“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.
Some 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.
The 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.
That 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.