One of the other great things about the Rural Libraries Conference is that, in addition to giving a keynote presentation, I was also given a workshop slot to … basically do whatever I wanted. One of the things that I think is frequently missing from conference planning is some way to help people with follow-through on the ideas they get or the things they want to try or even keeping in touch with the people they meet. Conferences are often a lot of fast-paced learning and mingling and fun and weird food and odd schedules and then people come home and sleep it off and it all seems like a distant dream when they get back to work. I’m sure this is triply true if you’re at a conference someplace wacky like The Grand Hotel.
So I did a very short presentation called Maintaining Momentum and talked about some ways to keep the energy up. You can read the (very short) slide deck [pdf, link fixed!] to get an idea of what it was like. I did something I basically never do which was get people split up into pairs and give them a buddy to check in with in two weeks, with little handouts to swap email and ideas. We went around the room and talked about things we’d seen that we liked and might want to implement (in the library and just in life generally). I also got an email list of everyone’s contact info (note for future talks: tell people to print legibly) and learned to use MailChimp myself to send a one-time-only “Hey get in touch with your buddy” reminder which was part of what I’d vowed to learn.
It was a great presentation, people were really into it and seemed to enjoy having space for a bit of a meta-discussion about the conference while at the conference. I’m really happy I went outside my usual comfort zone to put it together, very appreciative of the great folks who showed up and gratified that people didn’t talk all the way through this one (except when they were supposed to).
Apologies in advance because this isn’t really about libraries as much as about conferencing. Maybe more of an etiquette post than anything.
I skipped April. Not on purpose. I was supposed to go to TXLA and came down with a weird lingering flu. I’m usually a “push through the pain” person but not enough to get on an airplane with a fever and potentially make other people sick. No one needs that. So I missed TXLA which was a huge bummer. They were incredibly understanding about it. And then there was a week of school vacation where I teach so I decided to hunker down in MA and get well and make sure I could make it to the Rural Libraries conference in Michigan. Upstate Michigan. The UP, where it was still frozen enough so that the ferries we were supposed to take to Mackinac Island were possibly not running. So now I was in a situation where I was rarin’ to go but the conference might not happen at all.
My main contact, Shannon White from the Library of Michigan, did an amazing job with a very difficult situation. She gave low-drama email updates (to me but also all attendees) as we got news from the ferry and told me what the timeframe was in case we’d have to cancel. When I arrived in St. Ignace (via Michael Stephens’ place, so great to see him) the weather was terrible and the flight we were supposed to take was cancelled. Many people including us were stuck there overnight when we would have preferred to be at the conference venue, the Grand Hotel. I was put up in a decent hotel and fed dinner and we discussed jockeying for ferry positions the next morning. I had warned everyone in advance of even taking this speaking gig that I was not a morning person and someone graciously got up early and got a timestamped ferry ticket for me for later in the day. This was a huge deal.
The Grand Hotel is one of those places that is fancy but also deeply committed to service. All of their 385 rooms are different. When I finally got to the hotel at about 1 pm on the day I was speaking, I was put in a crazy-looking suite that overlooked the water. Which was terrific except that there was a crew of hotel-opener people (the hotel officially opened the day after the conference closed) that was going over the front of the place with leaf-blowers and lawn tools and who knows what else. I moved my room to an equally quirky suite on the back of the hotel where I rested after a day and a half of on-again-off-again travel.
My talk about the 21st Century Digital Divide was done in an oddly-shaped room without the benefit of slides. I’ve talked about it elsewhere (short form: people who could not see or hear me talked through it) but it was a suboptimal setup which we all tried to make the best of. I got a lot of positive feedback from the state library folks despite some of the shortcomings and they made a special reminder announcement before the next keynote about not carrying on conversations while people were speaking. I heard it was great, I was asleep. My workshop the next day about maintaining conference momentum went really well and, again, I got great support from the organizers as well as the hotel when I decided I needed last-minute handouts.
All in all, despite a situation where there were a lot of things that were out of people’s control, the conference was memorably great for me personally and I think for a lot (most?) of the attendees as well. As much as people made joking “Never again!” comments, there was something about working together in unusual settings through various kinds of adversity that brings people closer together. I felt well-taken care of and appreciated as well as well-compensated. And, personally, I had a great time. The people I talked to all felt the same. Thanks, Library of Michigan.
A few links for people who like that sort of thing
Hello faithful RSS readers and anyone else who is sort of curious what’s been going on. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been getting my brain back this Summer and I appreciate your patience with what has been a trying set of months. I did go one place, and that was to North Texas during a heat wave where I decided to (mostly) quit smoking and got to hang out with some neat local librarians and some fun folks who I already knew at the Library Tech Network TechNet 2011 Conference. I gave two talks which you may already have read, but in case you’re interested you can click through and check out Tiny Tech/High Tech and On the Fly Tech Support.
This month I’m heading to Cambridge for a DPLA meeting and then to Augusta Maine for a one-day meeting about Ebooks and Libraries which is sure to be interesting and informative. I’m giving a lunchtime talk but also leading a breakout session called “Ebooks are Great! Books are great!” talking about the differences between books and ebooks. Based on some of the feedback I’ve been getting on Twitter and elsewhere, that will be a lively topic.
Next month I’ll really be scooting around a bit and my drop-in time and evening Mac classes are starting up locally which will keep me busy and pretty happy. Anyone attending the NELA conference, the Michigan Library Association conference or the CLIR symposium in Milwaukee, please do say hello. In the meantime I’ll be updating somewhat more here and getting back to my own RSS reading so I hope to be less of a stranger.
So if you read the papers at all, you know that even though things are tough, people use libraries like crazy. That said, libraries are getting funding cuts, despite, in many cases, increased use. This sucks. One of the things about living in Vermont is that there’s not that much to even trim from our budgets, but the state library (and the newish state librarian whose job I do not envy at all) closed one of Vermont’s very few regional libraries to the public and libraries who want to borrow materials now have to make appointments. This is at a time when library circulation in the state is up almost six percent and local tax support is up five percent. In other state library news
I’m using the Library of Congress version of this photo of the reading room at the University of Michigan library (which has not made its way to Flickr yet) but I found this image via Shorpy. It’s a nice non-Flickr illustration of how having a way to have users comment on your content can increase everyone’s level of knowledge. The first comment has a link to this web site which contains another photo of the same room, highlighting the statue, and the story of what happened to it.