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.


ALA Midwinter 2014: Prelude (Dream Baby Dream)

January 23, 2014

With the release of Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes album earlier this month, many of us are hearing his version of “Dream Baby Dream” (originally recorded and released by Suicide in 1980) for the first time, and hearing how he transformed that simple song is as intriguing as comparing the Holly Cole trio’s version of “Tennessee Waltz” to the original Cowboy Copas version (1948) or comparing Neil Young’s version of “Four Strong Winds” to Ian Tyson’s original.    

ALA_Midwinter_2014--LogoThere are at least two lessons here for all the trainer-teacher-learners arriving in Philadelphia for the American Library Association (ALA) 2014 Midwinter meeting from Friday, January 24 – Tuesday, January 28: like well-composed songs, the work we do can be approached in myriad ways, and like the advice in that song on High Hopes suggests, we need to dream—and dream big.

Dreaming (and then acting upon those dreams) is, of course, at the heart of any conference of the caliber of the ALA Midwinter Meeting. This, unlike its larger, more presentation-oriented counterpart held each summer by ALA, is where Association staff and members gather to do the actual business of ALA within the context of the numerous division, round table, and other committee meetings that draw participants from across the country together for several few days, and I couldn’t be happier than to be among them.

This, for me, is a chance to participate (as a volunteer serving on the ALA Publishing Committee) in that committee’s work through a daylong planning and review session; we will, among other things, be dreaming and acting upon ideas to assure that ALA publications continue meeting Association members’ needs. I also hope to catch up with colleagues in the ALA Learning Round Table, where volunteers dream about and actively promote continuing education and staff development among their colleagues in libraries across the United States. With any luck, I’ll also be able to attend at least part of the American Libraries Advisory Committee meeting so I can learn more about what colleagues have been doing to make American Libraries online and in print a dynamic source of information and a means for promoting discussions and actions on issues affecting those fabulous learning organizations that we serve on a daily basis.

Each of those groups is composed of ALA staff along with ALA members who are interested enough in Association business to travel, at their own expense, to help shape and further the business of an organization they/we support through our collaborative efforts. And the fact that these business/committee meetings draw us together each January is just the beginning: the formally scheduled meetings are just part of the learning opportunities we create for each other. Some of us arrive early so we can attend informal dinners to keep each other up to date on the trends and challenges we are seeing in the industry we serve. At least a couple of us will be serving as guest bloggers on the American Libraries blog. Some of us fill otherwise unscheduled time by attending panel discussions on topics including tech developments in libraries, digital learning initiatives, how massive open online courses (MOOCs) might benefit libraries and library users, and how partnerships and collaborations benefit libraries and members of the communities they serve. And some of us look forward to those unplanned encounters that bring us together with some of the best, most dynamic colleagues we have so we can exchange ideas; become inspired, once again, by what those colleagues are accomplishing; and return home to even more effectively tackle the challenges we willingly face. Because we care. And because we dream, baby, dream.


ALA Midwinter 2013: Learning to Transform Communities One Panel Discussion at a Time

January 30, 2013

“The conversation starts out in Seattle” turns out to have been far more than an ephemeral marketing slogan for those of us lucky enough to attend even part of the American Library Association (ALA) 2013 Midwinter meeting that ran from Friday, January 25 – Tuesday, January 29; it was an inspiring call to action that extends far beyond the conference site and the libraries represented there.

ALA_Midwinter_2013We had plenty of opportunities to catch up with colleagues, reflect upon how easy it is to explore and act upon the big ideas that we so rarely take the time to ponder, and be present at numerous activities focused on an effort to promote positive change through collaboration in our extended onsite-online world: ALA President Maureen Sullivan’s presidential initiative, “Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities.”

The interactive presentations began Saturday morning with a panel discussion that Sullivan moderated. Panelists included Richard Harwood, founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation; Tim Henkel, president and CEO of Spokane County United Way; and Carlton Sears, past director at Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County and certified coach with the Harwood Institute—and it only took a few minutes for Harwood to get us going by reminding us that to move our country forward, we need to find ways in communities to get things done.

Furthermore, he suggested, we need to restore a sense of belief in ourselves and forge the sort of meaningful relationships that foster positive change at the local, regional, and national level. Libraries, he continued, are uniquely positioned to support community development—an idea we’ve seen repeatedly in reports ranging from the Urban Libraries Council study “Making Cities Stronger” (2007) and the “benefit study” published by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library that same year to the resources compiled online by Iowa Library Services, to cite just a few of the resources available to us. Libraries across the country are already doing great work, he acknowledged, and there’s room to do even more.

