A highlight of an ALA conference for many librarians is the discussion sessions. Unlike the structured programs, anyone can take center stage as the speaker. Thereâ€™s no set agenda so anything can happen. Great discussions are stimulating, but they really work best when those in attendance are activated and make themselves integral to the program. We should use these forums to challenge our thinking and traditional methods.
At one such session I attended in Seattle, which had a great premise for a heated discussion, it just never seemed to materialize. Instead of hard questions and bold calls for action, what I mostly heard fell into one of two categories, either â€œhereâ€™s what I do at my library â€“ who else is doing this?â€ or the variant â€œwe tried this â€“ is anyone doing it better than we are?” These are good questions to ask and thatâ€™s one reason folks come to the sessions â€“ to share what they’re doing with others in order to affirm they are moving in the right direction. But to my way of thinking, those fishing for answers to these types of questions could do their trolling in the sea of discussion lists. My personal preference is to move beyond â€œmy libraryâ€ to â€œour profession and its futureâ€. Iâ€™d like to hear more of â€œwhy are we doing thisâ€, â€œwhat do our patrons want”, “is this the best we can doâ€ or â€œcan we do this better next year or should we do something elseâ€. I think these questions can lead to a far more engaging discussion.
So here are some ideas, aimed at discussion participants, I thought of that might lead to better, more engaging discussions at future conferences:
Perhaps the moderators of these programs can allocate the discussion time so that the first half is â€œhow are we doing it good at our librariesâ€ and the second half could be the â€œwhy are we doing this and what else could we be doing to make our libraries betterâ€. The session organizers could even put these (and their own) “tips for preparing for our discussion” into their invitational e-mail messages. Let’s always aim for discussions that send us home thinking about more than just what weâ€™re doing in our own library.
Posted by StevenB