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.


Training-Teaching-Learning and Librarians: Describing What We Aren’t

July 15, 2014

Having recently written about the wicked problem of trying to find words that adequately describe what we do in our ever-changing work environment, I found myself completely drawn into a question forwarded by a colleague (Jill Hurst-Wahl) via Twitter this morning: “What are some things a librarian isn’t?”

ASTD_to_ATDThe basic question about what any of us isn’t is one that far transcends librarianship and obviously extends into the entire field of training-teaching-learning (of which I clearly believe librarianship is a part) and many other fields. One current example is provided by the way the American Society for Training & Development recently completed a 2.5-year-long effort to find language other than “training” and “development” or “workplace learning and performance” to represent the work its members do; the solution was adoption of a new name (Association for Talent Development) that is far from the obvious solution Association managers were seeking.

Tackling the question of what librarians (and other trainer-teacher-learners) are not, I quickly found myself sinking deeper and deeper into quicksand. Trying to be absolutely ridiculous, I started with the idea that we’re not ditch-diggers—but then realized I know of librarians who occasionally become involved in digging into the soil within library gardens. Then I mulled over the idea that we’re not plumbers—but recalled working with colleagues who had to unclog plugged drains and toilets in library facilities. I even briefly thought about the idea that we’re not chauffeurs—but was quickly able to recall colleagues picking me up at airports or hotels and delivering me to sites where I’ve been involved in facilitating library events. So I puckishly fell into the only response that made sense to me in the moment: a librarian is not a cab driver; nearly everything else is on the table.

And that, I believe, captures part of the beauty, wonder, challenge, and difficulty of looking at librarianship, training-teaching-learning, and so many other professions that exist or are about to exist. (For more on the theme of trying to imagine what sort of work we’ll be doing just a few years from now, please see Michael Wesch’s moving video “A Vision of Students Today” and one of the students’ comments about preparing for jobs that don’t yet exist.)

The context for the question about what librarians are not is the University of Syracuse iSchool (the School of Information Studies) IST 511 “Introduction to the Library and Information Profession” course currently being taught by R. David Lankes. In the draft course syllabus, Lankes encourages his learners to engage in “content exploration” through participation  in poster sessions centered on the question of what a librarian is. Some of his learners have obviously taken the challenge a step further by asking what librarians are not—themselves inspired by the Magritte image of a pipe, accompanied by the words “Leci n’est pas une pipe”—and  it makes me wonder how training-teaching-learning colleagues would answer a similar question about our own profession.

ALA2014--LogoWhat struck me, during recent conversations on this topic with numerous colleagues at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, was how much we are all struggling with finding exactly the right, concise word or combination of words to describe what we do. “Librarian,” for the average library user (or former user), is still a term firmly connected to the use of books—which completely ignores the numerous other roles library staff members play (e.g., subject-matter expert, often in more than one field of study; learning facilitator; innovation facilitator, through makerspaces, innovation centers, and other learning centers; community partner; grant-writer/fundraiser; manager/supervisor; writer;  and so much more). In the same way, “talent developer” and “trainer” are equally and woefully inadequate to reflect our roles as learning facilitators; change managers/change facilitators; coaches and mentors; instructional designers; evaluators; writers; presenters; and so much more.

As the learners interacted with each other via Twitter today—and thanks to Jill Hurst-Wahl and others, with many of us not previously affiliated with the IST 511 course—they were clearly having fun with the topic. One student suggested “a librarian is not an obstacle on the path to equality,” “a librarian is not a building or a shelf of books or a search engine OR a computer,” and “a librarian is not a follower.” Another learner suggested that “a librarian is not a book-sitter but is a community advocate.” And Jill herself suggested that “a librarian is not timid.”

What is clear from the exchanges so far is that librarians (and other trainer-teacher-learners) are also not the kind of people who limit their exchanges to well-defined insular spaces; the extension of this class project into a larger virtual classroom that includes many of us not formally enrolled in the course is just one of numerous examples that librarians and many others are defined and driven by their ability to function within a variety of settings that quickly shift without warning.

From "Virtual Dave...Real Blog"

From “Virtual Dave…Real Blog”

I don’t envy Lankes’s learners as they struggle with the overall question of defining what they aren’t and what they are: Trying to define what librarians aren’t (or are) in just a few words appears to be an impossible task—one that is equally daunting for trainer-teacher-learners (a term I’ve consistently used for lack of anything better to suggest the scope of the work many of us do). But I do envy them for the possibilities that are before them as they build upon the work of those who preceded them; find ways to partner with colleagues in the larger training-teaching-learning sandbox; and continue to define and create labels, policies, and practices that will help them maintain the key roles they play in the communities they/we serve.