Sears was equally direct in praising libraries for what they are accomplishing, and stressed the need for “authentic” engagement within the communities they serve. Involvement, he said, begins with a simple question: “What kind of community do you want?” Because work done by community activists tends to spread, he said he thinks of is “as a virus—but a good one!”—and he seemed committed to nurturing the spread of that particular virus.

In the end, Harwood agreed, we’re all in this because we believe in communities, and it’s clear that attendees at that initial session were ready to return home after the conference concluded so they could use the tools and resources provided during the Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities sessions.

Harwood--Work_of_HopeSullivan, Harwood, and the other panelists left us with plenty of great resources; those interested in exploring his work can access a free online version of his book The Work of Hope: How Individuals Can Authentically Do Good from the Harwood website. There is also additional coverage of the panel discussion available in American Libraries online. Three other onsite programs continued the discussion: “Community Engagement Conversation: The Work of Hope”; “Community Engagement Conversation: Appreciative Inquiry—The Library in the Community”; and “Community Engagement Conversation: Change in the Community, Change in ALA.”

Abundant Community advocate Peter Block was also onsite for a program drawing upon Community: The Structure of Belonging, the book he co-wrote with John McKnight.

The groundwork has been laid, the challenge issued. Now it’s up to those of us inspired by Sullivan, Harwood, Block, and the others to spread the word, dive in as advocates, and help nurture the promise that libraries and other community-based organizations and initiatives offer.


The Well-Connected Community: Attending Conferences with Genetically-Enabled Foursquare

January 30, 2013

Foursquare—that lovely social media tool that helps make us aware, through geotagging capabilities, of how physically close we are to those we might not otherwise encounter—seems as if it would be a uniquely valuable tool for those of us attending conferences and trying to catch up to colleagues from across the country or around the world.

ALA_Midwinter_2013The idea that our mobile devices could take the initiative in providing us with information we hadn’t yet thought to actively solicit—e.g., finding out, through notifications, who among our friends and colleagues is nearby—is something that David Weinberger and Nova Spivack referred to as being a part of Web 3.0 in January 2009 during a presentation at an American Library Association presentation in Denver. In positing a Web 3.0 world in which our devices would alert us before we asked for the information, the two presenters clearly evoked a wide range of reactions during that session. Some people were clearly fascinated and excited by the prospect, while some of us appeared ready to crawl under the nearest rock and whimper about the loss of privacy and anonymity. Most fascinating to me, at the time, was the discovery a few days later that the sort of service Weinberger and Spivack were predicting as an innovation on its way was already in use; a quick online search today confirmed that Foursquare itself was created within months of Weinberger and Spivack’s presentation. Furthermore, one of its predecessors (Dodgeball) preceded the prediction by nearly nine years—once again proving how hard it is to be a futurist in a world where the future seems to have unfolded before we even have a chance to predict it.

nmc.logo.cmykFoursquare came back to mind during my recent participation in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Summit on “The Future of Education” in Austin, Texas and the American Library Association (ALA) 2013 Midwinter meeting in Seattle over a seven-day period. Although there was no need for anything like Foursquare at the NMC conference—all 100 participants were staying in the same wonderful resort outside of Austin and spending our days in one beautifully accommodating meeting room—one could argue that the ALA conference, with thousands of participants bouncing back and forth between meeting rooms in the convention center in Seattle and also staying in a wide range of hotels throughout downtown Seattle, was prime Foursquare turf.

And yet I never once thought about signing up for or using Foursquare to expedite connections. From the moment I stepped onsite into Seattle’s enormous Washington State Convention Center, I began running into exactly the colleagues I hoped to see. Within my first hour there on a Friday afternoon, I had settled into a conversation in a lounge area with a colleague from Nashville. We were joined, intermittently, by colleagues from California, Chicago, and many other places. Walking the large exhibits area early that evening, I had opportunities to talk with colleagues from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dublin (Ohio), Chicago, Orlando, and many other places. In fact, a colleague I initially met earlier in the week at the NMC summit in Austin was there in Seattle, and it turned out she was sharing a room with a colleague with whom I serve on an ALA committee. (I’m left wondering whether Foursquare could have alerted me to that particular connection.) I capped off the evening with my one planned encounter: dinner with a colleague who recently left Georgia to accept a wonderful new position in Cleveland.

I suspect it’s not necessary to drag this out with an hour-by-hour description of all the similar encounters I had throughout the day on Saturday, but it’s worth noting that when I found myself unexpectedly with a completely unscheduled 90-minute block of time Sunday morning, I ran into a cherished colleague—Peggy Barber—who never manages to leave me less than completely energized by her descriptions of the projects she currently is completing. We decided to take advantage of that opportunity to go to a nearby independent coffee shop—the Caffe Ladro outlet at 801 Pine Street—that had been recommended by Seattle residents so we would have some uninterrupted time for conversation. And you surely know what came next: we ended up sitting next to a couple of other conference attendees who were close associates of a colleague from Florida.

