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
4 thoughts on “Thoughts For Better Conference Discussions”
Steven, I certainly understand what you’re saying, and I hope that the discussion group I co-chair offers an appropriate mix of practical advice and theoretical underpinnings. But I have to say that what I frequently enjoy least about conferences are the presentations that seem so abstracted from reality that they might as well be discussing the results of a particle accelerator experiment.
I don’t mean to single you out, because everyone uses this phrase to describe the concept, but the sarcastic contempt that drips from “how my library does it good” really sets my teeth on edge. Doing it well, whatever “it” may be, is a goal we ought all to aspire to, and I know of no better way to acheive that than through informal, practical conversations with my colleagues. The reason I agreed to chair my group is because I find it by far the most useful thing I do at ALA meetings. I would enjoy it less if the participants began to worry that their comments were insufficiently profound.
I guess it is sort of useful to know how you done it good, but what I’m really looking for is how I can do it good myself.
Good points Steven. Also, if you are at a talk and no one asks a question, do the speaker a favor and a least lob a softball to try to get the ball rolling.
And remember to speak loud enough and clear enough so that people can hear you. Don’t mumble or speak too softly. This goes for lunch and other informal professional situations as well. If I can’t hear what someone is saying I get tired of saying “what?” and eventually stop talking to them. Don’t be mousey! Speak up!