Getting Social At ALA

Editor’s Note: In this third in a series of posts about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans, Megan Hodge, Circulation Supervisor at Randolph-Macon College and Adjunct Instructor at Bryant & Stratton College, reminds us that even after our long conference days we need to get social at night – and gives us a preview of the ACRL action in New Orleans. We’ll be hearing more about the ALA Conference from our new team of ALA Emerging Leaders over the next few weeks leading up to the big event.

One of my favorite things about the ALA conferences is how energizing and affirming they are of my decision to become a librarian rooms full of ideas and people who are passionate about the same things. Newer librarians or extremely involved ones may be tempted (or have no choice about) to cram program after program after committee meeting into their few days at ALA Annual. After a long day of programs and committee meetings, when your feet are hurting, your shoulders are sore from carrying tote bags full of freebies and your eyelids are drooping because of jet lag, the last thing you may want to do is head out on the town for a night of socializing with strangers. So why go?

As ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels said, if you don’t come back from a conference with new ideas, you’re missing something. Sometimes those new ideas aren’t learned in the formal programs, but from simply talking to your seat mate on the Gale shuttle or neighbor at the ProQuest lunch. Many ACRL sections (and other ALA divisions and roundtables) host socials during Annual where free food is often provided and interaction with others of similar interests is guaranteed (see selected list, below). While it’s entirely possible to get a great programming idea from a public librarian you stop for a chat with in the Exhibit Hall, don’t you think it’s much more likely that you’ll learn something useful from another science librarian? If you’re shy and find making small talk with strangers difficult, these are also great because you’re guaranteed to have something in common with the other attendees.

In addition to the section/division/round table-sponsored fetes, there are also a few grassroots socials that aren’t sponsored by official ALA groups like Facebook After-Hours and the Newbie and Veteran Librarian Tweet-up. The Tweet-up, in particular, is good for newer librarians or ones who haven’t yet found a sectional home in ALA or ACRL; Bohyun Kim started it in 2009 because it would consist of totally random group of people. And there would be no pressure![1] It’s also a good idea to monitor the Twitter backchannels; you may find that someone who is in the same session or hotel as you is looking for dinner companions.

Vendors also host evening receptions. If you don’t do any purchasing for your library, you might not have received an invitation, so ask a coworker if s/he can wrangle you an invitation (or if you can tag along). You can also chat up the Exhibit Hall booth staffers of larger vendors like Gale and EBSCO whether they have any functions planned that you could attend. Creating or reinforcing relationships with vendors–even if you have no purchasing power at your present institution–can be helpful down the line. Vendor representatives, like the rest of us, may be more inclined to work extra hard to resolve problems if they already have an established relationship with you. The important thing to remember is that you needn’t wait until you’re a purchaser to attend a vendor event; vendors are just as interested as you in networking and developing connections! Today’s newly minted librarian is tomorrow’s Head of Electronic Resources.

So what do you do if you’re an introvert like me and even the idea of making small talk with strangers or talking to those rock star presenters in any environment less structured than immediately after their presentation makes you want to lie down in a darkened room? As former ALA President Leslie Burger advised the 2011 Emerging Leaders, always have a drink in your hand. It doesn’t matter whether that drink is alcoholic; just holding something in your hand will make it much more difficult to cross your arms, which signifies a reluctance to talk and engage.

Normally there are sections for events with food and parties and receptions in the Annual wiki, but the wiki will be incorporated into the Conference Planner this year (now open on ALA Connect!), according to Jenny Levine. I’ve highlighted a few below. Many thanks to all the committee chairs who so graciously responded to my requests for information!

