engage and explore opportunities for thinking and for action in the ed-tech arena. It brings us together in ways we would not otherwise convene and encounter and interact with each other. It supports a process of contributing to positive transformation at a local, regional, national, and international level. And it knows enough to make sure that all of this is fun, inspiration, and capable of producing concrete results.


ALA 2016 Midwinter Meeting: Associations and the Size of the Room

January 8, 2016

The power of association—and associations—is never more clear to me than when I’m participating in an association conference, so I’m in Association/Associations Heaven right now as the 2016 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting is blossoming here in Boston.

alamw16--logoWhile I often hear colleagues—generally those who opt out of participating in the professional associations that represent and bring together colleagues within their professions—cite all the reasons why they don’t see value in joining and being active in their industry’s association, I can’t imagine not being part of ALA, ATD, and others that facilitate the critically important connections and opportunities that the act of associating and associations themselves so effectively foster.

And even though I’m currently benefitting from being among thousands of colleagues arriving here in Boston, I also recognize that association is no longer something that is at all completely dependent on physical proximity. Anyone with Internet access quickly realizes that the size of our conference “room” is expansive, that the room is permeable, and that it is fairly inclusive; it includes the physical meeting spaces, as well as the extensive set of corridors in which so much important and rewarding associating occurs, and can extend to being a regional, national, and international association space if we’re a bit creative in the way we approach the act of associating.

The latest associating—via the very active #alamw16 hashtag that is bringing offsite and onsite colleagues together in a variety of ways—began for me several days before I arrived. It has also been facilitated through the use of a well-designed and highly-used conference app that allows us not only to browse schedules and access a treasure-trove of conference information and learning resources, but to locate and contact conference attendees through a list of those who registered.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

Those who care about associating and about this Association conference also are welcome participants in the conversations via their/our exchanges on what is increasingly an incorrectly-named hashtag (#alaleftbehind), for the very act of interacting via #alaleftbehind means they are not as far out of the loop as they may initially feel they are. I have, in fact, written extensively about being on both sides of the “left behind” equation—about participating virtually and about helping draw in participants who are not onsite. I remain excited by the many opportunities we can be exploring together in an effort to make sure no interested colleague is completely left behind. And, in the spirit of bringing onsite and offsite colleagues together, a couple of us, as I’m writing this piece, just finished our latest experiment in virtual conference engagement by having a conversation that started here in the conference Networking Uncommons and linked us to our T is for Training colleague Maurice Coleman via a phone call that brought the conference into the taping of Episode 176  of his long-running podcast series.

To give credit where credit is due, let’s not overlook the critically important role association management and staff play in fostering strong association through an association. ALA Marketing Director Mary Mackay, for instance, has done her usual first-rate job of reaching out to offsite Association members via LinkedIn and other social media platforms with a series of tips on how to keep up with the onsite activities via a variety of social media and Association resources (posted January 6, 2016). But much of it comes back to our own desire and longing for connection and the connections that come from being part of an association and contributing to the strength of that association through active participation.

If you haven’t yet engaged in this level of association, and want to try it, there are several easy steps to take. Identify the conference hashtag (in this case, #alamw16) and interact at a meaningful level; retweet interesting tweets you see from onsite colleagues and, more importantly, comment in a way that adds to the conversation, e.g., by adding a link to a resource that extends the conversation. (Don’t be surprised when onsite colleagues, seeing your comments, ask the inevitable question: “Are you here?” And revel in the idea that in a very significant way, you are here/there.)  Watch for links to blog posts from conference attendees, then post responses and share links to those posts so the conversations—and the learning—grow rhizomatically. If you read those posts days, week, or months after they are initially posted, remember that it’s never too late to join the very-extended synchronously asynchronous conversation by posting responses and/or sharing links. And if you have onsite colleagues who are willing to be among your conduits to the onsite action, don’t hesitate to “go onsite” with them via a Google Hangout, Skype, or even a phone call.

There’s a role for everyone in this process of associating and expanding the size of the room. If you’re reading this while you at the ALA Midwinter Conference (or any other conference), you can contribute by reaching out to those you know are interested. And, with any luck, you (and the rest of us) will expand the connections that already are at the heart of successful associations—and association.


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