What do you bring back from conferences?

Conference sessionRegistration for SLA 2012 opened this week, and members all over the world are busy booking Chicago hotels and perusing the conference schedule.

If you’re going to SLA or some other conference this year, what will you bring back with you? A tote bag? Some free pens? Maybe if you’re very lucky, an iPad won in a drawing?

How about bringing back something that will help your boss and your coworkers appreciate the value of the conference? I’m not talking about any kind of magic. Just share what you learned at the conference. Not just on your blog and your Twitter account and with your librarian colleagues, but in your workplace.

I touched on this a little bit last year, but it’s a good time for a reminder. The Learning Circuits Blog has a nice list of 10 Ways to Bring a Conference Back to Work.

Plan ahead so when your boss drops in to ask how the conference was, you are ready with more than just a report on the weather in Chicago. What did you learn? What connections did you make?

Why I’m tired this morning: SLA 2011

I got back from SLA 2011 in Philadelphia last night. As usual, it was a great conference and I came back full of ideas, many of which I plan to share here. But for now, I will share with you the reason I am drinking a second cup of coffee this morning:

SLA 2011 schedule

SLA has a really packed schedule and doesn’t leave much time for eating or sleeping.

The after conference

After attending a professional conference, you are probably tired and behind on things both at home and at work. The last thing you want to do is come home and continue the conference – but this is exactly what you should do. You’ll get a lot more out of the conference experience if you collect your thoughts, follow up with fellow attendees, and get started on anything you promised to do right away.

Write a conference report. Your boss may ask for this – but even if he or she doesn’t, write one. I once had a boss who would stop by my office after a conference and ask how it went. I learned to come back from every conference with a quick sentence or two about the value of the conference. Your conference report could be as brief as that, or maybe something longer written in your diary, filed with your conference materials, or posted on your blog. Consider writing something for an association newsletter or blog, which will also benefit your colleagues who couldn’t attend the conference. Writing about the conference experience will help you digest what you learned, and give you something to say when people ask about the conference.

Follow up with colleagues. You probably met some new people at the conference. Did you promise to send them anything? Do they have blogs, Twitter feeds, or LinkedIn profiles you can follow? If you want to stay connected, don’t wait until you have a drawer filled with business cards from people you don’t remember.

Let people know what you learned. If you are able to accomplish something at work based on what you learned or who you met at a conference, let your boss and co-workers know. It helps them see the value of professional development activities.

I was inspired to write these tips partly because I just got back from the SLA Leadership Summit (watch for more blog posts about what I learned!) and partly by a post from the Embedded Librarian.

The post actually offers a related pre-conference tip:

start telling your colleagues about SLA annual conference as soon as you register. This way (ideally) they will be more interested in what you’ve learned there once you return.

The adventures of the special librarian

This video, posted by the Minnesota chapter of SLA, has been making the rounds.

Many people were amused by the librarian with his little black bag and amazing photocopier. Others noted that his work is not that different from what we do today; it’s just the tools that have changed.

I noted that my job is very similar. Philatelic libraries are, in many ways, old-fashioned. While my library’s catalog is online, we routinely use print and card indexes to access the journal literature. Very few publications are digital, and very little of the older material has been digitized. We just started publishing our own journal online this year.

We are making progress, but there is a definite digital library divide. The New York Times recently ran an article about where American libraries stand in terms of digitization efforts: Playing Catch-Up in a Digital Library Race.

Do we have a librarian in the house?

A couple years ago, I wrote about infiltrating a tech conference. I did it again today, this time attending my college’s IT conference. I was a bit nervous about it, since everyone else in the room was classed as an IT professional while my job is in the library group (but not in the library – go figure).

Partway through his opening remarks, our university CIO was addressing a problem and said, “We need a librarian in the room. You wouldn’t believe how badly we need librarians right now.” (Little did he know there was a librarian sitting right in the middle of the room!)

This is just one anecdote, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard an IT professional say they need a librarian to work with them. It reinforced my belief that “the L-word” has a lot of value and meaning and was very timely considering the proposed SLA name change (which I wrote about yesterday).

Later, I mentioned the SLA name debate to one of our system administrators who also happens to have a library degree. He said he didn’t like the idea of dropping the L-word from the name, and that he specifically wanted library training to complement his IT training.

What is a knowledge professional?

SLA may be changing its name, depending on the outcome of a vote currently underway. The proposed new name is Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals.

Since the proposed announcement, Twitter and other outlets have been buzzing with reactions and discussion.

In the midst of all this, I was catching up on some back reading and read an article about the One Book, One Community in Library Journal. I happened to notice that the author works for “a firm specializing in strategic communications for knowledge organizations” – and thought, I have no idea what that means. It just sounds like a bunch of buzzwords mixed together to me. Now why would I want to belong to an association whose name sounds like a bunch of buzzwords to me?

Anne Barker has posted her “lengthy thoughts” at her blog. Like me, she was in favor of the proposed name change in 2003 but doesn’t like the current proposed name. While I don’t agree with her on everything, I think she makes a lot of good points. (As of her last post, Anne had not yet decided which way she would vote. Kendra Levine, Dan Cherubin, and David Shumaker, three librarians with very different experiences, wrote thoughtful posts explaining their “no” votes.)