ACRL-CLS (College Library Section) Friday Night Feast: Friday, June 24th, 6pm. Tommy’s Cuisine & Wine Bar, 746 Tchoupitoulas Street. $30. A cocktail half-hour followed by dinner; RSVPs required. Mary Heinzman says that the feast is a chance to meet with others in similar-sized organizations and learn about what is happening and what challenges they face. The other purpose is for new members to get to meet others and learn about opportunities to volunteer within CLS.
ACRL-EBSS (Educational and Behavioral Sciences Section) Social: Date and venue TBA. EBSS Membership Committee chair Scott Collard urges attendees to bring your nametag, introduce yourself to someone (maybe even before the social if possible), and just be ready to tell folks a little about yourself and what your concerns are, as EBSSers are usually really good at saying “you know who you should talk to….” and sharing from there!

ACRL-IS (Instruction Section) Soiree: Friday, June 24th, 5:30-7pm. Howlin Wolf Den, 907 S. Peters. Jambalaya (meat and vegetarian), bread, and cash bar.

ACRL-LES (Literatures in English Section) Social Hour: Date and venue TBA. Appetizers/bar food with cash bar. Primarily for socializing; newcomers are encouraged to not be shy. People have a couple of drinks, catch up, meet new people (Liorah Golomb, LES Chair).

ACRL-STS (Science and Technology Section) Dinner: Sunday, June 26th, 7-10pm. Creole Queen Cruise Ship. $25 registration (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/stscruiseneworleans) is required by May 27 and includes dinner with a cash bar. In celebration of STS 50th anniversary, they are hosting a Mardi Gras Mambo dinner cruise with cash bar. The dinner is primarily for socializing and networking; dinner planner Matt Marstellar said that his attendance at these dinners greatly helped him put together a list of external references for his promotion portfolio!

ACRL-ULS (University Library Section) Social: Saturday, June 25th, 5:30-7pm. Pirate’s Alley (622 Pirates Alley). Food served. Jason Martin, ULS Membership Committee Chair, urges first-timers to “Bring lots of business cards to hand out. Don’t be shy. Talk to as many people as you can. Also, feel free to stray from library topics. While it is a nice venue to meet other professionals and make contacts, sometimes it is nice to talk about sports, movies, books, gardening, or whatever floats your boat.

ACRL-WSS (Women’s Studies Section) Social: Saturday, June 25th, 6-8pm. Venue TBA, but professional development is often built-in by dint of the location (e.g., one year it was held at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and the social included a tour). Newcomers, especially those who are FTF or SRRT members or have interest in Women and Gender Studies collections, archives or librarianship, welcome.

Facebook After-Hours Social: Saturday, June 25th, 9pm-2am. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (941 Bourbon Street). Per the social Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=209816775714013), drop by, have a drink, sit at the piano bar, and unwind following vendor parties, scholarship bash and other louder fun elsewhere on Bourbon Street.

LITA Happy Hour: Date and venue TBA. Membership Development Chair Don Lemke says, It provides an opportunity to get to know others within the organization and let those who are thinking about joining meet people in a relaxed and open environment where you aren’t expected to perform or be “professional”. Problems do get solved and ideas are shared but it is NOT a time to show how great you are. People eat and drink and talk to one another, renew old acquaintances and build new ones. Relationships happen.

Newbies and Veterans Tweet-up: Date and venue TBA, but likely to take place between NMRT Social and Facebook After-Hours Social. Begun by 2011 Emerging Leader Bohyun Kim at MW 2009 because she had no idea where to go to meet other librarians since I was a brand-new librarian who never attended any library conference before, this is an opportunity for new and experienced librarians alike to socialize and tweet in an informal setting.

RUSA Membership Social: Date and venue TBA. Free food and raffles. RUSA Membership Chair Liane Taylor recommends Introducing yourself to RUSA division and section chairs and vice-chairs, who are usually easy to identify! They’re happy to talk to you and will introduce you to others. Talking to them is a great way to meet others in RUSA, if you don’t know where to start.

RUSA-STARS (Sharing and Transforming Access to Resources Section) Happy Hour: Friday, June 24th, 6:30-9pm. It’s a very casual atmosphere & a very welcoming group, so first time attendees can feel comfortable walking in and joining any conversation, says STARS Membership Committee Chair Nora Dethloff.

