feedback, please: help me navigate ALA?

I realized at ALA10 that one of my projects needs to be figuring out how this frankly byzantine organization works. (Or, at least, how some relevant subsets of it, like LITA and ACRL and NMRT, work…[*])

Then I was stumbling around through the blogosphere and realized that the ever-thoughtful Andy Woodworth had already asked the questions I wanted. So I’m going to reuse them. Whee! If you’re in libraryland, I would really appreciate your answers. (And if you’re not, why not riff on what libraries mean to you, how you do or do not belong to them, how they make this easier or harder for you…That or link to cute animal pics.)

  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?”

[*] When I was in library school it totally pissed me off that people threw these acronyms around everywhere and never expanded them. Like…aren’t librarians supposed to be about making information more accessible, not less? And how am I, a larval little graduate student, supposed to tell if I’m interested in being part of your conference/committee/etc. when you can’t be bothered to tell me what your acronym means? Do not make me Google to understand your email, not least because there is some irony.

I know that the readers of this blog aren’t all librarians. I want my readership to include non-librarians. Which means I value being accessible.

The upshot of my rant being:
ALA10 = American Library Association 2010 Annual Conference;
LITA = Library Information Technology Association;
ACRL = Association of College and Research Libraries;
NMRT = New Members Round Table.
These latter three are all subsets of ALA.

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ALA10: a multimedia summary

A picture being worth a thousand words, let me summarize my last post in a multimedia presentation:

I spent the weekend feeling on top of the world:

in the exhibit halls, at the Polaris booth

And I came home hearing the song that was playing (and did I mention I’ve just recently gotten into Glee!) as I walked into the ALA Dance Party:

a love letter to librarians

It’s important to travel; it’s also important to come home. That was one of my mantras when I was starting off on my career change, leaving teaching for…at that point, something unknown.

Look, I’m an introverted nerd. I love people, I can be outgoing, but at heart I’m that kid who read in quiet corners, was on the science bowl team in high school, went off to an engineering school to major in math. I’m intensely grateful for the opportunity to have taught — to work with a wide variety of people from backgrounds very unlike my own. It was a tremendous learning curve, and I’m never happier than when I have one of those, but it was also way outside of my comfort zone. It was time to come home.

And now I have my brand-new tribe. People who get that I study dead languages for fun, and do crosswords, and have a cat. (Although I still have some work to do with y’all on the love-of-math front.) People who can match me nerd-for-nerd, and who like people, and it is simply astonishing how well I fit in, how much people have reached out to me, how much I belong.

I have spent this weekend being told I’m a winner, and a great writer, and a muse, and (just when I thought someone was going to back away slowly from the force of the nerd-dom!) the holder of a sexy brain. People have showered niceness and appreciation on me to a degree that verges on the absurd — I like myself and I believe in my talents, but I cannot possibly be the person they apparently think me to be. I am marinating, basking, in this glow of belonging and appreciation that has long since passed the point where I can grasp how to respond. Of course, gratitude, of course, I will find opportunities for involvement and service, but the precise lineaments of this thing are beyond me.

Justin, Tara, JP, Janie, Tiffany, Robin, Catherine, Michelle, Patrick, Bohyun, Buffy, Kate, Amanda, Meghan, Erin, Andy, two Andreas, Cindi Trainor, Peter Bromberg, Eric Hellman, Jason Griffey, Andrew Pace, the entirety of LITA — doubtless others I have left out; I truly have gone past my capacity to process all the information this weekend, and I apologize for the omission — your generosity, materially and spiritually, simply astounds me. I do not quite know who I am in this profession yet, not having a job title to hang on myself, not knowing what set of issues will come along with that and command my attention and passion and drive my direction, but thank you: I know I have come home.

My ALA, day 1.

The unconference.
I’d never been to an unconference before, and I was curious how they might work. (Of course, having been to one, I realize that I know how *one* unconference works; people’s experiences of others seem very different, as you might expect from an unconference…Then again, I feel like I could go and run one myself now, because any template will do. They’re un like that. (I would love to hear others’ unconference experiences; how were yours run?))

