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Session Notes: American Library Association Annual Conference 2017

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.

by Laura Salvucci,
Chester County Library and District Center,
Exton, PA

The American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference was held this year over a sunny, cool weekend in the city of Chicago. ALA is a massive conference, drawing over 12,000 librarians and others from across the United States and throughout the world. This year the conference offered attendees a choice of hundreds of learning sessions on a wide range of topics, an exhibit hall showcasing over 900 participating organizations, author events, and much more.

With the broadly unifying theme of community engagement guiding my own choices, I had the pleasure of attending learning sessions on creative outreach, public history initiatives and collaborations, the current state of reference service, making the library a welcoming place for all, helping library users navigate fake news, social workers and libraries in collaboration, and understanding and working with military and veteran populations in the library. I also attended the ALA President’s Program featuring avid reader and library user actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who unveiled the first book selection for ALA’s new Book Club Central initiative. The pick, in case you’re curious, was No One is Coming to Save Us, a debut novel from writer Stephanie Powell Watts.

To share some of what I learned at ALA with Compendium readers, I’ve highlighted several of the sessions I attended, along with a few interesting ideas or resources from each:

Outreach Outside the Box. In this session, a panel of outreach specialists from different libraries discussed various approaches, programs, successes, and resources for taking the library to people outside of the building.

  • Take a book bike out into the community. For some communities, book bikes can be a great way to reach people outside of your building (“box”). Possible destinations can include school curriculum nights, open houses, parent teacher organizations, and other events; summer camps; farmer’s markets; parks; block parties and other community events; animal rescues; food pantries; local businesses; and many other locations. To learn more about the featured Oak Park Library book bike program discussed at this session, visit http://oppl.org/visit/oak-park-book-bike.
  • Create an online form or calendar that allows organizations to request a library presence at local events. This can be a simple and effective outreach tool.
  • Consider partnering with local businesses or other organizations to bring story times out into the community. One library’s partnership with Panera Bread led to a very successful, highly-attended story time taking place “outside of the box.”

Additional resources

  • ABOS: Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services. Not just for bookmobiles! The panel librarians highly recommended the ABOS annual conference; the association also has a listserv.
  • ALA ODLOS: Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services: ala.org/offices/diversity
  • Librarians Serving Patients with Dementia blog: librariansdementia.wordpress.com. This blog contains resources and program ideas for working specifically with this population.

Solidarity in Action: Combating Xenophobia and Islamophobia. This session was presented by Deepa Iyer, Senior Fellow at the Center for Inclusion and author of the book We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. The goal of the session was to work together to think about how to ensure that our libraries are inclusive, welcoming places for all. In addition to the presenter, librarians from around the country shared strategies their own libraries have used in working towards this goal.

  • Visibly and consistently state, on your website and at the library itself (via written statement/signs, table tents, etc.) that everyone is welcome at the library.
  • Include diverse communities in your outreach work; reach out to diverse community organizations.
  • Create programs, speaker series, photo and other exhibits, and/or book displays (books can be ambassadors!) that help different groups in your community get to know more about one another.
  • Provide diversity and anti-racism training to staff.
  • Have a distinct, clear policy about nondiscrimination in the library.

Whole Person Librarianship: Libraries and Social Workers in Collaboration. This panel discussion included five librarians and/or social workers addressing the topic of practical and theoretical collaboration between social work and librarianship. Such collaboration can help librarians to meet the information/referral needs of vulnerable patrons, such as those experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, substance abuse, poverty, and other challenges. The participants described library practices and programs that can be implemented, with or without a social worker on staff.

  • Schedule a social worker visit to the library once or twice a month for drop-in meetings with patrons and/or staff (for staff engagement, support, and training).
  • Create a social work committee. The one described at this session meets every other month, and is comprised of volunteers from the library system who are most interested in this facet of work. The committee shares information about programs, training, support, and needs, and then committee members take this information back to their home library staffs.
  • Consider reaching out to Master of Social Work programs at local colleges or universities to see if a collaboration is possible. Students in these programs are required to do a field placement, and you could inquire about the possibility of having a student come to the library.
  • Provide staff education to increase understanding and improve interactions with vulnerable customers. Sometimes understanding more about homeless patrons, for example – who they are as people, and what their daily lives are like – creates a powerful change in staff perspective.
  • Engage in “reflective practice,” ideally with a colleague – after a situation has occurred at the library, analyze what went right and what you’d like to do differently next time.
  • Relationship and trust-building are important – asking someone their name is a great starting point!

Finally, I also wanted to share some excellent resources that I discovered at the session Libraries and the Military/Veteran Population: Transformative service Through Cultural Competencies. In this session, three army veterans, representing the Army, Air Force, and Marines, helped librarians learn more about military culture in order to improve their service to this population. In addition to a lively and informative panel discussion, the presenters created a phenomenal website that provides links to resources with many suggestions for how to reach out to and support active military and veteran patrons at your library:

Libraries and the Military/Veteran Population: https://sites.google.com/view/librariesservingveterans/

I found the links to documents to the IMLS’ Community Salute Program to be especially useful:
https://www.imls.gov/issues/national-initiatives/community-salute

Beyond the new knowledge and many ideas for my library that I gathered at the conference, a less quantifiable but no less important element I took home with me was renewed inspiration and commitment to the profession, my library, and all of our visitors. Such inspiration comes from talking and learning with so many fellow librarians about issues and questions that are important in our field. Thank you to the Office of Commonwealth Libraries and LSTA for making this opportunity for growth and learning possible!

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