Additional Resources
Montford, M. (2011, April 17). #Jobseekers: Networking 101 for Introverts [Web log post].
Retrieved from http://coachmeg.typepad.com/career_chaos/2011/04/jobseekers-networking-101-for-introverts-.html

Kim, B. (2009, December 29). Tweet-Up for Newbies at ALA MW? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bohyunkim.net/blog/archives/279

Showing Emotion? Keep It Real

You’ve no doubt had that experience where you go to a store, hotel or some other setting where you receive service, and the person (or people) serving you is doing all the right things to be nice – but you know it’s an act being put on for your benefit. We accept this because we know the person is doing their job and the management expects them to put some kind of positive emotions into the service. Just the same, it may leave us feeling a little weird. Should businesses expect their employees to fake emotions with you? This question is raised is a column titled “The Coming Point of Sale Revolution” by Grant McCraken. He understands the strategy but has a problem with it:

One of them is the American conviction that your emotions are your own personal business. Generally, we believe emotions are a private matter and that it is wrong to ask the employee to use them for public, commercial purposes.

McCraken shares the story of Dolores, a clerk at a busy 7-11 that sells the most cups of coffee of any other similar convenience store in America. Try to watch the video of Dolores in action. There’s nothing fake, contrived or insincere about the way she greets the customers and makes them welcome. While many of our service desk-based interactions could be described as impersonal transactions, I believe that we too have our “regulars” that we chat with, share a story or greet warmly. In other words, we put our emotions into those relationships – and the community members know it is sincere.

McCraken goes on to suggest that service-driven businesses should go out of their way to look for people like Dolores, or even those who have the capacity, through staff development, to be more skilled at what he calls “reading people and responding to them in real time” – the opposite of which is always avoiding eye contact, being sullen or professionally cold or aloof. I have no idea if that works for academic libraries. We talk about the importance of customer service, but when hiring and developing new librarians what do we tell them about connecting with community members when at a service desk or in consultation situations. Should we be asking or suggesting that academic librarians engage with everyone in a more personal and emotional manner – or at least be more adept at reading people and sensing at what level they desire personal engagement? It’s not necessarily a skill we all have.

Perhaps the important thing for all us who connect with community members in one way or another, at a desk, in a classroom, in offices or wherever, is to be thoughtful about the possibilities for building relationships. They can start with an enthusiastic greeting, sustained eye contact or simply demonstrating that we care. We should avoid at all cost communicating that the interaction is no more than an impersonal or bothersome transaction we perform in order to survive our time at the desk until we can get back to whatever it is we’d really rather be doing. Putting some emotion into our work can be a good thing. Do we all need to be Dolores? Of course not. Faking it, in fact, may be far worse.

Seven Tips For Highly Effective Networkers

Editor’s Note: In this third in a series of posts about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans, Elizabeth Berman, Science & Engineering Librarian at the University of Vermont, and Breanne Kirsch, Evening Public Services Librarian at the University of South Carolina Upstate, provide seven useful strategies for improving your conference networking. We’ll be hearing more about the ALA Conference from our new team of ALA Emerging Leaders over the next few weeks leading up to the big event.

Attending the ALA Annual Conference can cost a chunk of change when you include registration, travel and lodging (not to mention shipping home all the swag you score at the Exhibit Hall). With library budgets tighter than ever, we are all being forced to question whether attending physical conferences is still relevant in today’s economy.

Short answer: yes! One of the greatest benefits to attending the ALA Annual Conference goes beyond the boundaries of the information that’s delivered; it is about connections you make with colleagues through the act of networking.

Networking is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the action or process of making use of a network of people for the exchange of information, etc., or for professional or other advantage.” In other words, it’s like Facebook, but in person. Networking is an advantageous skill to develop, opening you up to new information and knowledge, creating contacts and a professional support system, and improving your reputation. Here are our seven tips to help you become a networking ninja:

1. Have a plan. Are you job-hunting? Are there vendors that you would like to connect a face to? Are you looking to get more engaged with librarians in your particular field or area of specialization? Identifying who you want to engage with (be it a person or an organization) is key to making effective and meaningful connections during the short duration of a conference, especially if you are networking with a purpose. Remember to bring your business cards to hand out to others and collect their business cards as well.

