Conference Takeaways? Make that Takeaway.

As a librarian who finally earned her first pair of glasses this past April, I was thrilled to hit “submit” on my registration for AISL Houston Seeing Clearly 2020. We know there is a reason AISL conferences fill up quickly; we learn so much from each other throughout the week. Based on AISL member feedback, the conference is intentionally small, letting a local planning committee create a unique experience in keeping with the character of their region and schools. This personal touch lets attendees visit schools and see behind the scenes at other libraries, and it provides a mobility that would be impossible on a much larger scale. I always return with lists of ideas and pages of notes. Some get accomplished and some enter my “someday maybe” file. But what if I instead flip the script to the ONE takeaway that turned out to be the most meaningful from any given year? My list is not what I would have expected boarding the plane heading back to TPA each spring, and yet it represents the ideas I’ve returned to repeatedly and the changes I’ve made to my own practice. Since you all are so awesome, this was a nearly impossible task! If this post sparks any ideas from your own experiences, I’d love to hear them below.

Boston 2019 – Conferences have many moments that are planned – speakers, tours, workshops – but sometimes one of the most powerful moments occur because of the unforeseen. When there was a bus delay in Boston, the fabulously fashionable Ellen Cothran revamped her presentation into a pop-up session on Harkness discussions through some sort of alchemy in a lobby at Andover. She had everyone engaged and even handed out notes and captured her audience on the fly. I’ve tried to model her energy and enthusiasm for letting learning bubble up naturally. Proctoring PSATs, walking to a performance of Romeo and Juliet, and waiting for the microwave are all possibilities to have a pop-up session with students and faculty.

Atlanta 2018 – I can totally see why Constance Vidor won a Sara Jaffarian Award for her work on turning the library into a museum with interactive exhibits. I shared the webinar with my Middle School history faculty as a way we could broaden research outcomes to reach more learners. However, here is the line from my own handwritten notes that I remember most directly as an AHA moment. “20 craft packets with black paper, sharp pencils, gold/silver sharpies, and hand out. 6 straight lines drawn on paper so it is neat. Make it easy for them.” It seems so obvious, but I needed to have that level of granularity. It might seem easy for me to say that advisors should ask students to use pencils to complete a task, but compliance will feel easier if I hand them the pencils. Thinking back to Takeaway Boston, handing out pencils is an untraditional opportunity for conversation. Win-win!

New Orleans 2017 – While I always enjoy the keynote speakers, in New Orleans Doug Johnson provided the most memorable lesson of the conference. When he spoke about building library support with little tweaks to make administrators your allies, I listened. Of particular note were three items. 1. Be seen outside your the library. 2. Don’t call it “my library” but “our library” and advocate for library users, not for library goals. 3. Principals hate surprises, whether the surprises are good or bad. If there is something innovative that is happening in the library, your administrators should hear about it from you, not from a parent on the soccer field. It allows them to speak knowledgeably about the library programming and puts them in the position to support you. This directive to share positives has been key in building support outside my walls.

Los Angeles 2016 – Talk about “unknown unknowns.” Until Nora Murphy’s eye-opening presentation on frogs and axolotls, otherwise known as source literacy, I had been happy that teachers at my school knew how to direct students towards database usage. But we fell far short of teaching source literacy for untraditional or subject-specific sources, like photo archives, trade publications, or policy briefs. We don’t let our students take the shortcut of relying on mythical universal expertise; we know this is subject-specific. Thinking about where we encounter sources in our daily lives and how this differs by discipline has led to thoughtful discussions with department chairs about what quality sources look like in different disciplines. My students had been too quick to assume neutrality and authority in sources they encountered, and this session gave me the vocabulary to add nuance to our research program. I have since sought out Nora’s presentation for her insights and humor.  

Tampa 2015 – Conference planning is hard work. Much more time is spent focusing on raising money, building bus routes, writing bus scripts, determining meal plans for many varieties of diets, and coordinating breakout rooms than you would think. Five years later, I needed to look through my folder to remember the programming, compared with many memories of logistics. If you’re heading to Houston and see someone with a Conference Planner tag, thank them for all the weekends and evenings they devoted to set the stage for you to learn. Team Houston, there is a subset of AISL librarians that you’ll join on April 3. When talking with this esteemed group, you’ll never take the AISL conference for granted again.

Again it’s not always the skills but mindsets that have had a lasting influence. I’m better for our camaraderie, and I thank all AISL members for that!

1 thought on “Conference Takeaways? Make that Takeaway.

  1. Christine, I loved both sharing top takeaways from certain conferences we both attended, and hearing about some topics I had no recollection of. It’s a reminder that no matter how deep we dive into AISL conferences, there is still so much that we can only glimpse (due to the limitations of the time-space continuum). This year a goal will be to dig into session materials posted for workshops I wasn’t able to attend, after I find myself back home again. Such a rich resource!
    Thanks for sharing–
    Shannon

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