Past and present members of the Emerging Leaders program were invited to a forum on Saturday “To generate ideas for how ALA can best help the new generation of librarians meet their professional needs and how the new generation can help ALA in its efforts to do so.”
It had a definite cheese factor throughout, but it was nice that ALA seemed to be taking such an interest in soliciting feedback. I know that, as an avid blog skimmer, I have a skewed view of things, but I would love to see some interaction between this group of ALA sanctioned go-getters and the cohort of professionals behind events like the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase. There was a lot of discussion surrounding “what can we do” and this is a perfect example of a small group making ALA what they want it to be.
We began “setting the stage” by “telling the story of the new librarian.” As far as icebreakers go it was a fairly painless one. We divided a piece of paper into 4 sections and met 4 different people at our table. Then we did 4 one minute interviews. (8 total since each member of the pair interviewed the other.) Each person asked one of the questions and filled in the answers on our sheet. At the end you had your sheet with all your answers written by 4 different people and you had met and heard their answers and chatted. The questions were:
- Why did you become a librarian?
- What are your hopes and dreams?
- Why did you join ALA?
- What has been your ALA highlight experience so far?
Then each table was supposed to convene and “tell the story of today’s librarian,” answering basically the same questions:
- Who are you?
- What is the difference you are trying to make?
- Why did you join ALA? What were you seeking from the association?
- What makes you glad you joined?
Different groups took the idea of “tell a story” more or less literally. My table went the less route. Then we met with another table to share what we had come up with. We found a lot of similar hopes and dreams between all of us, especially the desire to help create an educated, literate, thinking society. I was particularly proud of my group (and a number of other people I met throughout the day) for giving honest answers even when they weren’t the pretty ones. I joined ALA as a student because it was only $20 and seemed the thing to do. Everyone at my table had a similar story. Maybe a teacher recommended it, maybe they wanted to look good on a resume, but none of use were actively thinking about any of the “right” (networking, professional development, etc.) answers when we actually filled out the membership sign up form. I think it’s safe to say that a fair number of people come to librarianship with no idea what a professional organization does. I’m glad that my group committed that to the record. (We were told all of the various items we created through the event would be digitized and made available. My impression was that they would be made available to the powers that be, but I hope that they are made publicly available. You can see my photos on my flickr page.) I think it’s valuable information for ALA to have. ALA should create an obvious entry point (to conferences, the web site, etc.) for new members/people who are thinking about joining. It would be especially nice if it were incredibly simple with as few links as possible. I’m very much looking forward to the site redesign.
After the “tell a story” part we took a short break and returned to the actual World Cafe part. We were asked to sit at a different table and with different people than we had previously. We were given three questions and between each question we were shuffled around to be with a new group of people. Apparently in a “real” World Cafe the tablecloths would be paper and we’d leave our notes there. We had big sheets of paper instead. At the end the facilitator spread them out throughout the room for us to peruse. Those are what I keep linking to at my flickr page.
The first question was “What might make ALA truly AWESOME as an association to join and in which to participate.” I suggested they stop using words like “awesome.” Awesome might not have been too offensive on its own, but the facilitator managed to slip “dude” in there too. More serious ideas included:
- quiz of interests to match you with appropriate committees
- intro to organizations/committees/sections – again, one paragraph or five bullet points, here’s who we are and what we do – in plain English, not organizational speak.
- example organizational speak: “The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 65,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. ALA offers professional services and publications to members and nonmembers, including online news stories from American Libraries and analysis of crucial issues from the Washington Office.”
- example plain English (sloppy, with room for improvement, but hopefully you can get the point): ALA brings people who are interested in libraries together to talk about important issues and events affecting libraries today and in the future. We have conferences where you can learn more about all aspects of libraries and meet peers and leaders, print and electronic journals to keep you up to date, and individual committees for wherever your interests lie.
- explanations of events – looking through the Midwinter events schedule seemed just about as effective as randomly wandering up to a door in the convention center or throwing a dart at a list on a wall. There were no descriptions of anything. If you didn’t already know what you wanted to do, you weren’t going to find any help here. How about some tracks, or at the very least what to expect out of a discussion session? If we’re dreaming big I would love something ala delicious where each session has a page and anyone can tag the hell out of it so that I could browse through it multiple ways. Show me everything RUSA is doing, show me everything good for new members, show me everything for public libraries, show me everything on Saturday at 1pm. Allow commenting so people can say “I’ll be at this one,” “I’ve seen this speaker, he’s great!,” “This one is really just about committee work,” “We welcome new members!”
- broad spectrum of input – have a public forum, not just a focus group with some newbies (much as it’s appreciated and we’re happy to give it)
Those were the ones I took notes on. There are more in the photos. Likewise for questions 2 and 3.
Question number two was “What might YOU do to help ALA be awesome? What would attract your involvement and participation”
- more myspace, less wiki – I’m glad to hear this is an expected feature of the new site design. In that same vein, wikis are a platform, not a solution. Wikis are a perfectly nice tool for sharing information, with fewer hoops to jump through than setting up a website, but without a community dedicated to keeping the wiki populated with up to date and helpful information, its not really any different than the main website – a promise unfulfilled. What is needed is a culture of participation and transparency.
- have a new member rep – with a vote! – at all meetings. all of them.
- have a professional devil’s advocate, someone to ask “why?”
- have a “ratemycommitte.com” to assess and provide public feedback on committees (again with the transparency)
- have a matching service ala okcupid where you fill out a profile and are matched with committees, volunteer opportunities, mentor/mentee opportunities
- have a learning ALA as a second language course. or you know, address the issue of the alphabet soup phenomenon.
Last up was “How might ALA create and manage awesome volunteer experiences for you? What might ALA do to keep it relevant and accessible to busy librarians?”
- matchmaking (addressed above)
- information about opportunities – I’m hoping this will be addressed with Jim Rettig’s craigslist style opportunity initiative. I’m also hoping he’ll incorporate our matchmaking suggestion.
- local meetups
- buddy system – big brother/big sister – again using a matchmaking tool
- transparency with channels for feedback
Jim Rettig closed out the session thanking us for all our feedback. He also stuck around and I got to say hello and ask him to pass the matchmaking idea on to the people handling the craigslist initiative.
Edit: dev.librarian wrote about the experience also and promises to share pictures as well.
Edit #2: So has Lauren.