2. Get social. ALA conferences are ripe with social activities, from committee breakfasts and soirees to interest group happy hours to vendor-sponsored parties. These are some of the best places to make connections because the atmosphere is more relaxed – you’re not going to interrupt a speaker.

3. Use the “power of hello”. While it may seem obvious, talk to the people around you. Say hello. Introduce yourself. Ask them questions and engage them in conversation: Where do you work? Are you involved in any committees? What interesting sessions have you attended at this conference? Not only will this help break the ice (who doesn’t like talking about themselves?), but it will also make it more comfortable to chat with them if you see them again later at that conference, or at future conferences.

4.Break out of your comfort zone. It can be easy as a new librarian to default into a passive role and wait for others to introduce themselves – they are the veterans, right? Conferences are a fantastic place for old friends and colleagues to catch-up and often times – unintentionally – librarians group together in what feels like closed circles. But by channeling your “inner social butterfly,” you will open doors that from a distance looked closed.

Elizabeth’s story: Since 2007, I have attended the Science & Technology Section’s (STS) Soiree, a casual drinks-and-appetizers affair held at a local eatery. I will be the first to admit that for the first several years, I showed up, talked to one or two people I knew from committee work, and retreated early to the safe confines of my hotel room. My tendencies are more wallflower-y, and walking into a situation where it felt like everyone already knew each other was daunting. It felt awkward inserting myself into a group situation where I knew nobody, where I felt I was interrupting conversations.

This past Midwinter in San Diego, high on the wisdom imparted at the Emerging Leaders program, I decided to change tactics – and my mindset. I realized that I wasn’t doing myself any favors sitting on the sidelines, and this pattern would only get more awkward the longer I was an STS member (can you imagine being the 10-year veteran of an organization where no one knows you?) Going against my personal level of comfort, I worked the room. I walked up to every table, every group, and introduced myself. Most of the time, people glanced at my nametag and noticed something we could talk about: I was an Emerging Leader, I was from Vermont, I worked with both the sciences and engineering. Conversation came easy. Was it difficult putting myself out there? Absolutely. But guess what? No one shunned me or laughed at me or told me to go away. In fact, I made some excellent connections that I hope to build on over the years.

5. Just connect. You will likely have distinct networks that you are familiar with at the conference – librarians you went to school with, librarians you work with, librarians you serve on committees with. Don’t be afraid to introduce others and serve as a connector. If you are talking with a co-worker and an acquaintance from one of your committees walks up, introduce them. Not only does it relieve a potentially awkward situation (no one is left staring at the ceiling or floor as you finish your conversation), but who knows what kind of connections you just helped form. And with 60,000 librarians attending these conference, small actions like this help make the community feel smaller.

6.Follow through. It is one thing to connect with people at a conference, but the more important piece is to follow up with them. A great idea, collaboration, or friendship can’t exist unless it’s acted upon. So follow up with the people you really connected with, send an email telling them you (sincerely!) enjoyed talking to them about X, Y, and Z. It makes a difference, it really does! And who knows what sort of opportunities can follow.

Breanne’s Story: At the South Carolina Library Association Conference, I had a wonderful networking experience at the exhibitors opening reception. My husband, Jonathan and I found ourselves talking with a few other librarians about current projects we were working on at our respective libraries. One of the librarians mentioned that she was coordinating a steampunk conference and encouraged Jonathan and I to submit a proposal. Our proposal was accepted and we gave a presentation on Steampunk Aesthetics and Themes in Film: A Literature-Based Approach. The conference proceedings are in the process of being published in a manuscript. This example might be a little unusual, but there are many opportunities that come about from networking at library conferences. You may meet someone that is an expert on a new technology your library is thinking of implementing or a librarian that will be your future employer.

7. Have fun. Networking shouldn’t feel (or look) like a chore. Some of the most successful networkers work the room with an ease that betrays the fact that they are working the room. So relax, be yourself, and above all, have fun with it. What’s the worst that can happen?

