Final wrap/PCNC 2012

As promised in an earlier post, I’m putting together a final wrap-up post from last week’s Project Compass National Convening, which took place at the Sheraton National, in Arlington, Virginia. The purpose of the two-day event, which gathered library professionals from all 50 states, was to continue the work begun in 2009, helping to shift mindsets and help build necessary skills and help libraries increase capacity in order to be key catalysts in America’s workforce recovery.

Project Compass is a partnership between WebJunction and the State Library of North Carolina, with funding for this project coming via a grant originating with the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS). IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums connecting people and ideas.

During our nation’s economic downturn that began in 2008, libraries across the country have been impacted, particularly the staff at these libraries. Like most public institutions, libraries are struggling with funding cuts, resulting in fewer staff, reduced hours, while at the same time, seeing demands for services, particularly from job seekers and other patrons, on the increase. This can lead to frustration on the part of both staff and patrons.

Conferences (or convergences) like the one that occurred last Wednesday and Thursday, help library staff and other ancillary library support people (like me) better understand the challenges, and most of all, learn about practices that are working. There’s nothing better than sitting in a workshop and finding out that you aren’t alone, or that there are others doing some great things that you could adopt back home. Also, as someone who values learning from others, I came away with several things I’m excited to begin working to implement in my work with the library I’m contracted to provide services for, in Maine.

Like other conferences I’ve been able to attend in the past, like the HR conferences that occur every May in Maine, being able to hear from A-list speakers like Garry Golden, Marilyn Johnson, and Ron Carlie was beneficial for me and I’m sure most of the other 200+ attendees. I am someone that regularly speaks before groups and being able to see the pros in action only helps me get better every time that I get out and speak to a group.

I wrote up and live-blogged Gary Golden’s talk, but on the final day (Thursday), I decided to forgo doing the same for Marilyn Johnson; I mainly just took notes and listened (and tweeted). This wasn’t because I didn’t think her talk was important, or awesome, which it was both, but I was lagging a bit on day two with my live-blogging capabilities. Many of us tweeted several of her points as part of the PCNC-2012 Twitter stream, which you can go back and review at #libs4jobs, if you are a Twitter person.

I wasn’t as familiar with Marilyn as most of my fellow attendees were (I’m guessing). She obviously is someone I need to familiarize myself with, however.

She’s a former editor for publications like Esquire and Outside and a former staff writer for Life. As a writer myself and very familiar with these publications, I immediately thought, “heavy-hitter,” when I read her bio prior to the conference.

She was great, speaking honestly about her own stuggle with technology, the changes that affected her as a writer for magazines, and the role of libraries in helping to bridge and mitigate technological difficulties for many patrons.

She mentioned at one point early in her talk about how if felt to be someone intelligent and obviously successful, but feeling “really stupid” because of not being able to navigate new technology that she had to adopt (and adapt to). She emphasized that librarians hold the key in helping all patrons with these issues related to technology.

I found her characterization of how writing/research has changed and how producing articles (used the phrase, “making sausage”) has changed something I could relate to and again, how librarians play a key role in that process, especially “keeping her secret” for advance pieces she was writing for Time.

She really cut to the chase for me (and probably others that follow politics) when she mentioned that despite the presidential election being in full swing, and with the candidates mentioning “economic recovery,” no one is talking about libraries. We hear them mentioning infrastructure all the time; Johnson wanted to emphasize that libraries are key component in the nation’s infrastructure.

Other key points she made:

–Books are great vehicles to decompress  and turn “off” in an age of constantly being “on.”
–Libraries enhance property values. Libraries are a positive, safe place to access the digital age.
–Libraries are about the strength of connections that you make with other people. The way you enlist people is to connect with what they’re best at. For Marilyn, it’s not baking cupcakes–she’s a really lousy baker–but she’s a writer and that’s what she’ll provide.

Ron Carlee spoke on partnership and collaboration, a subject near and dear to me and the work that I’ve been doing and will continue to work at. Carlee is the former county manager for Arlington County and he is now working for ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, serving as their Executive in Residence and Director for Domestic Strategic Initiatives.

Carlee was good, especially talking about the place of integrity and relationships in the work of collaboration. Integrity is a key component because people don’t want to work with someone that’s not an honest broker.

I also think he did a great job of dispelling the prevailing poppycock that so many right-leaning (and even some left-leaning) politicians have been perpetrating that government is nothing more than a transaction where every $1 invested has to yield $1 of return coming out. Public services provided by libraries provide tremendous value to communities, but this value isn’t entirely represented by line items in a budget.

He listed some basic elements necessary for working together successfully:

–Figure out what you want to do
–Figure out who you need to work with to accomplish the task
–Get to know one another (partner intentionally)
–Make and implement your plan
–Build Trust
–Figure out what’s important in your community
–Figure out what’s important to whom in your community

As I close out my summary post, I want to end by saying how impressed I was by how well the entire convergence was organized and facilitated by the WebJunction staff. I had very positive interactions with both Kendra Morgan and Zola Maddison, as well as Jennifer Peterson. They were wonderful, welcoming, and all the WebJunction staff deserve kudos for how seamless my two days in Arlington were–I’m sure that was the experience of everyone who attended. Having organized events in the past, this kind of thing doesn’t happen without amazing advance planning and thinking through many scenarios, anticipating any kind of kink that can occur. Even making sure that those catching early flights got on the airport shuttle on time and facilitating that was an example of not letting one detail fall by the wayside. Impressive!

Now that I’m back in Maine, and my convergence colleagues are back to their 49 states, we need to take our charge and our energy back to the places of influence we occupy, ensuring that libraries are at the center of ongoing workforce and economic recovery.