The thing I found myself thinking about, in a half-formed way, is to what extent unconferences can be used to elicit participation from a wide range of people. On the one hand, the experience was very participatory; conversation always flowed readily, everyone at the table had something to contribute, no one dominated (though several led). On the other hand, the unconference draws precisely the sort of people who have things to say and want to participate; that was in the ground rules, and it’s just the kind of personality that’s drawn to an unconference. I think it would still work with some people who were largely observers, but I don’t think that percent could get too large. Twenty, maybe?

I find myself wondering, though — if the nonparticipatory-by-nature were in a minority, would the general spirit of participation elicit more ideas from them than usual? How would one run an unconference to encourage more people to voice their ideas? Or does one simply need more structure to encourage (…require…) participation from everyone?

Personally I was always that kid who talked in class if I had anything to say, and I never cared what people thought of me, so I don’t have much insight into this problem.

Oh, and I also sang in front of everybody. Because, why not. Michelle the organizer said she wanted song and dance, and I don’t dance…

(FYI, if you want to know what was covered, Michelle’s notes on the unconference.)

The touristing.
The unconference was initially planned until 4, then shortened until noon, so I found myself with this block of afternoon and nothing incredibly compelling to fill it with, and I needed a lunch plan, and then someone on Twitter said there was good ethnic street food at a festival on the mall, so I found my way down there and let the general sensory overload wash over me, Mexican music, Vietnamese music, storytelling, a cooking demonstration, costumes and other art…(One of the Vietnamese instruments — I have no idea what it was. It reminded me of a theremin, in that I couldn’t see any mechanism by which the player interacted with her strings, but I don’t think theremin is really a traditional Vietnamese instrument. Maybe I was sitting too far back to see.) Anyway, I set myself a goal of finding something I’d never heard of to eat, and succeeded (bhelpuri or something like that — have already forgotten the spelling — but it had puffed rice and onion and chutney and stuff, all chopped up, not too warm, crunchy, a little spicy, good food for langourous heat.)

The metro.
It is, as promised, soulless and efficient.

The Emerging Leaders poster session.
I have a rough-draft EL application sitting on my hard drive, and I met a bunch of ELs at Midwinter (it’s…almost as if they’re the sort of people who do stuff and talk to strangers), so I wanted to say hi to them and see what their projects had been and generally scout the program. Turned out to be a great opportunity to put faces to Twitternames (@TaraLSF, @hmccormack and her crazy-awesome fashion sense), and also to say hi to Peter Bromberg and JP, and finally to meet @JustinLibrarian (well, unless you count the tacklehug and “hi-I’m-Andromeda” when he briefly stopped by the unconference, but at EL we actually got to talk, which was nice as he’s a sweetie and we have a mutual admiration society going on. Funny thing — I decided to go out of my way to be more supportive & congratulatory to people on Twitter, and all of a sudden Justin and I were tight. Be nice, meet nice people. Amazing).

By this point of the day I was at that mildly buzzed conference state where you can’t really process anything anymore but it all washes over you as immersive cheerfulness. Somewhere in that haze was the part of NMRT 101 (which probably would’ve been super-useful to me at Midwinter, but now I know my way around), and the LITA happy hour (I’m now 2/2 in getting drinks bought for me at LITA happy hours; I plan to make this a tradition), and getting to talk with Erin Dorney at the NMRT mentoring social (I don’t have a mentor but whatever; I’m trying to figure out my way around NMRT), and open gaming night (our team won a prize! a winner is us! oh, and I’m better at the singing than the guitar in Rock Band; no surprise there).

The dance party.
Oh, yes. And the end of the day was the ALA Dance Party, which I was still mildly awake for. Crazy-loud dance music (and I am a sucker for a good beat), confetti, neon lights and disco balls, a dance floor full of rampaging librarians, clocks for Amsterdam and Bangkok and Ibiza, glitter spray in hair (and, in some cases, glamming up the conference suits…) Glitter and glowsticks at a gay bar. I love ALA.