So as you gear up to attend ALA Annual in New Orleans this summer, think about using these seven tips. Odds are, you’ll enhance your conference experience and expand your network.

The What Versus The Why

When the topic of conversation turns to change, it’s not uncommon to hear an academic librarian say something along the lines of “before we change we need to really understand why we do what we do – what is it that defines what we are all about”. Others might describe that as having the ability to articulate the library’s core values. It might even be something found in a mission statement.

I recently heard a library presenter run through a list of these potential “why we do what we do” possibilities. For this presenter one emerged as the most clear rationale for the why of an academic library – or perhaps any library. The word used to describe the “why” was “connection” as in “we connect the user / client / customer / community member with information / content”. That was this presenter’s answer to the “why do we do what we do” question. I think there is much more to this than just connecting people with information, and that the act of “connection” is not actually a “why” but a “what” – and yes there is a distinction.

In a previous library position the actual mission statement, something along the lines of “This library exists to connect the students, faculty and staff with the information they need to succeed.” Not bad. But now I realize that this act of connection is not the “why” of an academic library. Rather, it is just one “what” of the many things we do for our communities. The “why” and the “what” are different. Let me explain using the Golden Circle framework advanced by Simon Sinek. The Golden Circle has three concentric circles. The farthest circle outward is the “what”, the middle circle is the “how” and the innermost circle is the “why”.

WHAT = the results we get
HOW = what we do in order to get the results (think process)
WHY = our beliefs, cause, purpose

Connecting people with information is a good thing, and an important function for any library. What makes it a “what” rather than a “why”, according to Sinek, is that it is a result – not a cause or purpose. Do you come to work everyday to make sure people connect with information? If that’s our cause or purpose, why should anyone care about academic libraries when they can get connected with information anywhere, at any time. The “how” of connecting people with information is all the things we do behind the scenes to make it work: developing budgets; having acquisitions workflows; processing materials; setting up loan policies. You get the idea. But it all starts with the “why – or rather it should start there. In his book Start With Why, Sinek provides examples of inspired leaders and organizations that succeeded where others failed because they had a much clearer vision of “why” and started their work by being able to understand and articulate first from the center of the Golden Circle.

According to Sinek, the absence of a “why” is a problem that often leaves us uninspired about our work. Most of us academic librarians understand the “what” and the “how”. The hard part is the “why”. We may have failed to spend time thinking about the “why”, and that is where we should begin. The “how” and the “what” should flow from the “why”. What would a “why” sound like for an academic library? Here’s a possibility: “We believe our library transforms its users from one state of knowledge to a higher state of knowledge.” How about: “We believe our library prepares community members to succeed as citizens, employees and scholars”. Those, to me, speak more to having a real purpose for why we should exist. Those statements are about believing that our work is going to make a difference – but only if we pursue our cause with great passion. It is not merely a result of our activity. It is a reason to perform the activity whether the result is connecting someone with a piece of information, helping them publish a scholarly article or getting a job.

I am still thinking about these ideas and what it means to develop a “why” statement or position for an academic library. If this post helps you to have a better sense of the difference between the “why”, “how” and “what” that is a start. Sinek’s web site has more information if you are interested in exploring this further, but feel free to share your “why” statement as a comment.

Finishing Strong: Manage The Ending

When it comes to things like the reference transaction, library instruction or our personal presentations, we often are advised to get things off to a good start. Ask the right questions to quickly find out what the user really wants. Start with an attention grabber to draw in the learner. Make eye contact and be friendly improve one’s approachability. This is all good advice. Failure to capture attention or gain trust at the start of an interaction is sure to reduce the likelihood for a productive ending. However, we may focus too much of our energy on the beginning of the experiences we deliver to our community members and colleagues, and not enough on the ending. It may actually be more critical to finish strong as opposed to the big start.