New Librarianship MOOC: Connecting Trainer-Teacher-Learners and Communities Through the Salzburg Curriculum

July 30, 2013

New Media Consortium Horizon Reports, meet the Salzburg Curriculum; Salzburg Curriculum, meet the Horizon Reports. And while we’re at it, let’s be sure to invite the trainer-teacher-learners in the American Library Association (ALA), the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), and our academic colleagues into the conversations that are currently being inspired through R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and his book The Atlas of New Librarianship.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoEven the most concise introduction to the Salzburg Curriculum, a proposal for a unified approach to preparing librarians and museum professionals for the work they will do within their organizations and the extended communities they will serve, suggests that we’re at the intersection of a number of wonderfully overlapping theories and communities of practice. Those of us who were engaged in #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC developed and facilitated by Alec Courous and his wonderful gang of “conspirators” earlier this year) can see the underpinnings of connectivist learning theory and practice and how it serves communities. Those of us in Lankes’s New Librarianship Master Class, where the Salzburg Curriculum was reviewed extensively in Week 2 materials within the four-week course, can see Gordon Pask’s Conversation Theory in action. Those of us who read Horizon Reports or have an opportunity to serve on Horizon Report advisory boards can see an extension of the conversations on the topic of technology in learning that the New Media Consortium is fostering between trainer-teacher-learners in school, community and technical college, university, museum, and library settings. And anyone involved in any sort of community-based project—whether face to face or online—can see tremendous foundations, within the core values behind the curriculum, for all we do:

  • Openness and transparency
  • Self-reflection
  • Collaboration
  • Service
  • Empathy and respect
  • Continuous learning/striving for excellence
  • Creativity and imagination

Coming out of discussions conducted at the Salzburg Global Seminar on Libraries and Museums in a Participatory Age in 2011, the curriculum strongly parallels the work Lankes promotes in his master class and The Atlas—which is not at all surprising since he was a key player at the Salzburg Global Seminar. Topics addressed in the curriculum include “Transformative Social Engagement,” “Technology,” “Management for Participation,” “Asset Management,” “Cultural Skills,” and “Knowledge, Learning, and Innovation”—topics obviously important for anyone involved in libraries, museums, and other organizations with clear roles to play in training-teaching-learning.

We’re in an era of participatory culture, Lankes maintains, so our educational and our day-to-day workplace efforts can benefit from what was codified within the framing statement for the curriculum: “The mission of librarians and museum professionals is to foster conversations that improve society through knowledge exchange and social action”—a statement that closely parallel’s Lankes’s mission statement for New Librarianship. It’s a framing statement that leads us into a variety of areas familiar to trainer-teacher learners: facilitating conflict-management in ways that “create a civic and civil environment”; taking a proactive view about service rather than a passive view about what service means; taking a lifelong approach to learning rather than acting as if any single formal academic program can prepare us for everything we face within learning organizations; and using technology “to reach out to a community to the community’s benefit” in ways that “bring the community closer in conversation and learning.”

And, as has been consistently promoted through the New Librarianship Master Class and The Atlas, there are considerations of providing the maximum benefits to the communities who rely on libraries, museums, and other organizations to make valuable assets accessible, in meaningful ways, to the communities they serve rather than merely seeing those assets as “stuff” to be preserved for the sake of preservation.

The Salzburg Curriculum also proposes to help learners master communication skills and intercultural skills, and to develop an appreciation for and attentiveness to languages and terminology in ways that serve communities. But above all, as Lankes suggests in one of his online lectures on the topic, we “must be out in the community, learning from the community, working with the community to build, which means [we] must understand the community at a much deeper level than their [community members’] demographics.” If we, in our trainer-teacher-learner roles, can contribute to the development of this sort of dynamic curriculum with an eye toward serving communities as active participants, we may actually see far fewer articles or hear far fewer conversations, about the impending death of libraries and other organizations that strengthen our communities.

N.B.: This is the eighth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


New Librarianship MOOC: Librarians (and Other Trainer-Teacher-Learners) Engaged in Communities

July 30, 2013

Librarians and librarianship, teaching-training-learning, facilitating conversations that support community needs, and creating relationships between objects in collections all come together near the end of the Week 2 activities within R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and explorations of his book The Atlas of New Librarianship. We see, at this point, our topic fully developed: librarians (and other members of library staff) as active, vital participants in the communities they serve; as trainer-teacher-learners; and so much more—as facilitators of critically important conversations that can positively improve communities and society at large.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoIt’s a huge challenge—one that Lankes reminds us is not something that is going to be nor should be accomplished solely by librarians working to develop and implement their own agenda. It’s a cohesive mission and a perceived mandate built upon and extending traditional roles while responding to contemporary and evolving needs. It’s something that requires community collaborations and partnerships without regard to political labels—although, it should be noted, there has been a bit of a discussion by blog and tweeting, from at least a couple of course participants who perceive New Librarianship to have an obvious “liberal” leaning. Lankes himself directly addresses that perception in The Atlas: “…librarians are activist—not liberals or conservatives but simply dedicated to real change through doing” (p. 118) and leaves it to the rest of us to decide whether we want to engage in conversation by label (e.g., conservative and liberal) or conversation by possibility (e.g., what should/can the future of libraries and librarianship be?).

