ALA Midwinter 2008 – World Cafe January 18, 2008
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.
ALA Midwinter 2008 – Emerging Leaders Training (Afternoon) January 17, 2008
I’d like to take my first sentence here to encourage ALA to think of the vegetarians, better yet the vegans, but I’ll settle for thinking of the vegetarians. Thankfully that had already come out about me and one of my teammates said we should run to the buffet before they were out of anything for me to eat (good advice as I heard they ran out of pasta salad later on). I particularly feel for anyone who doesn’t eat dairy because all they got was a roll. I managed to sneak away with an exorbitant amount of pasta salad and a cheese sandwich. But some fruit and/or veggies would have been nice. I guess I’m spoiled from living in Los Angeles and Austin. I need to remember to pack more contingency food when I’m traveling.
So with my pasta salad lunch in hand I returned to my table to meet with my group. We divvied up the team roles and chatted. I definitely lucked out with a great group of people. I won’t bore you with our whole project plan here, but if you’re interested you can visit our wiki page.
After our planning session (which was pretty much the perfect length – about two and a half hours) Maureen Sullivan (one of our facilitators) talked to us about the art of negotiation. I believe the PowerPoint or a handout is supposed to go up on the wiki at some point, so I didn’t go heavy on the notetaking. This was interspersed with questions and comments so a number of the bullets below came from participants.
- Negotiating is a process through which you let others know your interest and in which you actively seek to learn theirs. (i.e. – it’s not just about conflict)
- practice effective listening
- map the territory – who are the opinion leaders
- assume responsibility for selling yourself – letting others know what you have to contribute
- elements of principled negotiation
- separate the people from the issue/problem
- focus on interests, not positions
- generate a wide variety of possibilities before deciding what to do
- insist that the result be based on some objective standard
- introvert vs. extrovert decision making – introverts like time to mull over ideas internally and come to a conclusion before talking, extroverts want to chat about all the options and may change their opinions frequently as new ideas are introduced
- how to encourage conflict? (vs. passive aggressive behavior)
- “Let’s take a few minutes to think about what we think about this.”
- Take a piece of paper, put your idea at top and pass to right.
- leaders see the big picture
- empathic signage – “no dogs” vs. “our children play here, please…”
And this last bit I like so much I want to highlight it:
- What matters is how people feel about themselves in our presence (in our libraries).
- How can we help people feel good about themselves when they think about the library?
This is something that has come up a few times in different readings – that people feel stupid when they come to the library. What can we do to combat that?
One (admittedly tiny) thing we’ve done at some of the campuses at ACC is to add some bookstore signage in addition to the regular LC info. We get a lot of students looking for anatomy and physiology to practice for an exam that lets them into the nursing program, so now there are signs that say “Anatomy and Physiology” at the end of that stack and above that section.
The training began before we got there since we were supposed to print our handouts ahead of time and bring them along. The meeting began with your typical welcome, congratulations, and introductions. We were told we’re lucky to be year two of the program, the first year got the kinks worked out. One of the complaints from year one was that they didn’t get to meet enough of their fellow participants. In answer to this they had us divide ourselves up a few different ways throughout the day so that we got to at least say hello to a larger number of people. I really hope they do this again at annual when we have a little more context behind us to foster conversation. The first breakup was geographical. I was torn since they said “If you’re from the northeast head to this corner…” etc. Ever the literalist, I consider myself from the northeast, but my library is in Texas. Where to go? As I pondered this aloud, someone at my table pointed out the obvious to me by asking, “Who do you want to meet?” I would have liked to meet both, but I decided to meet my neighbors and headed over to the Texans, who, in true Texas form, created a South Central category that had not been one of the recommended divisions.
Leslie Burger was introduced with suggestions that we be intentful about our career and be active in ALA. Leslie told us that she really wants us to succeed, that it’s important for us to have training and grounding. ALA is a huge organization. It’s hard to find a place to insert yourself and to influence change. The Emerging Leaders program was started with money from the presidential initiative fund, but it was so successful that it is now funded by R&D.
Leslie went through the structure of ALA handout (pdf) to give us an idea of how the organization is structured. This was another area where last years participants had requested more training. Leslie explained that ALA’s primary value was that it was a member driven organization. This is a blessing in that all of us have an opportunity, but a curse in that 65,000 members have have different opinions. This leads to ALA being a very deliberative organization. She believes it ultimately leads to the right decisions. ALA’s officers are elected. The executive board, however, is nominated by council, not by members. There is a lot of turnover and with that comes a loss of institutional memory.
Then discussion turned to how to get involved. The biggest theme here was “create your own opportunities.” I haven’t fully formed my own opinions on this topic yet, but I feel there must be something worth looking at when so many people feel overwhelmed and frustrated about not knowing how to get involved and so many people who have become involved say variations of “show up and jump in.” My mom wondered if this was a mechanism (intentional or not) of weeding out volunteers to those who really want it and will definitely follow through.
Within the “create your own opportunities” talk there was the advice to look for people with interests similar to yours, that the division level is more intimate, round tables are even smaller, look at the structure and see where the opportunities are. We were told that if you volunteer you will be accepted, though big committees are harder as there are limited spots. Be a presence and make sure people know who you are. Attend a meeting to feel it out. There are also internships. Or start your own group.
We were also told some of Jim Rettig‘s ideas for the coming year: a craiglist style area for opportunities within ALA, an online salon, unconferences, and juried grass roots programs. Leslie noted that ALA as an organization has had so many rules and now people are going to the opposite extreme – 48 hour project bake offs, virtual poster sessions.
After Leslie’s introduction to ALA we moved on to the first “training” section. There was discussion of socializing and building social networks. We referred to our handouts on leadership principles and practices (doc file). We were asked to focus on ourselves and where we are in our leadership development, then to take a moment to ask ourselves what we think we’re bringing and what we hope to learn. Then we were asked to share with a neighbor. After our chat session we returned to the handout and discussed the five key areas of leadership. I won’t recreate the whole handout here, but I’ll list off some of the items I starred:
- speak positively and from the heart (optimistic)
- expect positive and effective results
- value each person and his or her contribution – look for differences and draw out
- set an example by ensuring that actions follow words and values
- be mindful of your actions and how they affect others
- focus on how each person contributes her or his personal best and acknowledge it
- focus on the best that each person brings
I think I mostly starred the positive attitude items because this is something I’ve been discussing a lot with my mom lately. (She’s been going through some bureaucratic nightmares at work and trying to keep a positive outlook.) It can be very easy to get overwhelmed by all the various frustrations involved in any organization. These are good reminders to try not to sink down and get stuck there.
Before the break we were also reminded about the Palinet leadership network and encouraged to participate.
Returning from break, we switched tables to sit with our group members and moved on to our leadership development action plan. We were given time to fill in our strength and what we wanted to work on along with steps we planned to take and then to discuss our strengths with our teammates.
There was more discussion of leadership, that leaders shouldn’t try to control, but to facilitate – create a means and a structure. It is important to be intentional in your career/job choices, but also be open to opportunities. As you share ideas ask if you are making sense, whether relationships are being developed th way you want. Change comes from the ground up. This is building that foundation. Remember to engage in reflective practice.
Next we moved on to project planning and working on a project team (again referring to the handouts). This is an opportunity for us to collaborate, bring strengths, develop a plan for a meaningful project, learn more about a part of ALA, work in a virtual team, and get to know an ALA member. Roles and areas of accountability were defined. Then we were left to lunch and to work on our project plan within our group.