I’m currently reading the book Living With Complexity by Don Norman. While we often hear that we need to improve our libraries by making them more simple to use (and that certainly applies to electronic resources), Norman does not necessarily agree. He acknowledges that in life we must deal with complexity – it is unavoidable. Research, for example, done well is by necessity complex in nature. Students, in seeking to avoid complexity, will do what they can to make it simple. We learned more about their strategies recently, and the challenges it presents to both writing instructors and librarians. Even the act of proper citation presents complexity. But Norman, who is often credited with coining the term “user experience” and champions human-centered design, does not advocate simplicity over complexity. He writes:

Complexity is part of the world and shouldn’t be puzzling: we can accept it if we believe this is the way things must be…But when complexity is random and arbitrary, then we have reason to be annoyed…Modern technology can be complex, but complexity by itself is neither good or bad; it is confusion that is bad.

According to Norman complexity is not the problem in our world. The problem is bad design that turns complexity into confusion, for which there is no excuse. Norman writes that “Good design can help tame complexity, not by making things less complex – for the complexity is required – but by managing the complexity”. That presents a challenge to us academic librarians. Rather than just asking how we make the complex more simple for our students, we might be better to ask how we can manage the complexity through better design.

That’s a challenge we may want to take up in future posts and conversations. In this post I want to bring your attention to one smaller concept within the book that relates more specifically to how people recall experiences, particularly ones that may include complexity – which could be considered unpleasant. We certainly would prefer that our community members recall their library experience as being pleasant rather than painful, boring or simply forgettable. Norman has a fascinating chapter dedicated entirely to the design of waiting. Waiting in lines is among the worst experiences we encounter. As Norman describes it a line is a “simple phenomenon…that can give rise to considerable complications.” Therefore, designing a better waiting experience can be crucial to the success of any business that requires people to wait. Norman gives multiple examples of organizations that turn waiting lines into assets through thoughtful design. In our academic libraries waiting is usually not a problem. There is rarely waiting in long lines to enter the building, we don’t find long queues at the reference desk these days, and if you need line management strategies for your instruction sessions, please let me know. So how does the design of waits relate to our work?

It’s all about memory because memory is more important than reality. We need to pay attention to this because it’s in our best interest as librarians to do everything we can to make sure the community members seek out our services in the future. Whether they do that or not is connected to each experience they have with us. Norman writes that “your future behavior will be controlled by your memories”. Think about that. We all make decisions about where we like to go and the things we want to do based on our past memories of the experiences we’ve had. You’re not likely to return to a restaurant where you recall the food or service as being unpleasant. The memory of that experience is likely not the same as the reality of that event, but rather a distorted version that exists only in your mind. Norman shares research that tells us that human memory is not a precise recall of things as they really happened but simply active reconstructions of an experience subject to revisionist history. That bad experience you recall may actually be some amalgamation of multiple bad experiences at different times that your brain is re-mixing into a newly manufactured memory that is by no means an accurate reflection of reality. And that’s why a big finish is all the more important for librarians.

Strong starts are still important because that’s your one shot at getting the audience to invest their time and interest in what you have to say. You still must deliver good content through the instruction session or presentation. It’s the middle where most of the complexity happens, and that’s the part of the experience that we want attendees to remember – but not unfavorably. What we can learn from the experts who design experiences is that the best way to get people to favorably recall those more unavoidable unpleasantries is to manage the ending so well that when the entire experience is recalled a pleasant, dynamic or unique ending may well be what is most remembered about the experience. It then makes the entire experience, even the complexion parts, seem better overall when it is remembered. Sequentially, the end is also easier for us to remember than the beginning given our short-term memories. A strong finish can overcome the pain derived from an encounter with complexity. That ending might be something powerful such as sharing a video with a strong message. It might be something as simple as handing out a memento (e.g., a pen) at the end of the session, or ending with a good story.

When you design your next instruction session or presentation, or in giving thought to how you end reference transactions or consultations, consider giving as much if not more thought to your finish as you do to your beginning. They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. But your first impression will likely be less well remembered than the one with which you choose to end. So design and manage that last impression well.