Tuesday, February 11, 2014

ALA Midwinter 2014 - A Travelogue

Here it is my blog post about ALA Midwinter 2014. Held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. 
This may surprise some people, but this was my first ALA conference of any type. I've been a librarian for almost 14 years. The first 3 years, I was a member of ALA because it wasn't full price, but I didn't see any reason to keep paying. Mostly I saw a lot of resolutions on social problems that had nothing whatsoever to do with Libraries or Librarians. People will ask for examples, but I'm concerned that anything I identify will paint me as a jerk. Let me state upfront that I'm not saying the topics were unworthy ones, but they were topics that did not relate directly to Libraries or Librarians. You have to pick your battles or politicians will stop paying attention. (Reference the "Boy who cried wolf")

I've been to plenty of other Librarian Conferences, most notably 6 or 7 Computer in Libraries conferences over the years, but also, FLA, MLA (Maryland not Medical), and NJLA. I even presented at CiL 2012.

My first Facebook message about ALA Midwinter listed the full names of the folks I met on Friday, but then I felt weird about listing everyone's name. So this blog post is mostly going to feature just first names. I connected with people that I've met before and with people that I'm meeting face to face for the first time. For the most part, we weren't strangers; we just hadn't been in the same room before. We've had plenty of conversations, but they were online. I'm going to use 'meet or greet' for these interactions because I don't want to discriminate between the two conditions. I'm also going to apologize from the beginning. I know I've missed people. I don't mean it personally. I just met so many people that I got overwhelmed.
A big part of this trip was to connect with my friends in their little electronic boxes, but equally important was trying to figure out where I fit in ALA. I've come to learn that you can only change an organization from within. I've also become very active with a Facebook group of Librarians, the ALA Think Tank. 

Enough of the preliminaries, let's get to the travelogue.

I drove up Friday from my home in Laurel, MD (about 2 hours), checked in to the hotel, and caught the shuttle bus to the Convention center. I got there in time to tour the exhibits at opening. I ate (pretzel, ours d'oeuvres, sliders) and drank a glass of wine. While touring around, I met some friends that  I'd previously known online only and renewed some existing friendships. (Emily, Emily, Kate, Lauren, & TJ) 

Then I bopped over to the Uncommons where I met some more friends (Paul, Michael, Maurice, and Courtney). They were discussing dinner. I was totally prepared to consider my snacks at the Exhibits as dinner, but the company was just too tempting so I joined. We had dinner at a Chinatown restaurant and great conversation.
Michael was talking about Executive board and he explained a little about it since I had no idea what he was talking about. I asked him what got him involved in ALA and I told him a quick version of my experience so far with ALA. My memory isn't good enough to quote him, but much of what Michael said meshed with my own experiences and feelings on the matter. I'm going to credit him with helping to feed the flame that started in Think Tank as a little spark.

After dinner, I intended to attend the Urban Libraries Unite gathering at the Field House. Even though we passed the Field House on the way to dinner, I got turned around heading there. When I pulled out my phone for Maps and got my bearing, I could see that I was the same distance from the Field House as the Hotel and it was freezing cold. I decided to just call it a night.

Saturday morning started with the NMRT Conference Orientation. I was a little late and ended up sitting on the floor. I'm really too old and too fat for sitting on the floor. That orientation was scheduled in the smallest room I saw during the whole conference. There were 4 round tables that sat 8 each. Maybe someone will take note and schedule a bigger room. I know they don't expect as many newbies at Midwinter as at Annual, but that's just an excuse. I talked with some folks, but none that I had previous connections with.

Next on my schedule was the LITA all committees meeting, but I didn't realize that. I saw an Interest Group meeting on the schedule and that's what brought me to the room. The interest group didn't meet and I didn't find any of the other committees to be interesting, so I left. I did get to meet or greet a few folks. Jason and Andromeda stand out the most. (I spent more time with the LITA folks later, so I may have met them on Saturday morning, but I'll credit them later.)

Leaving the LITA all committees, I decided to head up to the Uncommons and saw Derrick. I put out a call for lunch mates and connected with a Jersey buddy,  TJ. We went over to the Reading Terminal Market for sandwiches at DeNic's.

After lunch I don't remember what I was interested in, but the room was beyond standing room only and the presentation was already in progress, so I gave up shortly. I swung by the Uncommons and caught the end of the Ignite sessions and then hung out for another hour. While there I connected with Marge, Peter, Emily, JP, Patrick, John, Lauren, Annie, and probably some more. I think that was the first time I felt oddly famous as people were coming over to greet me. Some I recognized and some I frankly didn't. I go to these conferences with a mental list of folks I hope to run into. I never thought of the possibility that I'm on someone else's list. It's a reminder that you never know what impact you have on others. Someone thanked me for standing up for them, when I remember the discussion as just my normal day. I was just stating my opinion. It just so happened my thoughts agreed with someone who thought her words were being dismissed.