I don’t have a traditional library job. My working job title, which I did not choose, is “Information Core Director.” When people ask what that means, I explain that I am a librarian. It means something to people, and explains the kind of work I do.

I’m not against a name change, but I’m holding out for one that feels right to me.

23 Things: Tagging

At the SLA conference in Seattle, I got talked into signing up for SLA’s 23 Things. While I don’t consider myself on the forefront of Web 2.0 (I’m convinced that once I found Facebook, it instantly became yesterday’s news), I’m pretty comfortable with a good number of the tools (my library has been blogging for over 2 years now and this humble blog has been around in some form since 2003) and I’m not afraid to try new ones out. I thought 23 Things might get me out of my comfort zone and get me to try some new things – plus the organizers were pretty persuasive.

I haven’t blogged about the first few things (blogs and wikis), mainly because I was so familiar with them. I have more blogs than I can handle already, and I started using a wiki for SLA Social Science Division program planning last year. (This year I’ve invited more people to use the wiki, and am happy to see most of them at least reading the wiki and a good number contributing to it.)

Now we are on to tagging, which I’m not quite as comfortable with. Oh, sure, I tag things, but I’m never quite sure about it. Is this the right tag? Will I ever find this again?

Mostly I am good at coming up with my own special tags. For example, I tag books in Library Thing with currentreading and use that to display them on my blog. I tag posts on del.icio.us with staffpop and plug that feed into my intranet site for my staff. But actual meaningful tags? I’m a little behind on that.

Next up: Folksonomies and Technorati, where the current top story is “Dick Busted on Sex Charges Outside Chicken Joint”. You can’t make this stuff up.

SLA and zoos

One of my favorite things about going to a national conference is that it often takes me to a city I would never visit otherwise. Sometimes I come back and think, Well, I never have to go there again! But often I am pleasantly surprised.

Bighorn sheepWhen I have a day to myself, I try to visit the zoo if there is one I can get to on public transit. The Denver Zoo is well-known and did not disappoint, but I’ve also been to some very nice smaller zoos, like the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque. Animals that are often verging on comatose in warm, humid East Coast climates, like the polar bears and arctic fox, were quite active on a chilly January morning in Albuquerque.

RavenThe Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa has some great interactive exhibits (feed the stingrays and lorikeets) and a manatee hospital. At the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, I took some close-ups of the ravens. And at the Toronto Zoo, I spent a lot of time with the snakes.

SLA Leadership Summit report

I have arrived safely back in Pennsylvania, where I no longer hear the slot machines yelling “Wheel! Of! Fortune!” 24 hours a day.

Jill Hurst-Wahl has already blogged about the summit for the SLA IT Division Blogging Section as well as at Digitization 101.

The summit had some good sessions, some sessions I didn’t care for, and a lot of opportunities to network. Networking at bigger conferences too often means walking around receptions clutching a wine glass, working up the occasional courage to introduce yourself to someone, only to find you have nothing to talk about. Not at the Leadership Summit.

I mentioned an issue my local chapter is facing to a colleague from my division, and was promptly introduced to someone from another chapter who was facing the same issue—and had solutions. I met other conference planners for Seattle. I talked to vendor representatives. I met SLA board members. I reconnected with my fellow division and chapter leaders. My only complaint is that the packed schedule doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for this kind of activity. (Well, I have other complaints, but mainly having to do with catering and wireless access and other mundane things.)

I don’t generally get bowled over by keynote speakers, but Chip Heath’s talk actually helped me with a request I received while I was in Reno (er, Sparks). The request is to communicate about a service my library offers to our faculty. Rather than craft my usual informative but uninventive message, I’m going to attempt to create a “sticky message”. Chip Heath quoted Frank Sinatra on New York: “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” If I can get faculty to read an email message and remember the library when they need us, I’ll say I’ve made it.

SLA Leadership Summit

I’m here in Reno (well, technically Sparks) for the SLA Leadership Summit. I arrived a day early because I was worried about making two flight connections in January, and then promptly spent several hours trying to get my laptop to talk to the hotel’s wireless network. I just recently got a wireless card for my laptop—watch out, 21st century, here comes the DIY Librarian!

Unlike the last time I was frustrated by a hotel internet connection, I was almost relieved when I couldn’t get the laptop to connect. Suddenly, my extra day was wide open. Instead of working, I could go running, check out the public library, read a book, or work on my writing…

Ah, but now I am connected, so here I am checking my email, blogging, and charting my mileage on MapMyRun.com. While I was unconnected, though, I did write a long letter to my dad (to be mailed when I get home) and almost finished my book.

Much as I like being connected (now that we have high-speed at home, it’s just so easy to go check a recipe on Epicurious!) these unconnected moments are very special, like a moment of silence, or the feeling of wandering aimlessly in the library stacks. There is something simultaneously scary (I can’t check the hotel restaurant’s menu online! I’ll just have to go down to the lobby!) and peaceful about it.