ALA Midwinter Meeting 2010 Recap

4289596648_e2ebdef4b5_b[1] 2010 ALA Midwinter Exhibit Hall panorama composite (click to see the original size)

As much as I have written about the ALA, I was still curious to see the organization up close and in action. I’ve talked with librarian friends and certainly read enough online (both positive and negative) about the organization. But there is something about going, seeing, and experiencing it for myself that requires satisfaction. So I set hotel reservations, rummaged through the social events calendar of various subgroups, and excitedly drove by way to Boston, sensing adventure in the air.

My objective was to put everything out of my head and just examine everything anew. It’s difficult to set aside the compliments and complaints I have heard for this organization, but I gave myself a simple strategy of objective questions. I’ll outline my approach (please consider answering them in the comments if I did not speak to you personally).

  1. “Are you a member of ALA?” (If no, why not? If yes, continue to 2.)
  2. “Do you serve on any committees, roundtables, and the like?” (If no, why not? If yes, continue to 3.)
  3. “What does that committee/roundtable/whatever do?”

In listening to the answers, I was also taking into account word choice and tone. While my polling size and choice was not very scientific, I found the answers that I heard to be most enlightening. With a few exceptions, most answered that they felt rewarded by their involvement with the organization. However, this group diverged between feeling effective and frustrated. Cheery explanations were tempered by acerbic rants, each providing clues to the bigger picture for me.  With an organization as large as the ALA, these many glimpses from the top on down gave me much to think about as I assessed the organization on the way home.

If I was to liken the organization to something, I would say it is a Rubix Cube. Some of solved how it works, its meaning, and purpose; others struggle with the apparent complexity and mechanics; and a minority simply don’t get it and/or won’t try to get it. (And, for the more cynical out there, some are arguing about appropriate colors on the cube. Or as one person put it when I mentioned this idea to them, “I’ve solved it and I don’t care for the answer.”) What I would say is true and apparent is that, despite how people feel about the organization itself, I did not meet one person who was not passionate about their career in librarianship. This speaks well for the true potential of the organization should it ever overcome its inefficiencies. From what I understand, talk of reformation has been going on for awhile and that it is a matter of action and resolve to see it through.

Even with this new knowledge in hand, I am still reserving judgment on the organization. Part of this is that I still disagree with the politicization of resolutions, but the other part cannot help but feel compelled by those who strive hard for the profession within the association. From my experience in organizations run by member volunteers, it is no light undertaking to produce results. Where others might make light of their efforts, they have my respect. There are additional discussions ahead, I feel, so I await more input and information.

Beyond my own inquiries into ALA, I really had a great time meeting and socializing with many of the people who I have been communicating with through Twitter, Facebook, and blog comments. It is extremely flattering to tell someone how much you love their blog and they reciprocate in kind. I even had a couple of people tell me my name and/or my posts came up in various meetings, though I’m not sure whether the context is favorable or not. It is heartening, for certain, to have the personal conversations reinforce your choices of inclusion in readers, followers, and Facebook friends. I left with a renewed sense of community and a strengthened feeling of professional bonding.

Photo by Peter Bromberg/Flickr My only actual obligation of the Midwinter Meeting was to co-present “Set Sail for Fail” with Karen in the Networking Uncommons area. For those who missed it, you can watch it the entire thing either through Buffy Hamilton’s raw footage or Jenny Levine’s Ustream clip. I was not certain how many (or if anyone) would attend, but I was pleased to see at least a dozen people interested. As time went on, this number easily doubled. It was a good natured lively discussion about what hasn’t worked out for people and the lessons in evaluation that could be applied in the future. It also provided Karen and myself with some feedback about the type of topics that could arise as we plan out a FAIL conference for the future. I’d like to thank everyone who attended, tweeted it, and shared their stories.

(You can also read about it on the American Libraries Inside Scoop blog or listen to Karen and I talk about it in a video interview with American Libraries.)

As I drove back to New Jersey, my reflections upon this experience have induced me to give the annual conference a try. For those with suggestions as it pertains to the annual conference, please do not hesitate to add your comments. This was a good time and I’m eager to see what waits for me in Washington.

AndyW

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