News for Pennsyslvania Libraries

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Lauren Smyth

Lauren Smyth


by Lauren Smyth,
Assistant Director
Upper Dublin Public Library

I’ve officially been a librarian since 2009 and am approaching a decade of working in libraries, yet, for one reason or another, I never attended the American Library Association conference. Location, expense, and timing—all of these things came into play.  Happily, the stars aligned and thanks to a generous professional development grant from the State Library of Pennsylvania, I attended the ALA Conference held in Orlando, Florida in June 2016.  The experience was fantastic, making my only regret that I hadn’t figured out a way to get to an ALA Conference sooner!

The first thing that struck me about ALA, even as I planned and chose sessions to attend, was the scale.  The next largest conference I’ve attended is the Public Library Association conference, which was huge, but ALA struck me as massive!  With thousands of librarians, vendors, and library advocates in attendance, it’s not a surprise.

There were a few different messages and themes that seemed to be woven throughout the various ALA sessions that I attended.  The message of flexibility and adaptability in rapidly changing times continually cropped up.  Here are a few of the sessions that really resonated with me and some highlights from the each:

*Sustainable Thinking:  This session was really intriguing.  The presenters discussed a myriad of ways that libraries can be sustainably minded. Presenter Matthew Bollerman, Director of the Hauppage Public Library in New York, also shared the sobering statistic that around the year 2050, we’ll need 2.5 earths, if the current trends in population and resource usage continue, which truly highlights the need for sustainability to be at the forefront of all institutional planning. This discussion went beyond the basics of what you might think of when you think about sustainability (recycling, greening the library), and discussed topics such as creating sustainable buildings and spaces, creating a socially equitable environment, and ongoing, healthy community partnerships.  The presenters discussed that the way to engage stakeholders, patrons, and others on this topic might be to use the “The Golden Circle” approach.  I checked out the web site of presenter Rebekah Smith Aldrich, of the Mid-Hudson County Library System, after the presentation, and there is a wealth of resources about creating a sustainable library.

*Ways to Innovate: How Three Libraries Turned Out to Lead Change and How You Can, Too:  This session was absolutely packed, and for good reason!  Three libraries (Spokane County Library District, the Red Hook Public Library, and the Hartford Public Library) spoke about their experiences as participants in the Libraries Transforming Communities initiative which was a partnership with the Harwood Institute.  This session was very inspiring as it showcased how libraries of different sizes and diverse communities were able to get out of the library and begin to shift the library service model from library centered to community centered, by asking their community and stakeholders what the community needed and what the library could do for the community.  One of my favorite moments of this presentation was when Erica Freudenberger, Director of the Red Hook Public Library, discussed how despite limited staff and space, she believes it is imperative for the library to bring their services and programs out in the community; Freudenberger is un-phased by the tiny building her library inhabits.  She also assisted in resolving a local dispute over a faulty traffic light, which won the library further good will from local officials and the community.  I felt that her attitude really embodied the Libraries Transforming Communities message and a great customer service ethic, which is to start with “Yes” instead of with “No” and go from there.  For more information and tools, visit the ALA site Libraries Transforming Communities.

* Reading ReKindled: Where Technology and Book Clubs Come Together:  This was the final session I attended on Monday, June 27th and I’m so glad I did! This program was the perfect example of why it’s important to attend sessions that might be geared to libraries and librarians outside of your immediate area of service/type of library.  Presenter Stacy Brown 21st Century Learning Coordinator at The Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, spoke to a room overflowing with librarians eager to hear about her various ways to bring technology into the book club experience.    From discussing how to engage parents with book groups and getting 5th graders to read, Brown paired her tips with technology tools, including:  Edmodo (learning/sharing platform), the Doink App (creating films), Ebooks, Skype, Fakebook (what it sounds like!), Voki (character creation), Comicbook App, Kahoot, and many more. It was perfect to end my conference experience with such a positive and fun presentation.

As you can see, I had an inspiring, enriching, and educational experience at each of these three sessions—and that’s just three!  I attended a total of 12 sessions and that doesn’t even include visiting vendors and all of the productive and fun discussions with other librarians.  I’m very grateful to the State Library for funding my attendance, as well as for the support of my library director and the board and administration at Upper Dublin Township.  I would encourage any other librarians who haven’t had the opportunity to attend ALA yet to pursue any funding streams available and make the case that in just a few days, you can bring back ideas, enthusiasm, and excitement that will last all year!