MLA Engage 2015
I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at the Maine Library Association’s Annual Conference: Engage 2015. This was my first time attending, and my first conference in the last five years. My conclusions were: librarians are the best. MLA welcomed me with open arms. In fact, they actually sponsored my attendance. I had called to see if they might be willing to still give me the early bird discount even though I had missed the deadline given that I’m looking for a job and finances are a bit tight. Their response was incredible. They quickly replied that they would be delighted to sponsor my attendance this year and in exchange I could volunteer at the registration table. Well, really, that was the best thing I could have done anyway. It immediately put me at ease talking, and I met so many people right away. From this whole experience I learned that a) it never hurts to ask and b) librarians are awesome. I already knew both of these things, but boy did this confirm it for me. Oh, and c) volunteering is a great way to network.
It felt good to be back among librarians. Here were some of the highlights:
Maine State librarian Jamie Ritter spoke about democracy in libraries and the importance of maintaining our shared core principles of intellectual freedom and privacy. He described silence as an incredible phenomenon, and despite the stereotype of librarians with a ready “shh” on their lips, the reason and importance of quiet is for thinking. As he explained it, “libraries are deliberate in providing opportunities for [the experience of thinking].” The library is a place to exercise our right to think and the right to our privacy in those thoughts.
Of course, I (and I’m sure other youth services librarians) could not help thinking of the youngest patrons who often think out loud and process through noise. Thankfully the two thought-provoking experiences can peacefully coexist in a library!
Another noteworthy session featured Gardiner Public Library Director Anne Davis (winner of this year’s Outstanding Librarian award) and Belfast Free Library Director Steve Norman as they discussed advocating for libraries. They championed local advocacy as the best way of creating change. By attending community meetings, getting involved with local organizations, and making your library a site for civic debate and civic events, you gain allies and establish yourself as an active and vocal member. Other suggestions they made: Always have a story to tell, and when possible have someone else tell your story. When advocating at a state level, contact your representatives. They
don’t hear from people about most bills, and when they do, it matters! Go to the state house and testify. Likewise, to advocate at a federal level, contact your legislators! It makes a difference.
My favorite speaker was ALSC President Andrew Medlar. He transformed us, a tired audience (it was
the last presentation at the end of the day), to singing, clapping, laughing, and feeling playful and inspired once more. He mentioned that the majority of the kids being born this week are expected to live into the next century. He spoke about ALSC’s big mission — ensuring that libraries are recognized as vital to all children and the communities that support them — and some of its initiatives towards this goal (“Media Mentorship”, Every Child Ready to Read, Building STEAM with Día, and Día! Diversity in Action, for example). He concluded by asking us to think of one person we’d reach out to in the next month to tell them how awesome libraries are — and you, if you’re still reading this post, should do the same!
Tuesday began with ALA President Sari Feldman — a fellow UW-Madison SLIS alum (woohoo!). She spoke of the ways libraries transform people and communities, and of librarians as change agents. We need to take calculated risks. We do change people’s lives! She pondered how libraries can tap into the sharing economy more. She too emphasized the need for libraries to continue to protect the right to privacy and freedom of inquiry when there is so much before Congress right now chipping away at those ideals. One of the most interesting points came out in the Q&A (doesn’t it so often happen that way?), and that was that in traveling around the globe, Feldman has come to understand and appreciate that libraries are very American institutions–the large number of public, school, and academic libraries all over this country are unique and greatly respected around the world.
The last session I’ll talk briefly about was on Whole Person Reader’s Advisory, and included many useful suggestions, but in particular was the tip to say to a reader, “Tell me about the book,” that they have read or that they are looking for even if it is a book you know. Doing so gives them the opportunity to relive their experience of the book and helps them connect to you, but chances are their choice of words will also tell you something more about what exactly they liked about the book and offer clues towards the next book they’ll love.
And on that practical note, I will end my MLA conference recap. Okay not quite. I have to say again: librarians are awesome.