That’s when I had another moment of revelation: neither Peggy nor I are drawn to Foursquare because we somehow have a genetically-enabled version of the product deeply embedded in our DNA.

I’m not saying I’ll never try Foursquare. But for now, it seems redundant in a world where the simple act of showing up puts me in contact with those I most cherish and who, in turn, make me glad that our incredibly connected onsite-online world somehow manages to place us in exactly the right location at exactly the right time to sustain our various communities of learning and communities of practice.


Connecting the Dots in an Onsite-Online World: Metatrends in Travel, Life, and Learning

January 26, 2013

Having the unusual experience of jumping from one professional conference to a second this week is providing learning experiences most of us rarely encounter—and one that shines an extremely bright spotlight on what it means to live, work, and learn in a completely blended onsite-onsite world.

nmc.logo.cmykAfter leaving San Francisco on Monday, I was completely immersed in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Summit on “The Future of Education” in Austin, Texas from mid-day Tuesday to mid-day Thursday. Trying to capture even most cursory set of highlights of the discussions held on Tuesday and Wednesday meant absorbing highly stimulating and challenging ideas from some very bright colleagues from schools, colleges, universities, museums, and libraries all over the world—then condensing them into blog–sized posts late at night before returning to the intellectual arena the following day for even more of the same.

Making the transition from Austin to Seattle Thursday evening to attend part of the American Library Association (ALA) 2013 Midwinter meeting at first suggested the need for a major shift in thinking. I assumed ALA_Midwinter_2013I was leaving behind the education summit themes of wicked problems including the need to rethink higher education, rethink online learning, and deal with how we effectively incorporate technology into learning. Diving into the ALA conference, I suspected, would instead focus on a different set of wicked problems, including the roles libraries play in a variety of arenas including lifelong learning, information literacy, intellectual freedom, and the overall development of communities—geographically defined communities as well as global online communities.

It didn’t take long to realize that there were dots to be connected between the two conferences and the two sets of wicked problems—and one of the major connections is the technology that makes it possible to jump between two such conferences so seamlessly.

Some of the subtle connections rapidly became apparent as I started running into colleagues in the Washington State Convention Center here in Seattle late this afternoon in hallways, reception lounges, and more formally organized activities; the conversations we had were amazingly similar to those in which I participated during the education summit—the need to rethink what we’re doing, abandon some of our core assumptions, and take advantage not only of our face-to-face opportunities to explore and act upon the challenges we are facing, but also to draw offsite colleagues into the conversation via tweets and twitter feeds, posts on Facebook, and other online extensions of the onsite conversations.

There were also the completely unsubtle reminders that geographic barriers are far less constraining then they were even ten years ago—barriers often reduced or completely knocked down by how quickly relationships are established in one arena (e.g., virtual communications), extended into a physical setting, and then extended even further in both settings.

My latest moment of revelation came this evening when I connected the dots between meeting, for the first time, an NMC Horizon Summit attendee Tuesday because we were both live-tweeting the summit from different parts of a meeting room housing approximately 100 attendees. By mid-day Wednesday, she and I had managed to engage in face-to-face conversation, then continued the conversation via the Twitter feed throughout the afternoon, and then ended up across a dinner table with eight other colleagues that evening. We said good-bye to each other early Thursday afternoon in Austin—and then unexpectedly were face to face again this evening while walking the exhibits floor at the ALA Midwinter meeting—an event drawing thousands of people from libraries across the United States. But even that isn’t the remarkable and marvelous part of the story. We ran into each other twice in that huge exhibition area this evening, and it was only during our second encounter that I realized the colleague with whom she was traveling is a member of an ALA committee that I chair—a colleague, I should add, that I’ve only met face to face one time, and with whom I will be having lunch tomorrow before our committee meeting begins. Turns out the two of them are rooming together here at the conference, and neither of them had known how the three of us were connected until we met on the exhibits floor.

While all of this may sound like some freakish “who would have thought it” sort of encounter worthy of little more than a “wow, how strange” sort of reaction, I believe it speaks to something far deeper and more important in our world of rapid travel, seamless onsite-online communication, and learning. It speaks to our natural inclination toward socializing and learning since a thirst for learning drew us to these events; our need for affiliation anywhere we can find it; our drive to create, nurture, and sustain community wherever and however we can develop it; and our willingness to continually push the envelope on what it means to “meet” somebody, engage with somebody, and build upon relationships that, without attention, could begin to grow and then quickly wither away if left unattended. It also speaks to the almost magical, mystical nature of how we forge connections in a world of countless interweavings through a variety of means— not the least of which is the creative and effective use of social media tools—with an eye toward solving some of those wicked problems we continued exploring at the NMC education summit.


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