At 4 or 4:30 I attended the LibTechGender discussion. It was the most important event of the weekend, in my opinion. I've read the blog posts and articles about problems at some tech conferences and the ALA Code of Conduct. I'm aware that tech is significantly male, but this discussion brought up some other aspects I'd never heard or thought of. The tagline is "who isn't in the room?" But it is more than that. Cecily ,via skype, brought up the implicit discrimination that you feel when you look around the room and see no one that looks like you. You feel unwelcome and unwanted. The words may be saying we're inclusive, but the actions don't reflect it. Even if you have a diverse pool of workers, are they in the room asking the interview questions or are they just workers. 
I really wish they weren't ending so close to the last shuttle bus because I wanted to meet some people that were there like Jessica, KG, and Myrna. But timing was tight so I caught the bus back to the hotel to drop my bag and change for a night of partying.

I tried the car service Uber for a ride to Trilogy for the tweet up organized by Lauren and Annie. (I made sure to thank them on Sunday afternoon for organizing it.) It was a great location where we could drink and talk and we took advantage of both. At 9 we moved the party one block to the Latvian Society for the EveryLibrary fundraiser, film fest, and dance party DJed by Marc Recordz. I volunteered for the 10 pm to midnight shift doing coat check. I figured that would be a great way to connect with people since they had to come by when entering and leaving. It was almost too good of a thing. By midnight, I was overwhelmed by the people I'd greeted. I wasn't drunk; there were just too many of them. Some folks I remember from Saturday night include Michelle, Daniel, Lindsay, Erica, Kate, Ingrid, Craig, TinaMarie, Alisha, Erin, Megan, Jacob, & Mel. I drank another whiskey & soda after my coat check shift then caught an Uber ride back to the hotel.

Sunday morning started with the LITA Top Tech Trends presentation where I got to meet Carson. After TTT, I went to the Uncommons and caught the end of a game of Cards against Librarianship. That was cool. I really wish Emily had been there at Midwinter to see the results of her work. I also got to meet Larry.

I connected with Henry for lunch.After lunch I attended the Authority Control discussion but left early to go to LITA 201. That really told me a lot more about the only subgroup of ALA that I belong to. I connected with Aaron, Andrea, Annie, Chris, John, Cindi, Jenny, Nina, & Rachel.

Sunday was my planned quiet night (Sorry LITA Happy Hour, now that I know more, I have to plan to attend future ones.)

Monday and my last day started with Breakfast with LITA. That continued the introduction to LITA activities and brought up some interesting topics during the table activities. Unfortunately, one of the folks at my table had to be the center of every discussion so we didn't get as much done as we could have. Have you ever been sitting at a table of strangers when someone asks if they can join and you want to say no? Monday morning was one of those times. Folks I met that morning include David, Bree, Frank, Chris, & Evviva.

Next I attended the GODORT Business meeting. It was an incredibly well run meeting and met my expectations of a business meeting. They went around the room and everyone introduced themselves and their library. I was the only Gov Doc producer in a room that mostly involved gov doc depository libraries, but no one seemed surprised. They had regular committee reports and even discussed sending condolences to the families of members that had died recently. The meeting was interrupted twice for the candidates for ALA President to talk with us about their platforms.

Lunch was provided by APA. The most interesting part of it was running into Hillary. I entered the room of round tables and looked around for anyone I knew to sit with. I didn't recognize anyone, but saw someone really looking at me. I guessed it was someone from the Think Tank so I decided to sit with them. Surprise! It was a classmate from the USF LIS program. We'd graduated together 13 years ago and I'm still surprised that she recognized me. I have put on 100 pounds in those years. It was great to catch up some, over the provided box lunch.

And that lunch marked my last event at ALA Midwinter 2014. I swung by the Uncommons for some last good-byes and caught the shuttle bus back to the hotel and my car then drove home.

So, what did I learn?
1) Things you say online may mean little to you, but much to others. Remember the rules are T H I N K. Is your comment: True? Helpful? Inspiring? Necessary? and Kind?
2) You have more friends than you'll ever realize.
3) Pay attention to who is not in the room. Work to get them in the room.
4) I'm running for ALA Council. I think I can make a difference for American Libraries and Librarians.