“Ultimately, we need to be responsive to our communities in what we are trying to do,” Lankes says in his “Librarianship: Theory and Practice” lecture online. “We need to look at the deeper roots about how people learn and knowledge occurs, how our mission shapes how we interact with our communities, what our community needs, what we see as a better day for them.”

As I’ve noted throughout my own reflections on the content of the course and the book, I see incredible opportunities for community-building and collaboration through what Lankes and course participants are exploring. This is an approach that combines theory with a call to action. It calls for a collaborative and in many ways comprehensive approach to librarianship, learning, conversation, and creating/developing knowledge through sharing while not losing sight of the fact that great efforts also require tremendous moments of reflection so we can ground our actions in cohesive value systems established by members of communities rather than having values and agendas imposed upon communities.

It’s a view that, while attempting to shift our concepts of “collections” from objects to the people who make up communities, also is broad enough to acknowledge that the collections and tools that are important to members of those communities must be developed and maintained in ways that guarantee their use by members of the communities. Librarians, Lankes asserts, can be vitally important players by helping others see the relationships between elements of those collections and, more importantly, how those elements serve the needs, values, and agendas created by community members themselves.

There is plenty of ambiguity within New Librarianship as proposed, and that, Lankes says, is natural since there is plenty of ambiguity in the evolving face of librarianship and the communities it serves. Librarians (and, I would suggest, other trainer-teacher-learners) can help resolve some of those ambiguities by working with community members rather than ignoring the ambiguities and other challenges, he continues.

The efforts extend across multiple platforms. Changes are needed in the way librarians (and others) approach and participate in formal education and lifelong learning. Changes are needed in the way librarians (and others) approach leadership and innovation. Changes are needed in the way librarians (and others) define libraries and librarianship.

What unifies all of these wonderfully overwhelming challenges is that learning is part of the landscape. And that’s something any trainer-teacher-learner can appreciate—and embrace.

N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


New Librarianship MOOC: Information, Knowledge, and the Conversations in Our Heads

July 24, 2013

Trainer-teacher-learners, including those working in libraries, need not worry or shy away from those conversations we have with ourselves within our own heads, if R. David Lankes is to be believed.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoThose conversations, he suggests in his “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and his book The Atlas of New Librarianship, are part of our learning process and support our efforts to transform information into knowledge.

Building upon the Conversation Theory work initiated by cyberneticist Gordon Pask in the 1970s, Lankes takes us through a fascinating exploration of how knowledge is created through conversation. Then, bringing us full circle through that exploration of knowledge and conversation rooted in the cyberneticists’ fascination with studying systems, he leads us through a summary of how the various levels of language we use—ranging from basic non-contextual language to subject-specific jargon—affects the systems we develop for those we ostensibly serve. (Lankes uses library online catalogs as an example of one less-than-elegant system for his learners in the New Librarianship Master Class; we could just as easily look for examples among the systems used to deliver massive open online courses—MOOCS—along the lines of the online master class that is inspiring this series of reflections.)

There is a depth and richness to all of this that is, quite frankly, inspiring comments from course participants about how opaque the entire field of Conversation Theory is. But none of it is completely foreign to anyone involved in training-teaching-learning—as so many people working in libraries increasingly are. Lankes notes that New Librarianship promotes a shift in focus from information to knowledge, and there clearly is a similar shift, in some ways, within the larger field of learning that so obviously is part of what library staff pursue daily with library members. He also helps us to understand that the internalized conversations we have as we engage in learning—asking ourselves questions along the lines of “Do I really agree with what I just read?” or “Does what I just heard from that instructor make sense?”—are an integral part of the process of transforming information we have obtained into knowledge that we can apply as we attempt to attain a state of wisdom.

In the course of his explorations, he brings us back to the libraries and librarians who are at the center of the master class and The Atlas: “The quiet room within the library for quiet reflection is not quiet to prevent conversation. It is to enable individuals to converse with themselves more readily,” he says in his “Knowledge and Conversation” lecture online.

He also, in an effort to set an even broader context for library staff and others involved in facilitating the learning process, reminds us through an “Introduction to Knowledge” lecture online, that “We need to move away from the whole idea of information and think that we are in the knowledge business, that librarianship is very much about helping people learn…We need to focus on how people learn…how data is used….We also have to be in the conversation business…if we’re seeking to help people learn, we have to facilitate conversations” both overtly in our communal learning settings and through those wonderfully productive conversations in our heads that too few of us take the time to think about, nurture, and utilize to our own benefit and to the benefit of those we serve in our day-to-day work as learning facilitators.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


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