choosing your battles and choosing your professional associations

Karen Coombs talks about a reaction she had a while back to a comment on her blog where she was considering her commitment to the Texas Library Association. I think for many busy librarians the question of how much to participate in how many professional associations is one that we have to continually revisit. There is also the related question of how long you need to try at something before you decide it’s not working and moving on to trying something else.

After I cycled off ALA Council, I decided that I wanted to step back some and spend sometime reacquainting with my local library association in Vermont, so I didn’t renew my ALA membership. I joined VLA at the conference — where I gave two talks, or I gave half of two talks — which meant that my annual fee will only pay for seven months of membership (all memberships expire on 31dec. That said, membership is cheap). I didn’t feel obligated to join since I’m not technically a librarian for my job but I felt it would be a good idea. Before I officially joined, I was still receiving the newsletter and I was on the mailing list, so I’m not sure what joining technically gets me except the ability to be elected to an office which is not something I’m seriously considering at this point. I joined a committee — the advocacy committee — but had a difficult time making the meetings that were scheduled a few weeks in advance all over the state. Most meetings at VLA seem to happen in person. My speciality is, as you know, online communications and tools so a lot of what I had to offer the committee — custom RSS feeds and news filters, custom email addresses, web site updates, blog creation, “email your legislature”, setting up little websites — were all sort of outside the range of what we were considering and no one on the committee had access to the VLA website to make changes to it. I did manage to get the Library Value Calculator up on the website, but it involved a few days of work just getting that to happen and when it was announced on the list, my name wasn’t mentioned. This is a world I am getting used to.

Meredith has written a little bit about our experiences working with VLA. Unlike in a giant organization like TLA, I know most of the members of VLA either personally or by sight. It’s a tiny state. Membership is up from the high 200’s to about 400 now which is pretty exciting. I had a great time at the conference and I introduced myself personally to the incoming president who I heard had some bold new ideas for getting the word out about the importance of libraries (making the newsletter not a perk for members only, ditching the print newsletter in favor of a digital one, using email and blogs for communicating, more online communication and tools etc). What I told her, which is true, was that I’m not blessed in the tact department but if there is a computer or technological problem that needs fixing, I’m one of the more capable library people in the state to do it. The VLA conference allowed me to meet a few more people in the state who are also capable and techie and I have a slow but inexorable plan to Make Things Work Well. I’ll check back in next year and let you know how it’s gone.

VLA Wrap-up

I just got back from VLA where I gave two half-talks over two days. It’s fun getting to hang out with local librarians. Most of the time I view conferences as a way to meet up with friends and see new places, but the VLA conference is actually good for old-fashioned networking (with new friends who I will see new places with in the future, I am certain).

My first talk was about CSS and I mostly did the intro while Jessica Allard did the bulk of the talk. My second talk was What’s What With Wireless. I gave an overview and then Carl Zeller from Teconic, who I had worked with when I was at the Rutland Free Library, did the safety and networking aspects of it. It was great to do split talks. I think the audience really gains a lot from multiple perspectives even if, as with the wifi talk, the presenters aren’t even always agreeing with each other.

Last night I went over to UVM and hung out with the Vermont Area Group of Unix Enthusiasts (VAGUE) and had pizza and talked about Ubuntu and yes, my little video which has now passed 27,000 views on YouTube, almost surpassing the population of my county. I talked to them about Koha and LibLime and Evergreen which no one there really knew about. They repeatedly apologized for the dark dank basement as if I was familiar with perhaps being someplace else, but I really like hanging out with nerds and geeks. I plan to go to the developers conference in Boston and let them know what library/librarian users might like to see out of an open source desktop OS. I encourage other librarians to go.

A few other things I learned:

  • The VLA Intellectual Freedom Committee is working on strengthening the library privacy laws in the state of Vermont.
  • The new incoming VLA preseident-elect is the assistant director of the library I used to work at, and I got to meet him at the conference.
  • One of the Department of Libraries’ Regional Consultants uses Ubuntu and has some experience in/interest in using Evergreen as an ILS.
  • The current (as of yesterday) president of VLA has some interesting ideas about new directions. I introduced myself to her and said “hey I’m short on tact, but I’m pretty good at getting technology projects working, consider letting me help out with the back end on your projects” and she seemed to think that was a great idea.

I’m sure there’s more but I’m operating at a sleep deficit and a keyboard overload so I’ll add in more when I remember it. Thanks to everyone who made my trip to Burlington fun and interesting.

libraries are not support systems for staff – Blyberg on “innovation”

We’re going through some growing pains at the Vermont Library Association requiring a lot of email, extended explanations and apologies, and a revisting of what is and is not “normal” for libraries and library associations to do and to know. I’ve been quoting John Blyberg quite a bit.

Some people also just don’t like to step out of their comfort zone. They don’t want to absorb new things. I was on a top technology trends panel at OLA last January when someone asked, “what if we don’t want to learn about all these new technologies?” (paraphrase). I don’t think I was in the mood for hand-holding because my answer was, “it’s your job.” Really. I don’t believe libraries are life support systems for staff. We need to work for our bread. That means that we have so stop bunting and try to knock it out of the park every single time. That takes passion, and too many people in every industry, including libraries, lack it.